Years Best Science-Fiction Novels 1953

Not only is there little chance of finding a copy of Bleiler and Dikty’s Year’s Best Science-Fiction Novels 1953, but the title is completely deceptive. It contains five novelettes and novellas, not novels, and they were first published in 1952. So why review such a book? Well, the internet will allow fans of old science fiction to still read these stories if they want. The ISFDB link will tell you if you already own an anthology with the story. Or you can read it in the original magazine at the Internet Archive or from Project Gutenberg.

“Firewater” by William Tenn – 4 stars
Businessman, Algernon Hebster, barters for alien technology from humans driven insane by contact with strange Earth invaders. Aliens occupy our planet but merely observe us. We can’t communicate with them, and the people who try, become mystical idiots. Algernon Hebster wants to wheel and deal but if he gets too close could lose his mind too. Internet Archive. ISFDB.

“Category Phoenix” by Boyd Ellanby – 3 stars
Dr. David Wong lives in an oppressive society where privacy is illegal. Wong has developed a medical treatment that could give the dictator overwhelming power, so he works to secretly create a revolution. Internet Archive. ISFDB. Project Gutenberg.

“Surface Tension” by James Blish – 5 stars
Humans crash land on planet Hydrot with no chance of surviving, so they genetically engineer microscopic lifeforms that they hope will have ancestral memory. Wonderfully imaginative. This story has become a classic and is anthologized in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One. Internet Archive. ISFDB.

“The Gadget Had a Ghost” by Murray Leinster – 4 stars
David Coghlan, a physics professor at the American College, is visited by Lieutenant Ghalil of the Istanbul Police and M. Duval, a French scholar. They ask David if he’s been to the 13th century? It turns out the M. Duval has found a 700-year-old book printed in Byzantine Greek with an ancient annotation handwritten in English with Coghlan’s name and address. It also has inky fingerprints. They test them against Coghlan’s and the fingerprints match. So how did David get to the 13th-century to inscribe the book? A different kind of time travel tale. Internet Archive. ISFDB.

“Conditionally Human” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. – 5 stars
A disturbing story about a future overpopulated Earth where there’s strict control over who can have children. As a substitute people have turned to genetically engineered exotic pets, some of which have been designed to have human-like traits that trigger strong maternalistic and paternalistic emotions in their owners. Terry Norris has been ordered to repossess some of these beloved creatures because they might have unwanted mutations. Internet Archive. ISFDB. Project Gutenberg.

Without the internet, these stories would be completely forgotten. Even with the internet, I wonder just how many of these stories will find new readers?

James Wallace Harris, 3/6/20

8 thoughts on “Why Review A Book You Can’t Buy?

  1. Yes, a deceiving title, but the magazines were at fault, too. They would advertise “Complete Novel in this issue!” or something like that, and the story in question could range from 10,000 words to 60,000. The history of names/lengths of story categories interests me, though probably no one else.

    This is a very good anthology indeed. “Surface Tension” of course is also the opening segment of Blish’s fixup novel THE SEEDLING STARS — for that book Blish combined “Surface Tension” and his earlier Super Science Stories novelette “Sunken Universe”, revising the earlier story (which was quite crudely written), then adding three more stories about similar modifications to adapt humankind to different planets: “A Time to Survive”, “The Thing in the Attic”, and “Watershed”. That last, the quite short concluding segment, is a particular favorite of mine.


    1. Thanks, Rich, I didn’t know about The Seedling Stars – I’ll have to get a copy. (Hell, I just ordered a Gnome edition from ABEbooks.) Although I was tempted to get the first Signet edition because of the cover.


  2. “The Gadget Had a Ghost” by Murray Leinster is the one I hadn’t read. That and “Category Phoenix” by Boyd Ellanby I’d rate as the lesser entries on this list. The others made more of an impression when I read them in one anthology or another over the years. As is often the case, I get a warm fuzzy feeling just looking at the list of names in this anthology – Tenn, Leinster, Blish, Miller – it reminds me of many happy hours curled up with a book during my adolescence. For that matter, look at the names from this one issue of an obscure magazine: Leinster, Pratt, George O. Smith, Leiber, Blish, and Bixby.

    Unfortunately I browsed through the mag a bit, happened across the book reviews on page 145, and now I’m craving the anthology “Travelers of Space”. Another bunch of fondly remembered authors and color plates of Ed Cartier BEMs!

    Looking at the ads from one of these old magazines or comic books is quite a nostalgia trip too. Archeology of a time now past and an early education in hucksterism. There was a website out there somewhere from someone who ordered and reviewed a bunch of those items from the comic book ads (Giant Submarine! X-Ray Glasses!) And I wish I could remember more about an amusing parody of the Rosicrucian ads I once came across (National Lampoon maybe? “Secret Knowledge of The Crustaceans”?)

    Speaking of Jerome Bixby, I highly recommend a little passion project SF film scripted by him – “The Man From Earth”. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time.


    1. I also remember reading an essay about a guy order things from the back of a comic book. I have seen The Man From Earth — I’ve been meaning to watch it again sometime to prepare me for the sequel. The Man From Earth: Holocene.


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