Friday, January 24, 2014

FFB: 5th Annual Edition The Year's Best S-F -- Judith Merril, Editor

At some point Judith Merril's anthologies originated in hardback, but they were reprinted by Dell, where the series started.  This one is typical in that Merril didn't confine herself to looking for stories in the usual suspects and in fact didn't confine herself to fiction.  A John W. Campbell editorial and a newspaper article are included.

I read a lot of these stories when they were first published, and it's surprising how much of them I remembered when I started rereading them.  Some of them seem just as fresh now as they did 50-something years ago, though of course some are quite dated.  I'm pretty sure Jack Finney couldn't get away with "The Other Wife" now, though in 1960 it was published in The Saturday Evening Post, which in those days must have sold well into the millions of copies.  Time changes everything. 

"Make a Prison" is, I believe, Lawrence Block's only SF story.  It's short and clever, but it has a point to make.  So do a lot of these stories, and I suspect many of you are familiar with them.  "Flowers for Algernon," for example, and "The Man Who Lost the Sea."  I'm a Clifford D. Simak fan, so of course I liked "A Death in the House," which is a bit different from some of his work, but still the same in others.  And Leiber's "Mariana" is another good one.  Well, they're all good.  

And then there are Merril's introductions to the stories, which are distinguished by the strength of her animus for Kingsley Amis, whose New Maps of Hell had recently been published.  She makes many catty remarks about him as she goes along.  

Copies of the book are available cheap from the usual Internet sources if you want to read some of the good old stuff.

CONTENTS: “Introduction” by Judith Merril; 
“The Handler” by Damon Knight (1960); 
“The Other Wife” by Jack Finney (1960); 
“No Fire Burns” by Avram Davidson (1959); 
“No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (1958); 
“Shoreline at Sunset” by Ray Bradbury (1959); “The Dreamsman” by Gordon R. Dickson (1959);
“Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (1959); 
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (1959); 
“’What Do You Mean...Human?’” by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1959); 
“Sierra Sam” by Ralph Dighton (1960); 
“A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (1959); 
“Mariana” by Fritz Leiber (1960); 
“An Inquiry Concerning the Curvature of the Earth’s Surface” by Roger Price (1958); 
“Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (1959); 
“Hot Argument” by Randall Garrett (1959); 
“What the Left Hand Was Doing” by Darrel T. Langart (1960); 
“The Sound-Sweep” by J. G. Ballard (1960); 
“Plenitude” by Will Worthington (1959); 
“The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (1959); 
“Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (1958); 
“What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (1959); 
“Me” by Hilbert Schenck, Jr. (1959); 
“The Year’s S-F: A Summary and Honorable Mentions” by Judith Merril. 


George said...

Amazing list of great stories! I read all those Merril "Year's Best" as they were published. Merril became a big proponent of "New Wave" fiction. I like Merril's approach of featuring some stories that weren't published in SF magazines.

Rick Robinson said...

Yes, very nice group of stories. I like that Mark Clifton story a lot, and several others here.

Todd Mason said...

The fifth annual was the first to be published by Simon & Schuster...after the first four were in boards from Gnome Press, which was piggybacking on the Dell deal, I believe. Her editor at S&S, however, was very meddlesome and occasionally overruled her choices, making for some relief, I gather, when Dell's hardcover arm Delacorte started doing the volume with 10.

Todd Mason said...

If I had to save a single story, it might be Damon Knight's brilliant little fantasy "The Handler." But, yeah, the Sturgeon would fight it tooth and nail, and the Keyes and Emshwiller would certainly be heard from.

Todd Mason said...

James Blish joked about Hell having no fury like a woman who can't even find her name in the index, but the bitter Merril/Pohl divorce was still fresh at this point, and the Amis book was most controversial in the sf world for the degree to which Amis lionized Pohl as the best of all current sf writers.

Todd Mason said...

And it should be noted that some of these are poetry, Campbell's an editorial essay...

Todd Mason said...

George--S&S's idiot particularly fought Merril about her inclusivity...

Unknown said...

Short poems, too. And I agree about "The Handler." Very creepy, but also very funny.

Todd Mason said...

The Sturgeon was also collected in that year's BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, the only overlap. Martha Foley had snatched up Merril's own story "Dead Center" for an earlier volume.