"The Martian Way and Other Stories" by Isaac Asimov
You know what I like best about Asimov's stories? No? Well let me tell you. I like their sense of humor. A lot of sci-fi authors go out of their way to be so goddamn serious. But Asimov? He didn't need to. He was enough of a scientist to get the science right, and enough of a writer to get the fiction right. This left him with enough room for levity, for warmth, and for his own personality.
I can't help but think that it is this levity, warmth, and personality that continue to make his stories popular. There were plenty of other "classic" sci-fi authors that could go on about the mechanics of spaceflight. There were plenty of other authors who could flesh out a terse, well thought-out storyline with believable characters. But only Asimov could give you a story like "The Martian Way" or "Jokester." Only Asimov could have written these stories, because they were uniquely his own.
The stories in "The Martian Way and Other Stories" were all written in the 50s, back when Asimov was making a name for himself. They are all less crushingly serious than the Frank Herbert novels I've been reading lately, and I am thankful for that. I will always prefer sci-fi authors who DON'T feel the need to beat you over the head with their intelligence, and even though yes, Asimov wrote a lot of crap, he is still - on average - much easier to take than many of the more "serious" sci-fi authors out there.
There are four stories in this book, which is slightly more than 200 pages long. "The Martian Way" follows a crew of "Scavengers" as they try to supply Mars with water. The WWII analogies are less than subtle, but it's still a great story.
The next story, "Youth," concerns a pair of boys who've discovered extraterrestrials in their backyard. The twist at the end of this story is fantastic, and you'll never see it coming.
"The Deep," the third story in this collection, concerns a race of telepathic aliens who wish to colonize Earth. It's not nearly as good as the first two stories, but still not bad.
The last story, "Sucker Bait,"involves a team of scientists as they explore a potentially toxic new world. This last story, while quite interesting at the outset, left me a little disappointed. It's still good, but compared to the first three stories it falls flat.
This is a good collection of stories, and I would recommend it. Those unacquainted with Asimov will find a lot to appreciate in these stories, and those who fail to understand the popularity of turgid later works such as "Caves of Steel" or "Foundation and Earth" will find in these stories the true reason behind Asimov's enduring fame.