For an author with a reputation for writing very long novels it is maybe appropriate that the two longest stories in this short story collection were the best in it.
Watching Trees Grow (which I'd read before many years ago) packs a lot of world-building into 80-odd pages and has an interesting premise (a murder investigation taking centuries with the investigator using newly invented technologies to go back to look at the case), although the characterisation was a bit flat and some aspects of the world-building were a bit under-explained.
Another SF detective story, The Demon Trap, was probably the best story in the collection, re-using some characters from Hamilton's Commonwealth books probably helped with the characterisation compared to Watching Trees Grow and it was probably the most interesting story in terms of the SF elements (although some of the ideas later got reused in his Void trilogy). The other two Commonwealth-set stories were also reasonably good with some nice cameos for characters from the novels, although the title story did feel a bit contrived in its attempt to shoe-horn Paula Myo into a plot that shouldn't really have had anything to do with her and is a bit unsubtle in the historical allegory it is using. Touched by an Angel, the final Commonwealth story, gives some interesting background to some of the events in the Void trilogy and has an interesting portrayal of characters doing horrible things in causes that they believe to be justified.
The remaining stories weren't anything special, If At First in particular was both dull and silly and almost certainly the first SF story to use R.E.M.'s Shiny Happy People as a major plot point.
Footvote is another fairly short story but has an interesting premise - a man opens up a wormhole to colonise a new world but sets a long list of rules about who he'll allow to emigrate, this has some predictably negative consequences and an interesting dilemma for the main character who has to choose between her political principles and what is best for her family.
The Forever Kitten is particularly short at only 1000 words, but shows that Hamilton is still able to describe an interesting SF idea in a very small number of words.
Overall, I'd say Hamilton's strength is mainly in the longer works but he's also a decent writer of short fiction.
Rating : 7 / 10
In 1966 the Hugo Award for best SF novel was a tie between this book, Zelazny's debut novel, and Frank Herbert's "Dune". In retrospect this is possible a slightly surprising decision since one of those books has been significantly more influential than the other, but while this isn't as genre-defining a work as Dune is, it is still a fine novel.
It's also a lot shorter than Dune, but Zelazny does manage to pack a lot into what by modern standards would be a very brief novel. The premise of a seemingly immortal man acting as a tour guide for an alien writer through the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Earth devastated by a nuclear war and abandoned by most of the human race does make for an interesting journey through an intriguing setting. Although a Science Fiction novel there's also a heavy influence from mythology, particularly Greek mythology, and some of the more unlikely plot developments and pieces of world-building make more sense in terms of a mythical story rather than a traditional SF novel. The plot does require a high tolerance for unlikely coincidences, but I don't think it really detracts from the novel. At first it can be hard to see where the plot is going and some things are initially puzzling, but the ending of the novel does manage to clear up some of the odder plot developments and it makes for a satisfying conclusion to the story.
The characters do initially seem to be archetypes, but do acquire some more depth as the story goes on as their initially hidden motivations become apparent. I'm not sure some of them are necessarily believable characters, but they are memorable and it's the kind of story which almost demands larger-than-life characters. The protagonist, Conrad, is the most interesting of them and feels like a prototype for later Zelazny heroes such as Corwin of Amber or Lord of Light's Sam.
Zelazny has always been a fantastic writer of prose, and while Zelazny's writing maybe isn't quite as assured as in later work such as Lord of Light or Creatures of Light and Darkness, it's still very well written with plenty of memorable and powerful passages of writing.
This might not be Zelazny's best novel, but it's still a very good read.
Rating : 8 / 10