Remembering Old Science Fiction Short Stories

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I was messaging a friend in South Africa this morning, Piet Nel, about reading old science fiction short stories in retrospective anthologies and best of the year annuals. Piet is reading through the Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year series (1972-1987), but he doesn’t have them all. This morning’s message told me how he used ISFDB.com to find the stories in The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4 elsewhere. #4 was the first volume he didn’t own. For example, here are all the places “Born with the Dead” by Robert Silverberg has been reprinted. Piet already had four copies of that story in other anthologies. Piet was able to find all the stories #4, either in books he owned or online.

I thought I’d take the same approach to The Best Science Fiction Stories 1951 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty because I can’t afford to buy it. That annual came out the year I was born. By chance this month, I’ve already read two of them, “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson and “Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber when I listened to The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One. [See the results of this game at the end of this essay.]

The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-ed-Bleiler-and-Dikty

This morning I read an essay by James Jackson Toth, “Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment in Dedicated Listening” that resonated with me. Toth laments that streaming music is overwhelming him and he longs for the days when he had a limited collection of records he knew intimately. I feel the same way about science fiction. I’m not giving up on reading new science fiction, but my old mind can’t grasp much more new stuff. I’ve decided my specialty of knowledge will be science fiction published from 1946-1985. I need something to hang onto, and this will be it. Mostly, I chose this topic because I already know a bunch about it — why bother becoming a specialist in something other than what’s already crammed into your mind. But also, I’m attracted to this era because I enjoy talking with other folks that also love this era too.

This got me to thinking:

  1. How many people love to read old science fiction short stories from this era?
  2. What SF short stories from this era are anthologized the most?
  3. What are the essential anthologies to collect to get the top stories of this era?
  4. What stories would I put into an anthology if I was an editor of SF 1946-1985?

It’s not that I haven’t thought of these ideas before, and answered some of them in “The Best Science Fiction Short Stories.” That’s the most popular essay I wrote for the Classics of Science Fiction site. CSF is not a very popular, but that page has gotten 2,600 hits. Not many in the big scheme of things, but it suggests there’s a fair number of readers like Piet and I. Overall, I would guesstimate there are not that many fans of old science fiction short stories, probably much less than a thousand in the world, and we’re dying off all the time. I’m sure young folk would rather watch Black Mirror, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Dust films, Short of the Week Sci-Fi, or The 7th Matrix for their short science fiction fix. I love these shows too, but I forget their details almost immediately.

Baby boomers were born 1946-1964 but I would think their formative reading years lasted until 1985. Only a small percentage of boomers got into reading science fiction, and for most of them reading science fiction was only a casual interest. I do know there are around 11,000 members to Space Opera Pulp, a group on Facebook for people who love covers to old science fiction magazines. Probably for most of them, that’s a minor nostalgic diversion. I wonder how many still buy, collect, and read old SF stories?

There are a handful of blogs that reflect a love for old science fiction short stories. That suggests we are the keepers of a very weak flame. I see many of the same names posting comments at these sites. Are we the fans of a dying art form? I don’t think science fiction is dying out, but I do think new science fiction gets most of the attention. Pop culture is inherently linked to generations, and the Baby Boomers who loved reading science fiction short stories from 1946-1985 make up a dwindling cohort. There is a bit of generational overlap, with folks older and younger than Baby Boomers still loving science fiction from that age of science fiction digests.

There are more anthologies than ever collecting the best short science fiction of the year, including one from the prestigious Best American Series. And there’s plenty of places that publish new short science fiction. I believe the readership is smaller today than we I was growing up, but the science fiction short story is still going strong despite the overwhelming popularity of media science fiction. I’d love if I could read and retain knowledge of all this new stuff, but I can’t. I try, but it’s a struggle to remember. Reading new stories from the past will also be difficult to remember, but reading them feels like I’m finding missing pieces of a puzzle I’ve been working on my whole life. Filling in those blanks are reinforced by surrounding memories, so that might help to learn new stuff.

And, I do find more and more pleasure nostalgically returning to old science fiction, and I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe I can keep it in my head. I think it is a mentally good thing to have a specialty to care for when aging.

Here are some sites I read by fans of old science fiction stories. (There are more, but memory limits me at the moment. Be sure and send me your link if you focus on this era of science fiction.)

Game Results

These are the stories I have for The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1951 edited Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty. Links are to ISFDB. This goes to show how well some stories from 1950 have lasted, although I should admit that the anthologies I own them in were assembled decades ago. I guess I should admit that they are mostly forgotten stories.

Stories I Have in Anthologies

Stories I Have in Magazines

Stories I Don’t Have

JWH

60 thoughts on “Remembering Old Science Fiction Short Stories”

  1. Hi James

    Well you could have tailored this for me. I love SF short stories and still keep getting the Year’s Best edited by Dozois and Strahan’s Infinity series. I really enjoy some of the posthuman stories coming out. I actually like them better than the more current rational extrapolations of terraforming Mars or exploring the solar system. People like Banks and Egan seem to be drawing from the well Stapledon used for the future he explored in Star Maker, one of my favourite SF works. That said, I am sitting here surrounded by SF anthologies from every period. Bud Webster’s articles encouraged me to collect the Conklin anthologies, and I am glad I picked up hardcovers where possible. The paperbacks are abridged with only the best stories reprinted. They, the “best” stories can often be found in multiple collections. But I also love to read the more dated pulp period stories like The Lysenko Maze, David Grinnell, (Wollheim) mutant blue mouse, The Planetoid of Doom, Morrison Colladay, swimming T-Rex or the incredibly silly Mr Murphy of New York by Thomas McMorrow . I love the history of SF, to see where it came from and where it is going. Short stories are my favourite form because they allow the writer to explore ideas that would never sustain a novel.

    Thanks for the links.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

    1. I’d love to collect the old annual best SF anthologies in hardback. I do snag them when I see a bargain, but I’d love to get fine copies with fine dust jackets. They are now collector items. Maybe I’ll start telling my friends they are appropriate gifts. However, only my wife would buy me something as expensive as that Dikty book above, which starts at $70 in near fine condition.

      I’m currently reading Against the Fall of Night by Clarke. Now that’s a Stapledon inspired story. Writing an essay on the evolution of Stapledon SF would be a fun project.

  2. This blog post is, as they used to say, right up my street.
    One of your comments in particular caught my eye: ‘What stories would I put into an anthology if I was an editor of SF 1946-1985?’ It has already become apparent to me from my partial reading of early-1950s magazines that my choice of best would be quite different from anthologies covering the period (Dikty/Bleiler, Asimov/Greenberg).
    I also wonder to what extent the fact that there were a limited number of gatekeepers in certain periods (Merril in the sixties is another example) has subsequently skewed the field’s idea of what constitutes its best work.
    Thanks for the link to my site, and for the other ones (I’d missed ‘SciFi at Dark Roasted Blend).

    1. Paul, can we assume that collectively all the anthologists over the years have culled the best stories and now it’s a matter of finding which of those stories stand out the most? I don’t think I have the time to reread all those magazines. But I might have time to read dozens of anthologies before I die.

      I agree every editor has their own tastes and they might not be mine. And even when a group of people decides on a collection, like when the SFWA selected the stories for The Science Fiction Hall of Fame my tastes might not even match the wisdom of crowds. For example, I don’t know why they included The Roads Must Roll and The Weapon Shops. I believe Heinlein has several stories better than the one they picked.

      1. And “Nightfall” is an impressive story by a teen. It’s not the best sf story ever written by any reasonable or informed measure. Asimov was always a bit put off that people would insist it was his own best. Borges, Bloch and Sturgeon had similar stories about early stories.

        While Merril was the only editor of an annual getting into print in the early ’60s (by 1965 Wollheim and Carr were in the mix, and by ’67 Harrison and Aldiss were rolling in even as Merril was giving up), there were at least annual volumes taken from the magazines F&SF, ANALOG and GALAXY, and less frequent anthologies out of other magazines, which along with the occasional My Best Stories volumes such as Robert Mills’s THE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, or other slices through the field as Damon Knight’s A CENTURY OF SCIENCE FICTION, which all hoped to showcase someone’s taste in the best…but, yes, there are still individual stories that weren’t collected that are at least worthy, and no few collected stories which then as well as now might strike one as pedestrian or minor.

      2. I think it’s the later retrospective anthologies that will determine the lasting power of short fiction. A science fiction short story makes it into print. If it’s good it’s collected into an annual best of the year collection. It might also be collected into an author’s collection. After that, it might make it to a theme anthology. But I believe the gold standard is the retrospective anthology, like the VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction or Knight’s A Century of Science Fiction.

        The trouble with retrospective anthologies is they seldom stay in print. So new readers might see a big one once or twice a decade. That’s very little space to preserve the rich inheritance of classic short science fiction.

        Many of us here grew up in the 1960s discovering old science fiction in 1950s anthologies. The 1950s was when much of previous science fiction was put into hardback. We lived at a time when collecting the science fiction past was happening. But is that true today?

  3. People only like watching tv and probably the cinema.They are unaware of what’s contained within the written genre,and are uninterested anyway.They are ignorant of the history and sources of SF,without which,it wouldn’t exist across their screens.

    The publication of the old books you mention,was through the dedication of individuals whose interests reached beyond commercial profit.It needs more like them today to keep the SF in the period you’ve discussed,published.

    1. Among the blogs you’d probably find of at least occasional interest would be Jerry House’s JERRY’S HOUSE OF EVERYTHING, George Kelley’s, and my own. I participate in and occasionally host a weekly set of reviews of older or at very least obscure literature on Fridays, which usually runs mostly to crime fiction, but always has a fair current of fantastic fiction mixed in…

      Thus (includes links to House’s, Kelley’s and others’, including BLACK GATE and Paul Fraser’s): http://socialistjazz.blogspot.com/2018/01/fridays-forgotten-books-and-more-links.html

      1. Thanks, Todd. I was trying to provide links for those sites that mainly focused on older science fiction short stories. Many sites are like mine that cover all kinds of topics. I never know how to recommend generalized sites for specific interests. I’ll add your site to the list. By the way, why did you change the name of your site from Socialist Jazz to Sweet Freedom? Socialist Jazz really grabs me since I’m also a jazz fan — it did it cover jazz?

      2. I still do write about jazz, and even more often supply links to jazz videos and the like. There already was a Blogspot blog called “Sweet Freedom” and using that address, so I could use the title, which had been that of my radio series in Northern Virginia and Philadelphia, but I had to use something else as the address. I was casting about for a decently unique address and landed on “Socialist Jazz” which had been a sort of nickname given me by some high school classmates, who were under the impression that my advocacy of both democratic socialism and improvisational music in 1980 was somehow eccentric.

      3. And even mine? 🙂 Which may also be of some interest (rrhorton@blogspot.com, aka STRANGE AT ECBATAN) … though most of my stuff of direct interest in this context (that is, my reviews of old SF magazine) goes to BLACK GATE.

        But this whole project is lots of fun … and I’m happy to see Piet’s role too — Hi, Piet! —

        I also wrote an article for the print BLACK GATE some long time ago that addressed the question of what stories the anthologists have missed over time … there are a few.

      4. Thanks, Rich. I added both your blog and section at Black Gate. I have a lot of reading to catch up on. So far, I can’t find that essay you wrote about what anthologists have missed.

        What we need is some way to index all this commentary on old science fiction. Google doesn’t cut it.

      5. I would’ve mentioned Rich’s explicitly, but figured you were aware of how writing from LOCUS, BLACK GATE and his annual…and that his blog often runs to non-sf of a century back…but that isn’t fair, because a sizable minority of what he’s covered in his own blog in the last year has also included Ace Double volumes of fantastic fiction and the occasional older, odder work.

    2. When I was young I remember talking to old guys in fandom. Some of them were collectors of dime novels, others were collectors of early 20th century pulps like Adventure, All Story and Argosy. They were maintainers of a specific form of pop culture. I guess I’m now old enough to take on that job too.

      By the way, Richard, what do you think of the new show Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams? I’ve only watched the first episode “Real Life” which reproduces “Exhibit Piece.” The show was very slick, compelling, and very 21st century, but it wasn’t PKD’s story. I would have liked the show to have followed the story closely.

      1. The first series finished in December.I haven’t seen any of the new season’s.I wasn’t really all that impressed with them,as The’d changed them so much.If I hadn’t have known that “Real Life” was really “Exhibit Piece”,I wouldn’t have had any idea which one it was.I think “Human Is” was the best of those I see.Unless you’ve read his stuff and know his themes,they probably won’t be readily apparent I think.I think they’re opaque.

      2. There is an ancient Chinese tale about a man who dreamed he was a butterfly and when he awoke wondered if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man. That’s the essence of “Exhibit Piece” and “Real Life.” Neither story is science fiction. Electric Dreams tried much harder to make it science fiction, but I don’t believe that level of virtual reality is possible. PKD just said it was a rent in space between the future exhibit of the 20th century and real life in the 20th century.

        I’m sort of bothered that so many science fiction stories on the television today deal with virtual reality. I think that’s being overused.

      3. They’ve got to make it meet SF expectations for a purely tv audience.I don’t think Dick ever wrote about virtual reality.It was either real or fake,but deciding which was what in his work,is often a different matter.”Exhibit Piece” is a case in point.

      4. You haven’t ever seen Jeopardy? It’s a TV game show that’s been around since the 1960s. A few years ago it was in the news because Watson the supercomputer competed on the show and won.

        Contestants get the answer and must ask the right question. Here’s one of the answers that day, “Psychics called precogs can see future crimes before they happen in this PKD story.” The right question was “What is Minority Report?”

        When looking for that info I found this Richard, have you seen it?

        https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/philip-k-dick-primer-ranked-order-difficulty/

      5. Richard, no wonder you had no clue about Jeopardy. Being on that quiz show means PKD has reached a certain level of pop culture awareness in America. However, science fiction subjects do show up from time to time and quite often the contestants are clueless. Science fiction books aren’t that well known by the public. However, contestants can usually run the subject when asked about science fiction movies. The other day they asked a question about Dune and someone got it right.

        By the way, I posted that article about how to read PKD to my twitter feed and it got liked and retweeted a number of times. PKD is popular.

      6. Yes,but I wonder how many of them have read his books.Not many I shouldn’t think.It’s difficult to know how they can know what his stuff is really like just by watching the moving media.The disparity between the two,I find perplexing.

        That post is an excellent guide for new and old readers alike.

  4. I think you’ve chosen a much more difficult anthology than me. I’ve left a few stones unturned, but I’m confident of finding only 12 of the 18 stories in your chosen anthology.

    1. Piet, I added the results of my game today at the end of the essay. Go look. I have 9 of the 18 in anthologies, and another 4 in digital copies of the magazines I found on the internet. 5 of the stories would require spending some money to read. The reveals a kind of legacy. But you and I are outliers. Most of these stories haven’t been reprinted in decades. Of the two stories I read just a week ago, “Born of Man and Woman” and “Coming Attraction” I’m not sure if they are worth preserving. And just glancing at the titles of the other stories, they don’t dredge up any significant memories.

      I’m guessing only 1-3 SF stories each year might be truly worth remembering, and I don’t think Bleiler and Dikty picked any of the 1950 stories in their 1951 anthology.

  5. Only 1 – 3 stories per year worth remembering?

    Well, that depends very much on the year you’re referring to. I certainly don’t think it applies to 1950, the year covered by the Bleiler & Dikty anthology you’ve highlighted here.

    What about: “Flight to Forever” by Poul Anderson, “Green Patches” (“Misbegotten Missionary”) by Isaac Asimov, “The Long Rain”, “There Will Come Soft Rains”, and “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, “The Third Level” by Jack Finney, “The Man Who Sold the Moon” by Robert A. Heinlein, “Not with a Bang” by Damon Knight, “The Little Black Bag” by C. M. Kornbluth, and “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith?

    And if you don’t mind fantasy, James Blish’s “There Shall Be No Darkness” is a rarity: a werewolf story I loved!

    Also, if we extend this still further to “associational” stories, I give you Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping”, a non-fantastic but terrific thriller.

    All those are just from books I have—there must surely be others.

    1. Piet, see my reply to Ian. But let’s go into specifics. Since I recently reread “The Little Black Bag” and “Scanners Live in Vain” let’s use them. Both are excellent stories. Both are based on vivid concepts. Both were stand-out stories when they were first published. But how many young people read them today?

      Here’s something to consider. Have you seen Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams? They are using 1950s stories, but they are updating them like crazy. I’d love if they did them straight, setting them into a 1950s feel, but they’re not. I assume they assume most modern viewers couldn’t handle that. They’ve jazzed them up so they practically aren’t PKD anymore. Philip K. Dick’s name is selling those stories. Without it, I’m not sure those ten stories would be remembered.

      Very few short stories are remembered in the long run. Very few. Novels don’t last either, but they do far better than short stories. There must be hooks in the stories that work across generations and time. I’m not sure “The Little Black Bag” or “Scanners Live in Vain” do. We can remember why they’re valid, but I’m not sure modern readers can tune into that.

      Of the stories in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One which I just finished listening to, I think only one story has a chance of lasting, and that’s Flowers for Algernon. And it has a novel to save it.

      I loved the hell out of “Huddling Place” by Simak, but its big chance of lasting is through being part of City. Ditto for “Mars is Heaven” being in The Martian Chronicles.

      The two stories I’d most like to see saved that aren’t parts of novels are “Surface Tension” by James Blish and “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny. Blish is a nearly forgotten author, and Zelazny is starting to fade. And I’m talking about with new readers.

      Us old guys will keep these stories alive as long as we keep living — reading and discussing them with other old fans. But when we go so will those stories.

      What we have to ask about old science fiction stories is whether or not they have lasting power outside of our nostalgia.

      1. You say that Dick’s name is selling these stories.Do you mean on tv? If you do,I assume they are the ones that have read his books.They wouldn’t mind them having that 1950s feel.Those stories should be remembered,if his other stuff is being honoured by the Library of America.

        I read “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” in “The lamps of His Face,the Doors of His Mouth”,that I bought two years ago.That wasn’t long ago,so I’m not sure that it’s fading that fast,if his collections are still being published.

        I hope that SF can be kept alive by dedicated individuals,such as what happened in the past.If it happened then,I don’t see why it can’t now.

      2. Richard, Philip K. Dick is becoming a legend outside of the science fiction genre. People know of him because of the many movies made from his books, and especially now because of the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle. Pretty soon they won’t even refer to him as a science fiction writer, but merely as a writer.

      3. They know of him I suppose,because like Charles Dickens,so much of his stuff has been made into films and tv serials,but like Dick,probably haven’t read his books[unless taught in places of education].As you say,the stuff on tv/films,is very unlike his written fiction.Unless they have read the books upon which the tv/films have been based,they only know of him there.I would hope that “Electric Dreams” is selling his stories,but I’m not sure how many do read them.

  6. Hm, 1-3 ‘excellent’ pieces per year? During the 1950s, there were years when at least 30 or 40 SF mags were published – let’s assume each published a (very conservative) 5 or 6 stories and let’s say the ‘average’ mag was quarterly. So, in some years: 30x6x4 stories .. 700 stories each year. That was the highest production of course, and it was less before and became less after, but in addition to the volume, let’s see who was writing at the time… Simak, Leinster, Keller, Weinbaum, Williamson, Hamilton, de Camp, Bond, Leiber, Kornbluth, Pohl, Blish, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, van Vogt, Sturgeon, del Rey, Fredric Brown, Boucher, Kuttner, Moore, Brackett, Tenn, Harness, H Beam Piper, Vance, Schmitz, Cordwainer Smith, Pangborn, Finney, Knight, Bester, Miller, deFord, Dick, Dickson, Silverberg, Davidson, Anderson, McIntosh, Farmer, Galouye, Laumer.. and that’s all from memory and doesn’t really push into the ’60s, and it is only the authors _I_ like – it could be at least doubled with authors liked by others. There are _thousands_ of great stories which have been mined for great collections or anthologies – from the early super-sized volumes of Bleiler-Dikty-Conklin-Derleth to the later compendia of Greenberg-Hartwell-Dozois-Silverberg. The really old anthologies are immensely rare and expensive (tho’ a proportion – eg the Conklins – were reprinted as instant remainder hardcover some years ago) and I commiserate with anyone just starting to collect – but the stories are out there, and there are as you ask, many ‘hidden gems’ among the piles of workaday fiction, stories not recognised at the time, and thus, unfairly neglected and available only in the yellowing pages of long-gone magazines.

    1. Ian, there are countless stories we (us old fans) collectively love, but how many old stories will be remembered by current and future fans? If you look at 19th-century novels, very few of them are remembered today — I’d say less than a hundred by popular readers. And how many were originally published?

      Anthologies like the VanderMeer’s excellent The Big Book of Science Fiction from 2016 are how stories are remembered. Over time fewer and fewer stories are recalled from the past. That’s why I said 1-3 stories a year because eventually most of the others will be forgotten. Probably in a hundred years damn few if any will be remembered. How many short stories can you name from the 19th-century? I have a handful of SF short story anthologies from that century, but I’m a very odd-ball reader.

      One of the things I’m trying to do is memorize the titles of the best of the best. I won’t be able to remember many. I’d say I could recall several dozen titles now. But that’s far less than even 1 story per year on average.

      If we asked young science fiction fans to name great SF short stories from the 1950s how many do you think would be recalled. I’m not sure I can recall 30 right now. So, that’s how I got that number. I might be able to remember 10-30.

  7. Hi James,
    My name is Rod T. Faulkner, the founder of The 7th Matrix. I was doing some work on the site and was pleasantly surprised to see you mentioned us in your blog post.
    I just wanted to say thank you so much!
    As far as your love of older science fiction stories, have you ever considered starting a book club on Goodreads.com that specifically reads science fiction from the era you are fond of?
    Goodreads has millions of members, and I’m sure there are others who love the same era of short science fiction stories you do. In addition, you can always use said book club as another way to connect with your peers.
    Again, thank you so much for mentioning my site so kindly in your post.
    Best,
    Rod

    1. Rod, I hadn’t thought of Goodreads, but that’s a good idea. I’ll go see what it takes to start a group. I do moderate an online SF book club, but we generally focus on novels.
      https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ClassicScienceFiction/info – plus Yahoogroups is a fading technology. Goodreads is where it’s at today.

      I also posted my essay to Space Opera Pulp on Facebook and quite a number of members say they still love the old stories. We seldom discuss the stories because the focus seems to be on the cover art.
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/1072410102817813/?multi_permalinks=1700263056699178&notif_id=1516251148683028&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

  8. You are going to find this completely unbelievable, but I swear it is true. The “recommended by Pocket” feature on the home page of the firefox browser recommended an article that sounded interesting to me..and it was. About partway through the article I thought, “this is something James Harris would love”, so after finishing it, just now, copied it to come over here to paste it in whatever post you had going. Here is the link:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/01/16/578216674/too-much-music-a-failed-experiment-in-dedicated-listening

    Imagine my surprise when I read your post and saw that you had already read and linked to the same article. I laughed out loud, in the literal sense.

    It is a funny ol’ world.

    1. That’s great Carl — you sure do have me pegged. Since you brought it up again I went and reread that essay. It’s still great. He’s addicted to music like I am, and he seldom mentioned a band or album I knew. I’ve got to go try his albums.

      I really like this quote:

      A friend once floated a theory that I’ve grappled with ever since. She claimed that we only ever really love 10 albums, and we spend the rest of our listening lives seeking facsimiles of those 10, pursuing the initial rush, so to speak. At the time, I argued with her, mostly because I didn’t want this to be true. But even as I protested I began recalling how many times I compulsively “added to cart” an item whenever some savvy vinyl-hustling mountebank deployed the phrase “Velvets-y” or “Royal Trux-ish,” and how many times I’d bought reissues promising the “holy grail” of “private press proto-doom” only to discover tepid bar rock that sounded like a warmed-over Bad Company. Our individual dragons may vary — Sabbath or Coltrane or Beatles or Beefheart — but we’re all chasing ’em.

      I don’t know if it’s just ten albums or novels, but I do feel like I have a limited number of works I love and I’ve been trying to top those highs my whole life. I can still find new stuff that surpasses old favorites but it’s an epic journey to discover them.

      I’ve tried experiments like the one Toth invented for himself, and I generally fail. And I keep trying them too. I would advise him to have a featured album of the week but still play other music too.

  9. James; keep digging, blogging and resurrecting interest in past Science Fiction. Some of us won’t work nearly as hard as you do, and can reap the rewards of your work. Others will only pick and choose and then order the books from Shazamazon. You and your cohorts are the only thing that can give us a chance at the tomes that our earlier libraries used to have just waiting for a hand to pull them from the shelves.

    I grew up with a fond attraction to the LA City Public Libraries: from the Altsheler frontier stories to the Freddy The Pig stories, they lit my imagination up and sent me on to Heinlein juveniles to Andre Norton’s and others. My sister went on to be a Librarian there, but I’d moved on since I could buy the books I wanted. And the Libraries couldn’t keep up with my reading.
    Shine On You Crazy Diamonds!

  10. It’s not just a matter of stories that the anthologists have overlooked. Even if a story has been in an anthology, the anthology itself may be long out of print and hard to find.

    The problem is even worse for me. I live in South Africa, and because of book distribution patterns, if I walk into a second hand bookstore, I’m seldom going to see an anthology with stories from the classic period. You guys who live in the US are blessed in this respect. A wealth of dirt cheap classic material is available to you in second hand stores, yard sales, etc. If I ever visit the US, buying old books will be high on the agenda!

    Let’s take one example: Judith Merril’s 1954 story “Dead Center”. Did you know that this was one of the bitterly few SF magazine stories to be included in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES? I once scoured the index of BASS and I think I found about six, maybe seven, SF magazine stories to make it into that distinguished mainstream series. So it’s a highly notable story. And yet, it’s been included in only one SF anthology: Anthony Boucher’s two volume A TREASURY OF SCIENCE FICTION. Granted, that was quite a ubiquitous anthology. I believe it was both a book club item and a library staple. So it should be easy to find—if you live in the US. But I’m never going to see it here. (Never mind—I have obtained a copy of the story!)

    But while we’re on the subject of great stories the anthologists have missed, I’ll give you a doozy: Ray Bradbury’s “And the Rock Cried Out”. It may well be his best SF story, and yet it’s never been in any anthology! It’s only in Bradbury’s own story collections, and not the most famous ones, either! A masterpiece of creeping unease in a near future scenario.

    Oh, and by the way, Jim Harris, here’s a factoid to mess with your head. (This is rapidly becoming a sort of capita selecta post.) Like me, you’re a fan of THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, VOLUME ONE. But did you know that William Tenn’s “Child’s Play” should have been in the anthology, but was omitted because of rights issues? And that Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star” also received enough votes to be included, and was left out only because of a “one per author” rule?

    There are several other stories that narrowly missed inclusion in Volume One, Two A or Two B because of such technicalities. Your reading isn’t complete until you’ve read them all, and even I haven’t.

    1. Six or seven SF stories in BASS, Piet? The only ones from genre authors I can think of (unless a few have popped up recently), are “Dead Center”, Sturgeon’s “Man Who Lost the Sea” (one of the greatest SF stories of all time), a Harlan Ellison story, and Tim Pratt’s “Hart and Boot”. Granted, that’s up to on the early 2000s, so I suppose there’ve been some since?

      1. There was one in the year Stephen King was the editor.

        Rich, the number of stories by genre authors to make it into BASS is greater than six or seven — but I’m referring to stories from dedicated SF magazines that were included in BASS. I’ll look again and report back.

      2. Rich, the following stories were all in BASS, sourced from genre magazines:

        B. Traven, “The Third Guest” (Fantastic, March/April 1953)

        Judith Merril, “Dead Center” (F&SF, November 1954)

        Shirley Jackson, “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” (F&SF, January 1955)

        Theodore Sturgeon, “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (F&SF, October 1959)

        Harlan Ellison, “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” (Omni, July 1992)

        Bruce McAllister, “the Boy in Zaquitos” (F&SF, January 2006)

        This is by no means a complete list. These are the ones I remembered or could find easily.

        Ray Bradbury was featured four times, but not one was from a genre magazine.

        Ursula K. Le Guin was featured twice, but not one was from a genre magazine.

        Also, just for fun:

        Stanley Ellin, “The Day of the Bullet” (EQMM, 1960)
        Steve Frazee, “My Brother Down There” (EQMM, 1954)
        Alfredo Segre, “Justice Has no Number” (EQMM, 1949)
        Bob van Scoyk, “Home from Camp” (EQMM, 1958)

        In the case of the EQMM stories, I think the dates are of the relevant BASS volumes.

      3. Thanks, Piet. I had missed the McAllister story, and had (unfairly!) ignored the Traven and Jackson stories (the latter is one of my favorite stories, and the former I actually read (not too long ago) in that issue of Fantastic) because both writers have major reputations outside SF. The Ellison story is the one I remembered. “Hart and Boot” by my Locus colleague Tim Pratt was in Polyphony 4, one of a series of really nice anthologies edited by Deborah Layne and the late Jay Lake that came from a small press in the early 2000s. (His story was chosen the year Michael Chabon was guest editor, which explains a lot.) I knew about Bradbury and Le Guin, but that their stories were not from SF sources.

        Yes, there are quite a few more BASS stories that are fantastical in nature (many fewer are SFnal, though there’s one recent example, “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders in the 2011 edition).

      4. Rich, you and Piet sure do have a wealth of knowledge of old short stories. Since you are in the business of annual anthologies, maybe you can answer a question for me. Why aren’t all the annual best-of-the-year anthologies on audio? You’d think BASS would be audio for sure. Strahan had his annual on audio this year, and Clarke had his last year. Will you and Dozois get a turn in the future? I love hearing short stories, but evidently, audiobooks of short stories anthologies aren’t big with the public.

      1. I’ve just lost a long reply to you (JWH), because I punched the wrong key (lesson: don’t type in the dark).
        So here’s the very short version:
        1. I have a lot of anthologies and collections already, mostly unread, so although I don’t have nearly everything, I have a good selection. Ordering more is an indulgence.
        2. I have ordered classic old hardcovers from abebooks. Most of these are great, but two of them have binding errors. Because of the logistics, it’s not worth taking the matter further and anyway, only two stories were affected. I now have both. So that’s a risk factor.
        3. We do have local sources, and if you search diligently, you occasionally make good finds. You just have to search a lot harder for very slim pickings, but I have found some prime material.
        4. We do have online suppliers of both new and old material, which extends my range just a little bit.
        5. Good tip about filtering abebooks. Will look into it. The problem stands, though: by and large books such as the Boucher Treasury just aren’t seen in this country.

  11. At the risk of enraging a number of serious readers of this blog, I would propose that saving and protecting the best and most clearly referent stories and novels of the Science Fiction from the late 40’s through the early 60’s should be front and center of any group effort to bring them to the fore of today’s readers, aka “literati”.

    Granted, most of those folks who were born after 1970 won’t have a clue (unless they had truly enlightened parents or friends) but for those who are in the entertainment industry and are now scrabbling to unearth the next big storyline – just stop!

    There is so much more to to be found in this vast forum of stories about people who find themselves in new lands, new worlds, and yet still have to deal with typical human issues in order to survive. Yes, some of them are aged and tainted with “colonial” attitudes that can affect the story line as well as the outcomes. Screw that; that was who we were, and that is still much of who we are. Science Fiction writers were people of their times who dared to think beyond the norm, who fully expected that what they wrote may not survive the editor’s pen – much less the auditor’s approval. Unless of course, they were the favorites who got tons of responses and therefore repetitive aplomb.

    The true “owners” and controllers of early science fiction were the editors and publishers. “If it bleeds, it leads” was the honoraria of much news and fiction those days, and frankly it still is.

    However, the world is a very different place today regardless of the current surge of interest brought about by the new “media” of Facebook and Twitter. That should not let anyone who knows and cares about the fiction of the “fantastic” that came from the late 1940’s and well into the 1960’s. Great story lines were written, although they may now be considered dated. They shouldn’t be. We The People, are the same money-grubbing, looking for the fast-buck, sneaking in and out of opportunities, and lining up with the latest Big Thing – that we always were. Skipping politics, we are still the same folks we were back then – although probably less educated and aware of just how much we are being “handled”.

    So. Anything and everything that our past – including fiction – can teach us is a major improvement in making today’s human beings as capable as they can be in running this world.

    Science Fiction and Fantasy provides the best possible lessons they can possibly learn from. That and being raised up to deal with each and every person they meet as a potentially reasonable human being.

    Of course, that above my be sashaying away from the current issues of this blog. If so, I apologize, without regret.

    1. I think about this a lot, Jim. Traditionally, anthologists preserve the best short stories of the past, but unfortunately, most anthologies don’t stay in print, and they seldom come out on audio.

      I have two theories about how fiction is preserved over time in our society. One depends on how often an author’s work is made into television shows and movies. Philip K. Dick is succeeding at this method currently. However, how many television viewers will go read PKD after seeing Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams?. By the way, the ten stories used in that show have been collected into a reprint volume, and that volume has an audio edition.

      My second theory involves audiobooks. Audiobooks are gaining in popularity. However, short stories aren’t popular on audio. You’d think they would be because people in the digital world seem to have shorter attention spans.

      But there is another issue. Are the stories really worth preserving? We love them because we grew up loving them. But that doesn’t mean their appeal will transfer to later generations. I recently listened to The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One and I was in hog heaven. I got my buddy to listen to it and he’s been pointing out that some of the stories are seriously flawed. When I think about his specific critiques I know he’s right.

      I think for short stories to be preserved requires young anthologists to reevaluate the past and pick the old stories that should appeal to their generation. I thought the VanderMeer’s did a great job with The Big Book of Science Fiction. But how many people have bought it? How many young people bought it? Why wasn’t it selected to come out on audio? I wonder if its because there’s no demand.

  12. JWH, I make lots of spreadsheets – of the major annuals, some major awards, and of my own books. But I got the above information by visually scanning the index to THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY, edited by John Updike. I found a PDF copy of the whole book somewhere online.

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