A History of the Annual Science Fiction Best-of-the-Year Anthology

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Best_science_fiction_stories_1949Back in 1949 editors Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty came out with The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 from Fredrick Fell publishers that collected the best science fiction stories that appeared in magazines during 1948. They were following the tradition of The Best American Short Stories anthology that first appeared in 1915. Science fiction has had one or more annual best-of-the-year anthologies ever since. I’ve counted 9 scheduled for 2018, with two already released (The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 3 edited by Neil Clarke and The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Twelve edited by Jonathan Strahan). By the way, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eleven is currently available for the Kindle for 99 cents. It has two of my favorite recent reads:  “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (try the audio) and “Mika Model” by Paolo Bacigalupi (author of The Windup Girl.)

Few people read short stories. The audience for them is greater than poetry readers, but probably not by much. The three top print magazines, Analog, Asimov’s SF, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction all have roughly 10,000-20,000 buyers each. There’s no telling how many readers there are for the many online magazines. 1% of the U.S. population would be 3.257 million people, so even if there were 50,000 science fiction short story fans, that would only be less than 1/65th of 1% of the population. If you’re a fan of SF short stories, the odds of knowing someone else who is also a fan is very small indeed.

However, I would claim the science fiction short story has always been the heart and soul of the genre. Even before Amazing Stories in April 1926, the first pulp magazine devoted to science fiction, short science fiction appeared regularly in periodicals decades before that. Most science fiction writers, especially the Golden Age writers, got their start writing short stories. And if you love to read science fiction for the far-out ideas, the magazines are the place to go.

In an age where most novels are part of trilogies or never-ending series, a short work of fiction that jumps in, gets the job done and wraps up satisfyingly is to be highly prized. I get more science fictional bangs for my galactic credit by reading one annual anthology than I do reading a dozen SF novels. That’s why I’ve switched to mostly reading SF short stories.

Bleiler and Dikty might have begun the tradition of best-short-stories-of-the-year anthologies, but Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg created a series in the late 1970s that jumped back to 1939 and continued for 25 volumes until 1963. Robert Silverberg added one more volume for 1964 after they stopped.

I’ve started a reading project to read all these anthologies from 1939 to the present, assuming the present will be the year I die. That’s about 200 books as of 2018. I’m currently reading stories from 1942, the 1950s, and 2017.

Here are the annual anthologies I know about that ran for at least three years minimum. There have been other editors and publishers starting annual series that didn’t succeed that I’m ignoring in my collecting and reading. Follow the links to ISFDB to read more about each series, their volumes, and their content. I’m using the series title decided on my ISFDB, but individual volume titles will vary.

If you count series with the bolded “present” above, you should tally eleven. Maybe my assumption that few people read short stories is wrong because this seems like a boom time for best-of-the-year anthologies.

Bleiler & Dikty began their series two years before I was born. Evidently, their publisher Frederick Fell didn’t have a wide distribution because I don’t remember seeing any of these volumes at the library when I was growing up. I began reading the annual anthologies in the mid-sixties with Judith Merril and then the Wollheim books from Ace Books. After that, I started reading the Terry Carr collections. I bought every annual from Dozois when he started with Bluejay Books, but I didn’t keep them. Damn!  Today I follow Dozois, Strahan, Horton, Kaster, and Clarke.

My current reading project is The Great SF Stories edited by Asimov/Greenberg. I’m reading them straight through. I’m now in 1942. I seldom read the annual anthologies from cover-to-cover. My goal is to do that this time as I progress through the years. It’s becoming quite an education in the history and evolution of science fiction. I sometimes write about the stories that intrigue me over at Worlds Without End.

If you’re interested in discussing SF short stories I have an online email group, The Great SF Stories at Groups.io. You’re welcome to join.

Update:

A few weeks ago I wrote “9 ‘Best SFF of the Year’ Anthologies” for Book Riot that just got published (4/13/18). At the time I only knew about 9 current best-of-the-year anthologies. Now it’s up to 11. There might be more.

JWH

 

 

Where to Read the 1943 Retro Hugo Short Fiction Nominees?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, April 1, 2018

Worldcon 76 just announced the 1943 Retrospective Hugo Award finalists, which selects works published in 1942. Because I’ve been systematically reading old science fiction short stories I thought it would be fun to see where and how often these stories have been reprinted. In the list below, I’m linking each story to its Internet Science Fiction Database (ISFDB) entry. Following that link will show where the story has been reprinted. If you right-click the link and select open the page in a new window you won’t lose your place here.

Following the list, I’ll discuss which anthologies have best remembered these stories from 1942.

Best Short Story

Etaoin Shrdlu” by Fredric Brown (Unknown Worlds, February 1942)
Mimic” by Martin Pearson (Donald A. Wollheim) (Astonishing Stories, December 1942)
Proof” by Hal Clement (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1942)
Runaround” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942)
The Sunken Land” by Fritz Leiber (Unknown Worlds, February 1942)
The Twonky” by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)

Best Novelette

Bridle and Saddle” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1942)
Foundation” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1942)
Goldfish Bowl” by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein) (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942)
The Star Mouse” by Fredric Brown (Planet Stories, Spring 1942)
There Shall Be Darkness” by C.L. Moore (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1942)
The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1942)

Best Novella

Asylum” by A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1942)
The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher (Unknown Worlds, April 1942)
Hell is Forever” by Alfred Bester (Unknown Worlds, August 1942)
Nerves” by Lester del Rey (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” by John Riverside (Robert A. Heinlein) (Unknown Worlds, October 1942)
Waldo” by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein) (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1942)

The Great SF Stories 4 (1942) edited by Asimov and Greenberg

Some of these stories have been anthologized extensively, and some very little. That’s kind of surprising since you’d think the most remembered stories would get nominated. If you own a copy of The Great SF Stories 4 (1942) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg you’ll already have 7 of 18 of these stories:

  • “Mimic”
  • “Proof”
  • “The Twonky”
  • “Foundation”
  • “The Star Mouse”
  • “The Weapon Shop”
  • “Nerves”

Unfortunately, that anthology is out of print, and used copies can be expensive. It’s actually cheaper to find copies of Isaac Asimov Presents The Golden Years of Science Fiction: 2nd Series in hardback, that reprints both 1941 and 1942.

If you own another out-of-print anthology, Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas you can read five of the stories:

  • “Nerves”
  • “Asylum”
  • “The Twonky”
  •  “The Weapon Shop”
  • “The Star Mouse”

Notice the overlap. I wonder if that’s an indication of which stories will win this summer.

“Runaround” can be found in I, Robot and other repackagings of Asimov’s robot stories, and the “Foundation” and “Bride and Saddle” of course, are part of Foundation (it was a fix-up novel).

“Etaoin Shrdlu” can be read in several Fredric Brown anthologies. Both of his nominated stories can be bought in the 99 cent ebook, The Fredric Brown Megapack.

“The Sunken Land” by Fritz Leiber can be found in the many editions of Swords Against Death, the second volume of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

The most common way to find Heinlein’s “Goldfish Bowl” is from his collection, The Menace From Earth. The best way to find Heinlein’s other two nominations, “Waldo” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” is in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein. However, it’s out of print. I find it rather annoying how Heinlein’s short stories are constantly being repackaged in new collections.

One of the hardest stories to find will be “There Shall Be Darkness” by C. L. Moore. The latest reprint, which is still in print is Miracle in Three Dimensions, is a collection of her lost pulp stories.  But at $16.95, is kind of steep for reading one story.

Almost as hard to track down will be “Hell is Forever” by Alfred Bester. I’d look for a used copy of Starlight: The Great Short Fiction of Alfred Bester. They’s way you’d get his other great stories.

“The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher has been reprinted fairly often, but not in easy to acquire anthologies. Probably the best place to find it is in Boucher’s collection, The Complete Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I’m surprised that many of these stories weren’t anthologized more often. Before I started this research, I thought they’d all be in a handful of famous retrospective anthologies. That wasn’t the case. The stories least anthologized seem to be fantasy stories.

Won’t fans vote for Asimov because his nominees are from his most famous series? And does Heinlein still have enough fans to guarantee him a win? Heinlein was very popular in 1942 among science fiction fans, but what about the fans voting today?

Update:

Just for fun, I decided to try to find some of the other SF stories from 1942 that have been remembered.

My first idea was to check the Groff Conklin anthologies. Conklin assembled a number of retrospective anthologies that are well-remembered by older fans today. I check seven of these and found these 1942 stories:

  • “Goldfish Bowl” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • “Jackdaw” by Ross Rocklynne
  • “With Flaming Swords” by Cleve Cartmill
  • “The Embassy” by Donald Wollheim
  • “Tools” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Wings of Night” by Lester del Rey
  • “Proof” by Hal Clement
  • “Recruitment Station” by A. E. van Vogt
  • “Heritage” by Robert Abernathy
  • “The Flight that Failed” by Hull/van Vogt
  • “To Follow Knowledge” by Frank Belnap Long

I’m guessing Conklin didn’t use any stories that Healy & McComas used in Adventures in Time and Space. I also assumed Conklin didn’t get to use the Asimov and Heinlein stories because they weren’t available, or were used elsewhere, or were already too famous.

Besides the five stories picked by Healy & McComas that got nominated, they had one other 1942 story, “The Link” by Cleve Cartmill.

The other stories in the Asimov/Greenberg anthology that weren’t nominated for retro Hugos were:

  • “The Wings of Night” by Lester del Rey
  • “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher
  • “QRM-Interplanetary” by George O. Smith

If I get time, I’m going to check other anthologies.

JWH

Why Wasn’t Philip K. Dick in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame Anthologies?

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Philip K. DickI’ve been listening to the new audiobook editions of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One and Volume 2A. Volume 2B is due out in April. Today, my friend Mike asked me why there were no stories by Philip K. Dick in these anthologies. I had not noticed that before, and now I’m wondering, “Why the hell not?” Mike and I are big PKD fans.

Read “SFWA and the ‘Science Fiction Hall of Fame’ Anthologies” by Andrew Liptak for a history of these books and a listing of the stories included. The first three volumes collected stories voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) for works that were published before the Nebula Awards were created. The final two volumes collected stories that won the award. Since PKD never won a Nebula it’s understandable he wasn’t included in those volumes. So we’re really talking about missing in action from v. 1, 2A and 2B.

Was Philip K. Dick unpopular with SFWA members? 132 stories by 76 authors were nominated for the first volume which was limited to stories under 15,000 words published before 1965. PKD had dozens and dozens of stories that met that requirement, many of which were exceptional, and several of which have inspired movies and television shows. I would love to see that list of total nominated stories but I can’t find it on the web. I have to assume PKD had a few stories on it.

The Internet Science Fiction Database (ISFDB) has a listing “Most Viewed Stories Since 2005.” PKD has 5 in the Top 20, and many more in the overall list.

  • “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966)
  • “Adjustment Team” (1954)
  • “The Minority Report” (1956)
  • “Imposter” (1953)
  • “The Golden Man” (1954)

Of course, this list has been heavily influenced by fans of the television shows and movies looking up the stories. Strangely, there are no PKD stories in ISFDB’s older “Top 100 Short Stories – Balanced List.” Does this mean PKD has only recently gained popularity as a science fiction writer?

Dick only has two stories on the “Top 100 SF Short Stories” at Sci-Fi Lists (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and “Second Variety” (1953)). This list is based on internet voters, from recent years.

He does have two stories (“Faith of Our Fathers” (1967) and “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) at the Anthology & Collect References list that tells which stories have been most anthologized in these anthologies. These are older works.

Evidently, Philip K. Dick’s most popular story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” which came out in 1966 didn’t qualify. Neither does “Faith in Our Fathers.”  But the others do. Mike and I wondered why “Survey Team” (1954) didn’t make it since we like it better than many of the stories that did get into the original Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One.

Dick’s stories were often published in less famous science fiction magazines of the day. Reading them in his five-volume collected stories, I’m often very impressed. I wonder if there were other writers who appeared in the lesser mags that also wrote good stories that need to be remembered.

This also makes me ask, “What other great SF authors and stories were left out of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame books?” The obvious next question is where are the women writers? And when I think about it, there were many popular writers from the 1930s and 1940s that would have been included twenty-five years earlier. Time is not kind to science fiction.

Update 3/17/18:

What about Robert Sheckley?

JWH

 

The Great SF Stories #1-25 (1939-1963)

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I’m not the only one having BIG fun reading The Great SF Stories #1-25 (1939-1963), so I’ve created an online discussion group for us. So far seven of us have joined. If you’re interested go here. You’ll have to join Groups.io first, but it’s free and easy to do so.

I’m constantly using Internet Science Fiction Database (ISFDB) to look up these stories to see where they have been anthologized and first appeared in magazines. So I thought I’d copy their table of content links to one page. If you click on a story title it will take you to ISFDB’s page showing it’s publication history. If you click on an author it will take you to the author’s bibliography. ISFDB is a wonderful site!

I’ve annotated this list with some links to other annual best-SF-of-the-year anthologies. The easiest way to compare two Table of Contents is to right-click on the other anthology link and select “Open in New Window.”

This will be our reading list.

1

2

The Retro Hugo Awards 1941 (for 1940 stories)

The voting statistics and nominations for the 1941 Retro Hugo

3

4

5

6

Retro Hugo Awards 1946 (for 1945 stories)

7

8

9

10

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1949 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

11

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1950 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

12

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1951 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

1951 Retro Hugo Award (for 1950 stories)

13

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1952 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

14

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1953 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

15

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1954 edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

1954 Retro Hugo Awards (for 1953 stories)

16

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels edited by T. E. Dikty

17

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels 1956 edited by T. E. Dikty and S-F: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy edited by Judith Merril

1956 Hugo Awards (for 1955 stories)

18

Compare to: SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume edited by Judith Merril

19

Compare to: The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels Ninth Series edited by T. E. Dikty and SF:58: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Judith Merril

20

Compare to: SF:59: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Judith Merril

1959 Hugo Awards (for 1958 stories)

21

Compare to: Fifth Annual of The Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1960 Hugo Awards (for 1959 stories)

22

Compare to: The Sixth Annual of The Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1961 Hugo Awards (for 1960 stories)

23

Compare to: The 7th Annual of The Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1962 Hugo Awards (for 1961 stories)

24

Compare to: The 8th Annual of the Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1963 Hugo Awards (for 1962 stories)

25

Compare to: The 9th Annual Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1964 Hugo Awards (for 1963 stories)

26

Compare to: 10th Annual Edition: The Year’s Best SF edited by Judith Merril

1965 Hugo Awards (for 1964 stories)

Statistics on Popular Stories in Anthologies

JWH

 

The Calculus of Collecting Science Fiction Short Stories

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, October 2, 2016

My calculations all began when I wrote about the science fiction of 1966. Starting with ISFDB.org, and hyperlinking over to the World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967, (the 1967 volume covers stories from 1966), I researched each story on the internet. Reading about those stories made me want to read (or reread) the actual stories. So I checked ABEBooks.com for a copy World’s Best Science Fiction 1967. The cheapest edition was a paperback for $6.50, or $10 for a hardback without dust jacket (prices include shipping). Too much for me, considering their condition.

World's Best Science Fiction 1967

Here is the table of contents for World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967:

  • “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw
  • “The Keys to December” by Roger Zelazny
  • “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” by R. A. Lafferty
  • “Bircher” by A. A. Walde
  • “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock
  • “Bumberboom” by Avram Davidson
  • “Day Million” by Frederik Pohl
  • “The Wings of a Bat” by Pauline Ashwell
  • “The Man from When” by Dannie Plachta
  • “Amen and Out” by Brian W. Aldiss
  • “For a Breath I Tarry” by Roger Zelazny

I remember owning this paperback back in the sixties as a teen, and I probably read it then. Only four of the stories have stuck in my memory though. Writing about 1966 made me want to seek a deeper understanding of that year. Yesterday, I read “The Keys of December” by Roger Zelazny. I was both impressed and moved. It’s a story about the ethics of geo-engineering a planet with emerging life. I don’t remember thinking about such topics when I was young, but I do now. I guess I wasn’t ready. I also loved how Zelazny told his story. It resonated with the genes that make me love science fiction.

Reading “The Keys of December” made me want to read more from World’s Best Science Fiction 1967. What’s driving my current interest in science fiction is akin to being a science fiction archaeologist. Every story is a clue to how we thought in 1966. Instead of reading science fiction to imagine the future, I’m reading science fiction to understand my past, and why we all grew up wanting and fearing the futures we do. Finding each story is like digging up another artifact. On some days I think having copies of all the science fiction magazines is the way to do my research. That’s possible with digitized pulps on the net. On other days, I think just collecting the annual best-of-the-year anthologies is all I need. Then I wonder if buying a couple dozen retrospective anthologies would provide all the historical evidence I should read.

Then it occurred to me to ask how many of these stories I already own. I found “The Keys of December,” “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” “Day Million,” and “Nine Hundred Grandmothers.” Four out of twelve is not bad.

That made me wonder about the mathematics of collecting short stories. How many anthologies would I need to buy to get all the stories I wanted to read from World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967? Would collecting retrospective anthologies be a better purchase than collecting annual anthologies – if my goal is to acquire all the very best science fiction short stories ever written? I’ve generally read novels. Now I’m thinking about the classics of short science fiction.

How many major annual anthologies have there been? If you start counting with The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 1 (1939), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, and assumed just one anthology a year, the minimum collection would be 77 volumes.  (There are many years with several annual anthologies, especially 2016.) Let’s guestimate the average annual anthology has 15 stories, that would mean 1,155 stories. If I could find large retrospective anthologies with more than 25 stories per volume, I could cut down 77 to 46. The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Jeff and And VanderMeer had over a hundred stories, two of which were from World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967. (“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” and “Day Million.”) I need just a dozen books that size.

So I went shopping on ABEbooks.com. I got “Light of Other Days,” and additional copies of “The Keys to December” and “Day Million” by ordering The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg ($4.20). The best way to get “Behold the Man” was by buying The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume III, edited by Arthur C. Clarke and George W. Proctor ($8.99). That got me three stories I mentioned in my essay from 1966 that wasn’t in the Wollheim/Carr annual. The cheapest way I found “For a Breath I Tarry” was by buying Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology, edited by Eric S. Rabkin ($3.48).

For $16.67 I got all the stories I wanted, plus several other great 1966 stories, and a huge number of SF stories from over the last two hundred years. Compared to spending $10 for the World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 in hardback, $16.67 was a great bargain. I decided I didn’t need “Bircher,” “Bumberboom,” “The Wings of a Bat,” “Amen and Out,” and “The Man from When.” They aren’t often reprinted, and I’ve never heard of any of them since. Which suggests that not all stories in the annual collections are worth remembering. How many great shorter works are produced each year in science fiction? If we say 10, then that’s 900 stories since 1926. That’s not an impossibly large number to consume. Reading three a day, would let me finish in a year. Such a pursuit would be a fascinating education in science fiction evolution and history.

Fantastic - Sept - 1966

I’ve always believed the heart of science fiction is the short stories that appear in the science fiction magazines. That’s ninety years of stories. Theoretically, it would be possible to collect (especially with pulp scans on the internet) all those issues of Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories, Planet Stories, Unknown, F&SF, Galaxy, If, Analog, Fantastic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and even read a good fraction. But that would also be more reading than I have time left in my life.

Then I wondered, would it be possible to collect all the annual anthologies and read them. Would reading the yearly best of the best be worth my time? The 77 volumes since 1939 is not a huge number of books. I wouldn’t want to read a steady diet of old science fiction, but I could finish that pile of 77 books in a decade.

The Big Book of Science Fiction

Then I wondered about the mathematics of retrospective anthologies. I already own The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It has over one hundred stories. I could read it in a year. What if I read one large anthology a year that collects the best science fiction short stories ever written, how many years would it take before I felt I had read the greatest short works of the genre?

I’ve already read countless SF stories in my life, yet I don’t remember most of them. That’s because I consumed science fiction, like eating M&Ms. What if I studied science fiction like I used to study American and English literature in college? Could I create a taxonomy of science fictional themes? I’ve been reading science fiction long enough to see it evolve. For most readers, science fiction is merely entertainment. Exciting stories well told. But I’m starting to see that the science fiction writer has a unique job in society.

Their task is to speculate about possibilities that science has yet to thoroughly explore. Most of the time science squashes these speculations, but not always. Over the centuries many writers speculated about building flying machines. We don’t think airplanes are science fiction anymore because aircraft are mundane now. At one time, speculation about flying machines was science fiction. I wonder how many science fiction stories written fifty years ago have either been shot down by science, engineered into reality, or still a realistic speculation? I also wonder how many science fictional ideas we still want to come true? We’ve been wanting colonies on Mars for a very long time now. Ditto for intelligent robots. Will that change once we’ve been to Mars or lived with AI? What will science fiction writers write about once we’ve settled the galaxy?

That’s why I wonder about numbers. How many science fiction stories have been written? How many unique themes have been developed. How many variations on each theme have emerged? How long does an idea take to die once science has covered it’s territory?

F&SF November 1963

Think about the story “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny, first published in F&SF (Nov. 1963). It was one of the last great stories about life on Mars. On July 15, 1965, Mariner IV flew by Mars, and 21 grainy pictures of the red planet forever killed any hope of finding Barsoom. I remembered when that happened. I was so disappointed. Mars looked like the Moon. Yet, we still want to read stories about Mars like we imagined it before Mariner IV. People haven’t stopped reading The Martian Chronicles. Writers and publishers still put out books like Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Science fiction isn’t only about speculation, it’s also about the dreams we want to dream. When does science fiction become fantasy?

mars_m04_11e

I wonder if I studied 19th century science fiction thoroughly, and understood the hopes and fears of 19th century people had for the 20th century, would I better understand our hopes and fears for the 22nd century?

How many people will go to Mars if Elon Musk builds the rockets to take them to the red planet? Where did Elon Musk get his desire to go to Mars. Will there actually be a hundred people willing to go, even if they think they might die, or never return to Earth? It’s one thing to read science fiction, its another thing to actually live it. Is reading hundreds of old science fiction stories a way to understand why?

JWH

Six 2016 Best Science Fiction Anthologies Covering 2015

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ever since The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, there have been annual collections of the best short science fiction. For many decades now, there have been two or three. For some reason, in 2016 we have at least six big anthologies looking back at the short work of the previous year. There will be at least one more, because the Nebula Showcase that covers 2015 stories hasn’t come out yet.

clarke Dozoisguran
StrahanHortonFowler-Adams

Links below are to Amazon, where you can buy, preview the table of contents, and maybe read the introductions in the Look Inside feature. I’ve already bought one ebook and one audio edition to read or listen on my iPhone. I might buy another in print. I’d buy them all if they were available on audio.

I’m the most excited about the Neil Clarke collection, because it’s also available on audio at Audible.com. I’ve been wishing for years that the Dozois, Strahan or Horton volumes would show up at Audible. Allan Kaster has been my only source of annual best short science fiction on audio, via his series The Year’s Top-Ten Tales of Science fiction (v1-7) and The Year’s Top Short SF Novels (v1-5), Kaster’s collections were never as giant as the Dozois or Strahen volumes. I wonder if Kaster has stopped his series, because his collections only cover through 2014 stories. I hope not.

Does this wealth of anthologized short science fiction represent increased interest in reading short science fiction? For decades the print magazines have struggled to survive with dwindling subscribers. Decades ago some SF magazines had over 100,000 subscribers. Now the major print magazines have only 7,500-20,000 paying readers and that’s declining. Has the internet changed the way we read?

Is the internet increasing readership of short SF? I love being able to read on my phone whenever I have a free moment, or listen to a short story while I walk or do dishes, or even have Alexa on my Amazon Echo play a story for me in the middle of night when I can’t sleep.

These stories are being collected from a much more diverse collection of sources. We’re moving away from print to digital. Here are some of the periodicals that publish science fiction short stories. Some magazines still print their issues, but my guess is buying and reading short stories on paper is going the way of the land line.

Many of these year’s best stories came from original anthologies.

I wish I had the time and patience to put all these short stories into a database and see which ones were most reprinted. For example, I noticed that “Capitalism in the 22nd Century or A.I.r.” by Geoff Ryman, is in the Clarke, Dozois and Strahan volumes.

It would also be wonderful if I could read all these stories and grok the nature of current science fiction. That probably won’t happen. Even though I’m retired, and have all my time free, I never have enough time for all the projects I want to pursue. But it sure would be fun to gorge myself on 2015 science fiction, then gorge myself on 1950s science fiction short stories, and after all that mass-consumption of short stories, write a comparison of how science fiction has evolved and changed.

I can’t imagine how these editors read so much. I wish Dozois would write a book about editing science fiction. And he could write a wonderful history of the evolution of the science fiction short story.

JWH

A Concise History of Science Fiction Short Stories

Let’s face it, the short story is a fading art form that most modern readers ignore.  The short story will never fade away completely because of would-be novelists, MFA Creative Writing students, and legions of fan fiction writers.  The short story existed before mid-19th century in proto-forms, had it’s heyday of mass popularity from the 1850s to the 1950s, and continues to exist now in various subcultures centered around mystery and science fiction writers, academic literary writers, and fanfic writers.  Before television in the 1950s, there were hundreds of magazines devoted to the short story, filling the newsstands each week, that were read by the masses as a popular entertainment.  Television killed that publishing industry.  Today if you search hard at good bookstores, you can find a handful of story magazines to buy.  Most literary magazines have print runs in the hundreds, or low thousands, and a handful of genre magazines have paid circulations in 20,000-30,000 range.

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My motive for writing this essay is to give modern science fiction fans a sense of history of how science fictional ideas emerged out of magazines in the 19th century, grew in popularity with the general fiction pulp magazines of the early part of the 20th century, coalesced into a specific genre pulps starting in 1926 with Amazing Stories, grew even more in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s in many more pulp titles in the U.S. and Great Britain, and peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, when the SF novel became the dominant form of expressing science fictional ideas, and afterwards when television and movies became the main purveyor of science fiction.

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In the 19th century the genres we know today were all available in general circulation magazines.  The rise of the literate middle class, combined with the advent of cheap publishing, created a reading boom.  Think of 19th century magazines as the television of its day – the technology of how people studied the world then, because they didn’t have the radio, television, or the Internet.

All subjects and genres have probably existed for millennia as oral tales, myths, bible stories, anecdotes and even jokes, but as they gelled in the 19th century, certain favorite fictional topics and genres emerged, and maybe the last and least of them, was science fiction.

  • Sex – stories of romance, courtship, sex, marriage, children, families have always been the most popular story subject.
  • Mystery – murder, crime, detectives right from the beginning, especially with Edgar Allan Poe, have been the next big favorite.
  • History – recreating the past has always had its reading fans.
  • Westerns – came out of the urge to write historical fiction to become it’s own genre.
  • Fantasy – the supernatural and magic is probably the first genre.  Horror is a major sub-genre.  Think ghost stories.
  • Intrigue – Tightly plotted stories of conflict over politics, espionage, money, industry, diplomacy has a distinctive readership.
  • Travel – people in the 19th century couldn’t get enough reporting from other lands, and even in the 21st century with television and the internet, fiction about travel is still popular.
  • Humor – ranges from crude to highbrow, and is very hard to write.
  • War – many people consider history the chronicles of wars, but war fiction is about humans at their worst and best.
  • Sports – games, hunting, fishing, living in the great outdoors
  • Forbidden – Pornography, sadism, masochism, perversion – all the stuff kept under the counter.
  • Future – it’s very hard to define science fiction, but generally it’s stories about the future.  In the 19th century it was often about planned utopias, speculation about disturbing trends, how inventions would change society, the marvels of possible new discoveries, and that emerging academic discipline, science.

No categorization is perfect, and most stories involve cross fertilization.  Starting with a microscopic audience in the distant past, to a massive audience today, stories about science fictional ideas have appealed to a segment of readers.  For most of literary history there has been little demarcation between fantasy and science fiction.  Mostly, this was due to the concept of science and scientists having not been invented.  It wasn’t until the 1830s that science as a discipline and label was created, so it’s not surprising that it was until the 1930s that the term “science fiction” finally caught on, and even until the 1950s that it was widely use.  Nowadays, in the 21st century, most people associate the term with movies and television shows, and not books, and definitely not short stories.  But I firmly believe it’s the short story where the best SF ideas emerge first.

We know speculation about intelligent life on other worlds has existed as far back as classical Greek times, and that stories about space travel, artificial life, mechanical beings, and such have appeared occasionally throughout the centuries, but there were no real science fiction fans until the 20th century, when the term science fiction was invented.  Science fictional ideas slowly became popular in the 19th century periodical, gained momentum in the first half of the 20th century, and became very popular in the second half.  Most of the 19th century stories were wild, fantastic and even silly.  They are rarely read today, and seldom anthologized. For example, here is one to try, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, first published in 1844.

best-science-fiction-of-the-19th-centuryToC

I’m encouraging modern SF fans to read modern SF short stories, then then to explore the history of SF stories, because they have a rich heritage and are a wonderful art form, if you can get into them.  Most readers no longer like reading short stories.  When I was growing up back in the 1960s, reading the science fiction digest magazines was my introduction to science fiction fandom, but also to a mother lode of science fictional ideas.  SF novels are usually plot driven, whereas SF short stories are idea driven.  Science fiction short stories are memorable for wild, far out ideas, thinking out of the box, pushing the limits of new concepts, experimenting with writing techniques, exploring borders between the known and the unknown, and just having a lot of fun by endless speculation about possible futures.

Like I said, few science fiction fans read the current print and online magazines that publish science fiction, and far fewer still go back and read the older stories where science fiction began.  Older stories reflect an evolution of thinking in general, and specific writing styles over time.  To be honest, most past science fiction stories aren’t worth reading, even many that were collected into anthologies.  Editors constantly resurvey the genre publishing retrospective anthologies looking at our genre history with new eyes, and often old favorites disappear over time.  Few science fiction short stories are worth reading when they are published, and far fewer older stories are worth remembering by modern minds.  But some are, and over the years and decades, anthologists have collected them.

From the first issue of Amazing Stories till the present, magazines and original anthologies have generated millions of science fictional ideas.  Sure the science fiction novel and movie are the far more famous, but it’s the short story that’s the evolutionary engine of the genre.  With less at stake, writers can easily experiment in the shorter forms of fiction, and the short story seems to bring out more variety of science fictional ideas.  Sadly, the art of short fiction is disappearing from the genre just as fast as it has disappeared from the fictional mainstream.  Few science fiction fans read SF short fiction, either in the dying print format, or the emerging online electronic formats.

At the Classic Science Fiction book club we try to remedy this by discussing one short story a week.  Few members join in, but there’s enough to keep the feature going.  For the first couple of years we only picked stories that were free on the net to make it easy for members to find and read.  As it’s gotten harder to find free reprints of classic stories, we’ve decided to pick a big anthology of stories that can be our textbook.  The book we want has to have a great selection, be readily available used, and cheap.  Two were nominated, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame:  The Greatest Science Fiction Stories Ever and The Ascent of Wonder edited by David Hartwell, with the Hall of Fame volume winning out.  It’s pretty easy to find both of these books for less than $5 at ABE Books and Amazon.

This got me to thinking:  “What were the greatest SF retrospective anthologies ever?”  It seems like every decade of my reading life some editor has come out with a huge anthology that surveys all of science fiction for its absolute best stories.  New SF readers need an introduction to the history of the short works of science fiction, but that introduction always needs to be updated.

When I was growing up reading science fiction short stories in the digest magazines F&SF, Galaxy, If, Analog, Amazing and Fantastic, short SF was considered the heart of science fiction because of the high concentration of  exciting science fictional ideas.  Old timers would talk about the great stories from the pulp era, usually describing the idea and not the plot, and there were many anthologies that collected these stories for new SF fans to catch up on the past.  Hell, most of the great SF novels we baby boomers read first appeared as a series of short stories, and they were called fix-up novels, like City, The Foundation Trilogy, A Canticle for Leibowitz, More than Human, A Case of Conscience, etc., or they were famous collections like I, Robot, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, The Menace from Earth, etc.

Fans of the genre usually attribute the beginning of science fiction to the publication of Hugo Gernsback’s  Amazing Stories (April, 1926) but short fiction featuring science fictional ideas have been around a very long time.  At first Gernsback called his stories scientifiction, trying to classify a certain kind of story.  Before that, sometimes this unknown type of story was called the scientific romance.  Sam Moskowitz create a number of anthologies featuring earlier science fiction such as Masterpieces of Science Fiction (1650-1935), Science Fiction in Old San Francisco (1854-1890), Science Fiction by Gaslight (1891-1911) and Under the Moons of Mars (1912-1920).  More can be read about these pre-Amazing era of science fiction in Pilgrims Through Space and Time by J. O. Bailey, a classic study first published in 1947.

Pilgrams-Through-Space-and-Timescience fiction by gaslight

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During the late 1920s and for most of the 1930s, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder and Astounding Science Fiction was the primary source of science fiction as it wasn’t common yet to publish such genre stories in book form.  This era is decidedly different than what came afterwards,  what the first fandom read and loved.  There are two great anthologies to track down if you want to get a taste of 1930s science fiction, Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov, and Science Fiction of the 30’s edited by Damon Knight.

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Then in July, 1939 John W. Campbell published his famous issue of Astounding Science Fiction, and what later old timers called The Golden Age of Science Fiction began.  Much of what came out in hardcover from the legendary small press publishers, Gnome Press, Fantasy Press, Shasta, in the early 1950s, first appeared in the pulps in the 1940s.  Few modern science fiction fans know about John W. Campbell and how he changed the direction of science fiction.  He’s famous for discovering Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, among many others.

astounding science fiction july 1939 astounding science fiction march 1941

Then right after the war, in 1946, maybe because WWII involved atomic bombs and V-2 rockets, or maybe it was just time, two retrospective science fiction anthologies of science fiction short stories were published, Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas, and The Best of Science Fiction edited by Geoff Conklin.  I discovered both anthologies as tattered library books in the early 1960s as a neophyte SF fan.  The first, and the one that made the biggest impression on me was  Adventures in Time and Space (Toc).  It was a huge book that collected stories that defined that first The Golden Age of Science Fiction.  Growing up talking to older fans I always thought the Golden Age of Science Fiction was 1939-1949, but later learn the golden age of science fiction was 12.  Every year we have twelve-year-olds discovering science fiction books, but how many today ever discover the new short stories, much less the classic short stories?

In my early teens, the stories I read in the digest magazines Galaxy, If, Amazing, F&SF and Analog, would define my Golden Age nostalgia at 62.   1950s science fiction discovered in the early 1960s, along with newer writers like Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, created my definition of science fiction, that is essentially unchanged today, and I assume is different from how younger generations define science fiction.

I also assume subsequent generations of SF fans will look back and define SF differently, and they probably don’t include SF short stories in their formative years.  Their Golden Age of Science Fiction might be Star Trek, or Star Wars, or video games I don’t even know the name of.  However, science fiction continued to produce short stories, and a few people read them and will remember them.

What anthologies are there for every Golden Age period of science fiction that have come out in the last 60+ years?  The four pictured below cover the 1940s and 1950s, but sadly they are out of print.  They can be found used if readers take the trouble, but probably 99.9% of science fiction readers don’t take the trouble.  As newer retrospective anthologies come out, fewer stories from these years become representative, because more recent anthologies have to cover longer stretches of classic science fiction short stories.  In the early 1960s I had to discover these 1940s books.

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I eventually bought Adventures in Time and Space, but not the original 1946 edition, the 1957 Modern Library reprint.  I lost that copy over the years, and now have 1990 SFBC edition.  I reread this famous anthology every ten or fifteen years to take me back to the headspace of my childhood.  Every time I reread “Requiem,” “Forgetfulness,” “Black Destroyer,” “Nightfall,” “Farewell to the Master,” “By His Bootstraps,” and many others, I’m reacquainted with 1940s science fiction, and the 1964 me.  These stories were already over two decades old when I first read them, and they had a feel of quaintness fifty years ago, so I wonder what teens today will think of them?

Even though I’m encouraging younger readers to try these old stories, I have to warn you, they are old.  Not as ancient as those from the 19th century, but they represent a different mindset than what I assume a kid today has.  Part of reading anything old, whether it’s The Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, or Mark Twain, is you’re exploring ancient thoughts and thinking.  Some old writers can actually speak across time and still have vitality.  Most writers can’t.  You read those writers with an academic mind, playing both an English professor, anthropologist, and historian.

Science fiction is often described as evoking a sense of wonder.  Reading these old stories is like being the Indiana Jones of science fiction, looking for rare treasures of wonder, working as an archeologist uncovering ancient far out ideas and trying to piece together the evolution of science fictional memes.

Adventures in Time and Space is a rare example of a retrospective anthology getting reprinted, and although it’s been reprinted many times, it’s long out of print.  For some reason many anthologies seldom get reprinted or stay in print.  I guess it’s a copyright issue.  So most of these books I mention here are not in print.  Which is a shame, because they represent a special kind of history – our genre history.  And wouldn’t it be great if someone could reprint all these wonderful books as ebooks and audiobooks?

The Best of Science Fiction (ToC) edited by Geoff Conklin, that also came out in that breakthrough year of 1946, never had the lasting fame as Adventures in Time and Space.  This historical collection was reprinted once in 1980 as The Golden Age of Science Fiction.  Geoff Conklin went on to edit many more science fiction anthologies, but none of them became classic like Adventures in Time and Space.  If you can get ahold of a copy of the Healy and McComas volume it contains some of the most remembered stories from the late 1930s and early 1940s era.  Wikipedia shows its table of contents and many of the stories and authors have links to entries.  Of course, the titles in red are the stories now forgotten.  By modern standards, these tales are still part of the ancient history of science fiction.

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Starting in 1949, and running through 1958, T. E. Dikty and Everett F. Bleiler started an annual anthology series that collected the best stories of the previous year.  Then from 1956-1968 Judith Merrill created her The Year’s Best S-F series.

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All through the 1950s there were periodic collections for F&SF and Galaxy magazines that collected the best stories.

the best from fantasy and science fiction 7th seriesGalaxy Reader 2nd

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In 1959, Anthony Boucher edited A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, a two volume anthology that collected 4 short novels, 12 novelettes and 8 short stories to give a really big overview of the science fiction genre.  For years this two volume set was a prime inducement to join the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC), and gave new fans a sense of SF history.  It’s not really a great collection for a retrospective short stories because it was dominated by four novels, although great ones.  See TocV1, TocV2, because it might be worth collecting.  Volume 2 has Brain Wave by Poul Anderson and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, a couple of my favorites.

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Starting in 1965 and running till 1990, Donald Wollheim edited World’s Best SF.  Wollheim was the Gardner Dozois of his day, or maybe I should say Dozois is the Wollheim of today.  These were my favorites annual reads when growing up, and couldn’t resist showing four covers that are burned into my memory.  Wollheim’s taste was closer to mine than Judith Merril.

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At the beginning of 1970s, one of the greatest retrospective SF anthologies ever came out, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (ToC), edited by Robert Silverberg.  The selection is so great that every story has an entry at Wikipedia.  That says a lot if a story is remember well enough for people to write a history about it for an encyclopedia.  This book is still in print, and has often been reprinted.  It is one of the most famous science fiction anthologies ever, but it only collects stories published through 1963, and time rolls forward.  Ben Bova, Terry Carr and Arthur C. Clarke edited four more volumes in the series: Two A, Two B, Three and Four.   Annoyingly, only v. 1 and 2a and 2b are in print, but they do collect some of the most famous and loved short stories of science fiction.

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In the later 1970s I started seeing some odd mass market paperbacks called The Road to Science Fiction, edited by James Gunn.  Eventually they included six volumes:

  • The Road to Science Fiction: From Gilgamesh to Wells (1977) (ToC)
  • The Road to Science Fiction 2: From Wells to Heinlein (1979) (ToC)
  • The Road to Science Fiction 3: From Heinlein to Here (1979) (ToC)
  • The Road to Science Fiction 4: From Here to Forever (1982) (ToC)
  • The Road to Science Fiction 5: The British Way (1998) (ToC)
  • The Road to Science Fiction 6: Around the World (1998) (ToC)

The original four came out as mass market paperbacks, but eventually reprinted as trade editions when the last two volumes completed the series.  They can be expensive to track down now, which is rather depressing, since they make a very nice overview of science fiction.  Even the Kindle edition of volume one is $31.49, and the trade paper of volume 3 is $57.75, which means few people will ever buy them.

Since 1953, The Hugo Award, selected by fans, has been given to short stories and novelettes, and in 1968 they created the novella category.  If you follow the links from the story length you’ll see listings of famous stories published since then.  Since 1966, The Nebula Award, selected by writers, have been given for short stories, novelettes, and novellas.   Again, follow the links to the listings.  Over the years these award winning stories have been collected into anthologies for The Hugo Winners (5 volumes) and The Nebula Awards (1-33, 2000-).

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In 1992, Tom Shippey edited The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories (ToC) which aimed to give a concise collection of 20th century science fiction.  Luckily this volume is still in print.

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Then in 1993, Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery took another look at 1960-1990 American science fiction short stories with their book, The Norton Book of Science Fiction (ToC).  Not quite a SF feminist manifesto, this anthology included far more women writers than prior retrospective collections.

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In 1994, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer came out with one of the biggest retrospective anthologies ever, The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF (ToC), with stories going back to 1844 (“Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne).  This massive book, almost a 1,000 pages, took a new look at the complete history of the science fiction short story, with the focus on real science fiction.  Sadly, this one is out of print.

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The 1990s was a great decade for retrospective anthologies, especial this two volume set edited by Pamela Sargent that showed a different look at science fiction, emphasizing how women wrote SF.  Women of Wonder: The Classic Years (1940s-1970s) (Toc) and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years (1970s-1990s) (ToC).

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Since 1984 Gardner Dozois has been editing the annual The Year’s Best Science Fiction.  If you don’t currently read the printed or online SF magazines, this is one of two great annual resources to keep up with short science fiction.  The other is David Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF which started in 1996.

Internet Science Fiction Database offers lists of top stories and anthologies at their site on their ISFDB Top 100 Lists.  Sci-Fi Lists, a fan polling site offers Top 100 Sci-Fi Sort Fiction, and Next 100 SF Short Fiction.  Ian Sales offers “The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women.”  Free Speculative Fiction Online links to legal free copies of science fiction short stories.

Any story that catches you attention from the table of contents listed here can be researched at ISFDB to see if it’s in an anthology you already own.

Current Print and Online Science Fiction Magazines

History of the Short Story

JWH – 1/23/14 – Table of Contents