Taxonomy of Science Fiction Themes

leaving the opera in the year 2000 by albert robida 800

When it comes to reading science fiction, I’ve reached an age where nothing new is under the sun. I feel like I’m approaching the weary wisdom of the author of Ecclesiastes when looking over our genre. And today I’m feeling more like Linnaeus and want to classify all the themes of science fiction. This will be a big undertaking that I won’t be finished soon. I’ve attempted this before with “Classifying Science Fictional Ideas.” What I want to do now is decide which approach should I start building the foundation of my tree?

During the past couple of years, I’ve suggested to other science fiction fans that science fiction might have a limited number of themes. Most have not liked the idea — they want our genre to be without limits. But I’m not so sure. It seems to me that science fiction covers specific territories it has claimed over the years. Reading more 19th-century science fiction has shown me we’ve been exploring the same lands for a very long time.

If we borrow from Linnaeus scheme of Life > Domain > Kingdom > Phylum > Class > Order > Family > Genus > Species and replace “Life” with “Science Fiction” what would be the Domains of our genre? I’m currently toying with:

  • Humans
  • Aliens
  • Artificial beings
  • Machines
  • Society
  • Earth
  • Space
  • Time
  • Dimensions

I’m thinking about the smallest to largest objects science fiction explores in speculation and extrapolation. I could also use point of view (POV) as my basic domains and have:

  • Humans
  • Aliens
  • Artificial beings

All stories depend on the human perspective even when imagining how aliens and robots think. Should the root domains of science fiction be:

  • Extrapolation (if this goes on)
  • Speculation (what if?)

Currently, we divide life into three domains, Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota. Just a few decades ago we only had two domains. So starting science fiction with just two domains might be fine. We need to think about this. How do aliens and robots fit in, for example?

Wouldn’t robots come under extrapolation and aliens speculation? We’re building robots now that are getting smarter and smarter, so it’s no big deal to extrapolate they could eventually become smarter than us. Other than statistics, we have no reason to believe aliens are out there. We can only say, “What if intelligent beings exist on other worlds?”

But what if we ask, “What if robots were ten times smarter than people?” We now have robots under both extrapolation and speculations. Is that problematic? If Machines were a domain we could organize them this way:

  • Machines
    • Nonsentient
      • Computers
      • Matter transporters
      • Holodecks
      • Rockets
    • Sentient
      • Robots
      • AI Minds

But I don’t like that either. What if machines were only inventions and didn’t deal with sentient minds? What if we had a domain for Artificial Beings that included AI machines, as well as artificially created life like in the classic short story “Microcosmic God” by Theodore Sturgeon?

If we think about it, speculation and extrapolation are like mechanisms within nature, such as inheritance and evolution. Linnaeus was actually classifying objects. Science fiction is inspired by objects in the real world such as people, machines, aliens, robots, cities, Earth, moons, planets, stars, galaxies, and objects we assume could exist such as aliens, intelligent machines, artificial life, digital universes, as well as things that probably can’t exist like time machines and time travel.

We could divide science fiction into the domains:

  • What exists
  • What will exist soon
  • What theoretically could exist according to science we know
  • What theoretically can’t exist according to the science we know

But we’re back into splitting robots into different domains, maybe into all four. Once again, I’m thrown back to my object-oriented classification. For example, take Earth:

  • Earth
    • Environmental catastrophes
    • Geological catastrophes
    • Cosmological catastrophes
    • Geoengineering
    • Death of the Earth

I think this works nicely. Each of these could be speculation or extrapolation, or it could be stories based on things happening now or will happen soon, maybe could happen, or even wild speculation like Hothouse by Brian Aldiss that will never happen.

This is my current mindmap:

science fiction taxonomy mindmap

My plan is to read or review old science fiction to see how those stories would fit into the scheme, and grow this tree out with many more leaves.

If you have any ideas about classifying science fiction, please leave a comment below.

James Wallace Harris 1/15/19

What Were Heinlein’s Best Short Stories?

The Menace From Earth by Robert A. Heinlein

[You can use our Classics of Science Fiction Query Database to recreate this work, or test it with another author.]

We identify the best short stories by looking at which stories were most anthologized. Robert A. Heinlein was a prolific, well-loved writer, but one who might have hurt himself under our system because he charged so much to reprint his short stories that many anthologists couldn’t afford to include his work. Under our “citation” system, we include fan polls, awards, and even writer recommendation lists, as well as anthologies as our citation sources. Many Heinlein stories have multiple citations because of fan polls. Here’s our raw data – stories with at least 1 citation.

Heinlein Short Stories Citations 1

Heinlein had 59 short stories published in his lifetime, reprinted in 16 of his own collections. Which is probably one reason why he didn’t feel the need to have his stories anthologized by others. But the list above seems to include most of his famous stories. I’m surprised that “Jerry Was A Man” was never anthologized by a major retrospective anthology of the genre. (But it was made for a television anthology show.)

To get an idea which was his better stories, I’m going to show the stories that had at least 2 citations.

Heinlein Short Stories Citations 2

This list drops from 26 to 20 stories. That’s still a very long list of short stories. As we worked with our system, we saw we had to up the minimum citation cutoff to get a better idea which stories significantly stood out. By looking at the changes in the lists, we had to ask why about each story that fell out. For example, “Misfit” disappears here. It’s a fun story and might be considered Heinlein’s first juvenile, but ultimately, it is a weaker story. Look what happens when we up the cutoff to 3 citations.

Heinlein Short Stories Citations 3

This is a much better list. We lose five stories, such as the outrageous “The Year of the Jackpot,” which is one of my favorites. But is it really a standout story, or just one with a very neat idea? I personally rate it higher than “Gulf” and “It’s Great to Be Back.” If Heinlein had let it been anthologized more often I think it would be better remembered. Heinlein should have at least let Bleiler & Dikty include it in their annual best of the year collection. Or maybe those editors didn’t like it as much as I do. Terry Carr did include “The Year of the Jackpot” in Science Fiction for People Who Hate Science Fiction in 1966, and it did make it to Sci-Fi Lists Top 200 in 2018.

But let’s jump up the cutoff to 5, the one we used for our Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list.

Heinlein Short Stories Citations 5

This list drops out my all-time favorite Heinlein short story, “The Menace From Earth.” I suppose I like that story so much because it came out in 1957 at the height of Heinlein’s career, was a young adult story, and I think Heinlein’s best novels were young adult novels, and it had a marvelous gimmick, human-powered flight on the Moon. Sadly, it doesn’t make the cut. Nor was it up for a Hugo. However, “The Menace from Earth” was eligible for Ted Dikty’s last annual collection, and Judith Merril’s third annual collection of best science fiction. Did Heinlein charge too much for it back in 1957, or did Dikty and Merril just not like the story? I can’t believe they wouldn’t have considered it one of the best short stories of the year. If they had anthologized “The Menace From Earth” it would have made our 5 citation cutoff.

But let’s look at just one more cutoff, 7.  These are Heinlein’s most popular stories using our system. This time I’ve opened the citation source list for each story.

Heinlein Short Stories Citations 7

It’s the fan polls that put Heinlein over the top. Fans remember Heinlein, for example, “Requiem” was up for a Retro Hugo. Heinlein just wasn’t anthologized that much, at least by the major anthologies we included in our system. And the two citations from The Great SF Stories edited by Asimov and Greenberg are a kind of cheat. They leave a page for each story but say they couldn’t get the rights to include the actual stories. Probably meaning, Heinlein was charging too much. James Gunn did buy two Heinlein stories. And “All You Zombies–” got into three textbook anthologies. I guess they can afford to pay more.

“Requiem” is a beautiful story, and I consider a lovely tribute to our genre. “By His Bootstraps” is a razzle-dazzle plot story, but I’m not sure how much heart it contains. And “All You Zombies–” is another razzle-dazzle plotter, which is impressive, but on the other hand, is rather cynical. It’s very popular in the fan polls, and it’s one of few Heinlein stories that got made into a movie.

Ultimately, our system fails me. I love “The Menace from Earth.” It’s a positive story. It’s full of science fiction speculation. At its heart, it speaks to people who love science fiction. Maybe our system for identifying the best short stories works for telling me what the average reader thinks about Heinlein. No system is perfect. If you don’t agree with our statistical process, just assume your tastes run uniquely different from the average.

By the way, you can use our Classics of Science Fiction Query Database to analyze the popular stories for your favorite SF author.

James Wallace Harris, December 26, 2018

Not All Great Stories Are Remembered

A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster March 1946 Astounding.PNG

Our goal here at the Classics of Science Fiction is to discover analytical ways to remember science fiction. We describe our methods in “Remembering Science Fiction.” The trouble is, our methods don’t always work. For short stories, we collect annual anthologies, retrospective anthologies, textbook anthologies about science fiction, fan polls, awards, and a few recommendation lists from authors. We call each source of recognition a “citation” and we have over a 100 citation sources for short science fiction. To get on our final list of Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories a story had to have a minimum of 5 citations.

“A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster from the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction is a definite classic in my mind, yet it only got 1 citation. It was collected in The Great SF Stories 8 (1946) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martina H. Greenberg. But if you look at the entry for “A Logic Named Joe” at ISFDB.org, you’ll see it’s never been collected in a major retrospective anthology of the science fiction genre. Yet, if you go read “A Logic Named Joe” online at Baen Book you’ll discover this 1946 story is very prescience about today’s computers, networking, and social media problems. For example, the illustration above shows kids looking at a film unsuitable for kids. In the story itself, kids are watching a film cannibals and their fertility dances. Leinster even imagined Nanny apps to keep kids from seeing what they shouldn’t, but in this case, Joe overrode that code.

The reason why people should read “A Logic Named Joe” today is for the same reason they should read “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster from 1909. Both are stories where the author has predicted our world and time to a fascinating degree. Science fiction was never meant to be a crystal ball, but sometimes it’s speculations about the future are eerily right. Both of these stories would just seem like nice stories if read before the internet era, but after that, we go, “Wait a minute! How could E. M. Forster in 1909 or Murray Leinster in 1946 imagine what’s happening now?”

“A Logic Named Joe” was written when the term “computer” meant a human that worked all day at a desk doing mathematics. Leinster used the word “logic” to mean what we call computers. I bet future retrospective anthologies will reprint “A Logic Named Joe.”

They will if the editors read it. How do keep short stories alive so readers will remember them? I’d say a majority of modern science fiction readers will never read even one of the anthologies we used to create our system for identifying the best short science fiction from the past. Sure, a few folks might take a science fiction course as an elective and have to read one of the textbook anthologies for their class. Or a small percentage might consume a current anthology like The Big Book Of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, but these readers are few and far between.

We’re hoping people will read our lists and track down the stories. We’ve even put all our research into a database that you can generate your own custom lists. But using our system you probably won’t notice “A Logic Named Joe.” Our system fails to recognize it. There have been no 1947 Retro Hugo Award for 1946 publications so far. This could happen in 2022. In 2018 the Retro Hugo Award voted for the 1943 Hugo awards that covered 1942 stories. In 2019 they’ll vote the 1944 awards. But even if “A Logic Named Joe” gets a Retro Hugo Award, will that be enough to make it into a classic story young readers will remember?

Murray Leinster is not very well remembered today, but he was once called the Dean of Science Fiction. Readers mostly remember him today for “First Contact” which was anthologized in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

If you use our database and set the min and max year to 1946, check the Story radio button, and put citations to 1, you’ll get all the stories our system found for 1946:

1946 Science Fiction Short Stories

The ones checked with a red mark are those collected by Asimov and Greenberg for The Great SF Stories 8 (1946). All the others came from other anthologies. 13 of the 22 stories are only remembered by one anthology. Using our cutoff of 5 citation minimum, these are the stories our system deems are the classics of 1946:

The Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories 1946

Few modern science fiction readers will even read these three stories, but because they’ve been anthologized so many times, their chances are better for being remembered as classics of the genre.

I believe “A Logic Named Joe” should be on that list, but how do we come up with a system that recognizes its worth? We could add Modern Masterpieces of Science Fiction (1965) edited by Sam Moskowitz. It’s a major retrospective anthology we missed. That would give “A Logic Named Joe” 2 citations. It would also reinforce the standing of the other stories in the anthology give giving them an additional citation.

We could also add the best theme anthologies. We aimed to pick major anthologies, either recognized as such or because they were large and definitive. Machines That Think (1984) edited by Asimov, Greenberg, and Warrick would be one such anthology. It collected 621 pages of great stories about thinking machines. That would bring “A Logic Named Joe” up to 3 citations. Of course, it’s given Asimov and Greenberg two votes.

I could assemble a committee of well-read specialists in short science fiction and give them each a vote. I’d give it my vote. That brings it up to 4 citations, still under the cutoff.

Are there any other sources of citations that recognize short science fiction? Being made into a television show or movie is a great form of recognition that helps keep a work of fiction in our pop culture memory. Unfortunately, “A Logic Named Joe” will never be filmed.

The gold standard for remembering short stories is being published in a major anthology. But how often do major anthologies get published? And when a large retrospective anthology is assembled, editors tend to look over the field and find exceptional stories that haven’t been well-anthologized before to now compete with the recognized classics. Would they now see “A Logic Named Joe” as one? The large genre remembering anthologies come out every few years, but they have page limits, and always more new stories to remember, and thus older stories that were once classics get left out.

Even among short stories, there’s a survival of the fittest. The question I always ask people, “How many short stories do you remember from the 19th-century?” The competition to become a classic is brutal.

“A Logic Named Joe” is a standout story because of how it anticipated the internet. But is that enough to make it a classic story worth remembering? It lacks the emotional depth to make it a literary classic. And it doesn’t have the beauty of “Vintage Season.” Maybe our system is working. Maybe “A Logic Named Joe” is a story I especially like, but not necessarily loved by others?

“A Logic Named Joe” by Will F. Jenkins (Murray Leinster’s real name because he had another story in the same issue) came in first place in The Analytical Laboratory. Readers liked it best, but it only got a 2.80 average rating, meaning it wasn’t that popular. A rating of 1.00 meant every reader picked it as their #1 story. A few rare stories back in the day managed that feat. So in 1946, “A Logic Named Joe” was only a slightly better than average story.

If you look at the list above of the 22 stories for 1946, only “Vintage Season” is a real classic. It had 10 citations. If we used a cutoff of 10, there are only 38 classic science fiction short stories that make the list. And even many of these are being forgotten. It’s hard to come up with a system that remembers everything that the average reader will encounter, or should read.

Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories 10 Citations

James Wallace Harris, December 25, 2018

New Feature: Build Your Own List

 

New feature

You can now build your own lists from our data. Be aware that our data is a very limited subset of science fiction books and short stories — just the most recommended and remembered stories.

You can always find this new feature under:

Home MenuBuild Your Own Classics of Science Fiction Lists

This landing page explains what you need to know and gives the link to the database system.

James Wallace Harris 12/18/18

Best of the Best Science Fiction 2018

 

Best 3 SF novels 2018

Wonder what great science fiction book you might have missed reading this year? Want to get ready to nominate books for the Hugo Awards next year?

I’m going to aggregate several Best-of-the-Year-2018 lists covering science fiction to see which books were mentioned the most often. Here are the lists I’m using:

Here are the results ordered by the number of lists they were on.

5 – Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (B&N, BestSF, Chicago, Vulture, WP) *
4 – Severance by Ling Ma (B&N, Chicago, Goodreads, Vulture) *
4 – The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (B&N,  BestSF, Chicago, Goodreads)
3 – Rosewater by Tade Thompson (B&N, Chicago, Goodreads) *
3 – Semiosis by Sue Burke (BestSF, Chicago, Vulture) *
3 – Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (B&N, BestSF, Goodreads) *
3 – The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (B&N, BestSF, Chicago) *
3 – The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (B&N, Vulture, WP) *
2 – Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell (B&N, BestSF)
2 – Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio (B&N, BestSF)
2 – Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (B&N, Vulture)
2 – Head On by John Scalzi (BestSF, Goodreads)
2 – Iron Gold by Pierce Brown (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport (BestSF, Vulture) *
2 – Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft (B&N, WP) *
2 – Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (B&N, Vulture) *
2 – State Tectonics by Malka Older (Chicago, BestSF) *
2 – Temper by Nicky Drayden (B&N, Vulture) *
2 – The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (B&N, BestSF)
2 – The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Vengeful by V. E. Schwab (B&N, Goodreads) *

* – Titles at Scribd.com

I’ve only read one title off this list, Semiosis by Sue Burke – it was quite impressive. That experience inspires me to try more of these titles.

James Wallace Harris, December 15, 2018

Audible Has A Fantastic Collection of Baby Boomer Science Fiction

The Fourth R by George O. Smith

For several years now (2017, 2016, 2015), I’ve created wish-lists of wanted audiobook editions of classic science fiction stories. My hope is publishers would see my lists and produce those titles on audio. I doubt they ever have, but every year a few more classic science fiction books show up at Audible.com. They have done a fantastic job. Almost any title I read as a kid is now available to read with my ears. Nearly every book on The Classics of Science Fiction and Worlds Without End Top-Listed Books of All-Time lists are available on audio. And I think that validates those stories.

Starting in 2002 when I joined Audible.com I’d scan the new releases daily always hoping to find my favorite science fiction stories from my Golden Age years, the books Baby Boomers now consider the classic of the genre.  Each year it gets harder to find titles that haven’t gotten the audiobook treatment. Here are some of the older science fiction titles that have shown up at Audible this past year:

  • Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan
  • Sleeping Planet (1965) by William R. Burkett, Jr.
  • The Troublemakers by George O. Smith
  • The Snail on the Slope by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
  • Triplanetary (1934) by Edward E. Smith (magazine version)
  • This World is Taboo by Murray Leinster
  • The Sensitive Man by Poul Anderson
  • Masters of Space by Edward E. Smith & E. Everett Evans
  • The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg
  • Mercenary by Mack Reynolds
  • Catseye by Andre Norton
  • Storm by George R. Stewart
  • The Land of Always Night (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • The Golden Man (Doc Savage) by Kenneth Robeson
  • Planet Stories – March 1953 (magazine)
  • Planet Stories – Fall 1941 (magazine)
  • Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Scarlett Plague by Jack London
  • With the Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling
  • As Easy as ABC by Rudyard Kipling
  • 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Sci-Fi Shorts volumes 1-6 (public domain)
  • Future Eves: Classic Science Fiction About Women by Women edited by Jean Marie Stine
  • Pink Winds, Green Cats, Radiant Rocks & Other Classics by the Forgotten Woman of Science Fiction’s Golden Age by Frances Deegan

As any diehard mid-century Sci-Fi fan knows, Audible is scraping the bottom of the barrel. They did (accidentally I’m sure) grant a few of my wishes from last year:

  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Rogue Moon By Algis Budrys
  • The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
  • Grass by Sherri Tepper

Not very many, but they were heavy hitters that were overlooked. I realize now that many of my wishes were unrealistic because reprinting old anthologies on audio probably involve significant copyright problems. And I’m starting to doubt there’s a market for short fiction SF on audio anyway, but even then, I got to listen to the three-volume The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. That made 2018 a great year for science fiction on audio. The first volume is probably the most popular science fiction anthology of all-time.

The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker

I’ve decided to make this the last year for wishing for old science fiction on audio. I’m going to make one last roundup of what I’d love to hear and then go off to listen to all the great SF books already sitting in my Audible library. I’ve purchased more than I can listen to in my expected remaining lifetime. This year I’m going to mostly aim for books that publishers should have an easier time acquiring the rights, either novels or single author collections.

I love hearing science fiction read to me by great narrators. And because I study the history of science fiction, there are many rare titles on I want to hear. But I doubt many others do. Sure, there a bunch of us old SF fans rereading our favorite science fiction from our formative years by listening to their audiobook editions, but I don’t know how big that market is, and in any case, we’re a dying audience. I believe Audible and its allied publishers have found pretty much all the old science fiction that was once popular before the year 2000.

Still, there are books I want to hear, and there are science fiction authors from the past that never had anything reprinted in audio, such as Zenna Henderson or William Tenn, or other writers that have had little of their work represented. I still yearn to hear classic science fiction short stories, but I know copyright issues probably make them difficult to reprint. However, I still love to hear three SF anthologies that I believe would significantly cover the history of the science fiction short story if they were produced for audio: Adventures in Time and Space (1946) edited by Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas, Dangerous Visions (1967) edited by Harlan Ellison, and The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Links are to ISFDB.org to show their table of contents. But I doubt they will ever get an audio production now.

67 Books I Want to Hear In My 67th Year

  1. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
  2. The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt
  3. The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. Van Vogt
  4. The Legion of Time (1952) by Jack Williamson
  5. The Long Loud Silence (1952) by Wilson Tucker
  6. Marooned on Mars (1952) by Lester del Rey
  7. Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore
  8. Children of the Atom (1953) Wilma H. Shiras
  9. A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
  10. Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement
  11. Cities in Flight (1955) by James Blish
  12. Citizen in Space (1955) by Robert Sheckley
  13. Rocket to Limbo (1957) by Alan E. Nourse
  14. Wasp (1957) by Eric Frank Russell
  15. The Enemy Stars (1958) Poul Anderson
  16. The Lincoln Hunters (1958) by Wilson Tucker
  17. The Fourth “R” (1959) by George O. Smith
  18. The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson
  19. Hothouse (1962) by Brian W. Aldiss
  20. Second Ending (1962) by James White
  21. Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  22. Simulacron-3 (1964) by Daniel Galouye
  23. Earthblood (1966) by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown
  24. Empire Star (1966)
  25. The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
  26. Lords of the Starship (1967) by Mark S. Geston
  27. Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas Disch
  28. Of Men and Monsters (1968) William Tenn
  29. Omnivore (1968) Piers Anthony
  30. Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  31. Space Chanty (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  32. The Last Starship from Earth (1968) by John Boyd
  33. The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets (1968) by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
  34. Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock
  35. Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
  36. Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony
  37. And Chaos Died (1970) by Joanna Russ
  38. The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) by Wilson Tucker
  39. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1971) by Roger Zelazny
  40. The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe
  41. The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn
  42. The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (The Unsleeping Eye) (1973) by D. G. Compton
  43. The Centauri Device (1974) by M. John Harrison
  44. Orbitsville (1975) by Bob Shaw
  45. The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ
  46. The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner
  47. Trouble on Triton (1976) by Samuel R. Delany
  48. On Wings of a Song (1979) by Thomas M. Disch
  49. Ridley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban
  50. No Enemy But Time (1982) by Michael Bishop
  51. Native Tongue (1984) by Suzette Haden Elgin
  52. Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop
  53. The Falling Woman (1986) by Pat Murphy
  54. Mindplayers (1988) by Pat Cadigan
  55. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) by James Tiptree, Jr.
  56. A Woman of the Iron People (1991) by Eleanor Arnason
  57. Sarah Canary (1991) – Karen Joy Fowler
  58. Synners (1991) by Pat Cadigan
  59. China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh
  60. Ammonite (1993) by Nicola Griffith
  61. Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers
  62. Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson (1995)
  63. Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling
  64. The Book of the Long Sun (1993-96) by Gene Wolfe
  65. Aye, and Gomorrah (2003) by Samuel R. Delany
  66. Store of the Worlds (2012) by Robert Sheckley
  67. The Future is Female (2018) edited by Lisa Yaszek

The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd
— James Wallace Harris 11/15/18

In Praise of Mediocre Science Fiction

IF Magazine May 1954

The word “mediocre” usually presents a negative connotation. But the word can mean ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road which if you think about it, is true for most things in our lives. Not everything in life can be exceptional. Statistically, most aspects must be run-of-mill common. We don’t like to believe this, but most of us lead mediocre lives. We wish our time on Earth could be as important as a classic novel, but we’re goddamn lucky if we can say we’ve had a good average life.

This essay was originally going to be called “Favorite Science Fiction Stories Volumes 1-10 Table of Contents.” I love Audible.com, but it often annoys me by selling anthologies without listing their individual entries. I recently stumbled upon this series and thought I’d provide a public service by listing the contents of all ten volumes. I was hesitant to even try these audiobooks because the so few stories I saw listed were famous.

I couldn’t find much about the publisher, Jimcin. It’s web page merely states its products are for sale at Audible.com, although these anthologies are also listed at Amazon and iTunes. They appear to be collections of out-of-copyright stories, which means they are older than the 1920’s or the authors or author’s heirs never bothered to renew the original copyright. In other words, they might be the dregs of the genre. The ten volumes do contain a few big-name-authors, and a handful of classic science fiction stories like “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster, “The Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum, and “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith. Those three stories also appear in the legendary Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series which came out in audio this past year. But for the most part, these stories were the common, run-of-the-mill stories that filled the science fiction digests in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

There’s a certain fun quality to science fiction that doesn’t require literary greatness. In the middle of last century, hack writers churned out Sci-Fi tales to survive. Many of them could hammer out a story in a few days that could both excite geeky fans and pay the rent. All they had to do was come up with an idea that 12-year-old know-it-alls had never encountered. Hardcore science fiction lovers thought of themselves as Slans but often blowing their minds only took one hit on the science fiction bong.

I avoided buying these Jimcin anthologies for years because I thought they’d be crappy, but then four volumes went on sale and I took a chance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Yes, they are mediocre, but they also have a unique entertainment quality. Just my kind of fun. If you love episodes of the old Twilight Zone TV series, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these stories too.

I crave science fiction short stories on audio. Somehow, short stories come alive for me when I listen, especially when they’re read by a narrator who adds dramatic voices. Oh, I still love to read, but I admit I’m a poor reader compared to these hired guns. It’s the narrators who add the extra dimension. And these ten volumes are a time capsule of what it’s like to have been a kid back in the 1950’s and 1960’s who loved science fiction.

My goal here is to promote more audio productions of short science fiction. I need to get more people buying audiobook science fiction anthologies so publishers will feel the demand and publish more of them. Most of you will not rush out and buy one of these Favorite Science Fiction Stories anthologies, especially after I called them mediocre, but I wanted to be as honest as possible.

I’m going to list the table of contents to all ten volumes and provide links to some of the stories I’ve found on YouTube, so you can hear what I’m talking about. These are public domain stories you can find online for free, especially at places like Project Gutenberg and YouTube. I don’t think the audio versions below are the same as the ones in the anthologies, but I’ve only tested a handful of stories. I’m not trying to ruin Jimcin’s sales but promote them. It’s far more convenient to listen to them on your smartphone than to listen to them on YouTube. But try a few to see why you should buy a whole anthology.

There are many public domain science fiction stories in audio available on the web. Often, they are from LibriVox, which use volunteer readers. LibriVox readers are good and provide a great public service, but they don’t usually provide the kind of dramatic narration I’m talking about. The stories I link to below have at least a basic level of professionalism, and some of them are excellent. I don’t know if these recordings are from copyrighted productions or if they’re productions by would-be audiobook narrators hoping to prove they can be professional.

My goal is to promote audio productions of short science fiction by expanding the audience. I want to see more anthologies of older science fiction for sale. Try some of these audio short stories to see if you get hooked, and if you do, then try one of the anthologies. 1 credit or $7-$10 is not that much for 15-20 hours of entertainment.

If you want to know more about audio science fiction, check out SFFAudio.com. They track and review both print and audio productions of public domain genre stories, as well as review professional productions of new and old stories.

I’ve bought 5 of the 10 volumes so far – see *. I’m getting a big kick out of listening to these stories. Yes, they are mediocre, but they capture a certain science fictional flavor from mid-20th-century. Be sure and read “The History of Science Fiction, and Why it Matters” by Allen Steele in the Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction which just came out. Steele wonderfully explains why it’s important to read old science fiction.

Prices listed are from Amazon. Audible members might get a discount. These Favorite Sci-Fi Stories have been around for a decade, but I don’t know if they get much attention. These anthologies are not listed in ISFDB.org as far as I can tell. I wish they were. I’ve published this list of contents because I had a hard time finding this information.

Favorite Science Fiction Stories

Volume 1 (2009)* – $10.95

  1. The Gifts of Asti“ by Andre Norton
  2. The Defenders” by Philip K. Dick
  3. “Earthmen Bearing Gifts” by Fredric Brown
  4. A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  5. This is Klon Calling” by Walter Sheldon
  6. Security” by Poul Anderson
  7. “The Perfectionists” by Arnold Castle
  8. “The Day Time Stopped Moving” by Bradner Buckner
  9. Image of the Gods” by Alan E. Nourse
  10. “Time and Time Again” by H. Beam Piper
  11. “The World Called Crimson” by Darius John Granger
  12. “Postmark Ganymede” by Robert Silverberg
  13. The Stars, My Brothers” by Edmond Hamilton
  14. 2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  15. “Belly Laugh” by Ivar Jorgensen
  16. Year of the Big Thaw” by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  17. The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster
  18. “Pandemic” by J. F. Bone
  19. Bread Overhead” by Fritz Leiber
  20. “The Day of the Boomer Dukes” by Frederik Pohl
  21. Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick

Volume 2 (2010) – $10.95

  1. The Coffin Cure” by Alan Edward Nourse
  2. Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams
  3. The Blue Tower” by Evelyn E. Smith
  4. The Gift Bearer” by Charles Fontenay
  5. “History Repeats” by George Oliver Smith
  6. The Altar at Midnight” by C. M. Kornbluth
  7. Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric Brown
  8. The Answer” by H. Beam Piper
  9. “The Calm Man” by Frank Belknap Long
  10. The Next Logical Step” by Ben Bova
  11. Operation Haystack” by Frank Herbert
  12. Foundling on Venus” by John and Dorothy DeCourcy
  13. The Repairman” by Harry Harrison
  14. The Beast of Space” by F. E. Hardart
  15. The Big Trip Up Yonder” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  16. Where There’s Hope” by Jerome Bixby
  17. The Success Machine” by Henry Slesar
  18. Pythias” by Poul Anderson
  19. Two Plus Two Makes Crazy” by Walt Sheldon
  20. “Alien Offer” by Al Sevcik
  21. All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton
  22. Zen” by Jerome Bixby
  23. “The Unspecialist” by Murray Yaco
  24. The Sargasso of Space” by Edmond Hamilton
  25. “Flamedown” by H. B. Fyfe
  26. “Grove of the Unborn” by Lyn Vanable
  27. What Is He Doing in There?” by Fritz Leiber
  28. “The 4D Doodler” by Grapy Waldyte
  29. “Bad Medicine” by Robert Sheckley
  30. Dead Ringer” by Lester del Rey
  31. I’ll Kill You Tomorrow” by Helen Hubert

Volume 3 (2011) – $10.95

  1. “The Missing Link” by Frank Herbert
  2. Arm of the Law” by Harry Harrison
  3. No Moving Parts” by Murray F. Yaco
  4. The Hills of Home” by Alfred Coppell
  5. The Measure of a Man” by Gordon Randall Garrett
  6. The Hated” by Frederick Pohl
  7. “Salvage in Space” by Jack Williamson
  8. The Burning Bridge” by Poul Anderson
  9. The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Hour of Battle” by Robert Sheckley
  11. The Mathematicians” by Arthur Feldman
  12. “Crossroads of Destiny” by H. Beam Piper
  13. Homesick” by Lynn Venable
  14. “The Eyes Have it” by James McKimmey, Jr.
  15. “They Twinkled Like Jewels” by Philip Jose Farmer
  16. Old Rambling House” by Frank Herbert
  17. Youth” by Isaac Asimov
  18. “Navy Day” by Harry Harrison
  19. “Service with a Smile” by Charles Louis Fontenay
  20. “The Cosmic Express” by John Stewart Williamson
  21. The Moon is Green” by Fritz Leiber
  22. “Stopover Planet” by Robert E. Gilbert
  23. “Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley
  24. “Probability” by Louis Trimble
  25. “The Doorway” by Evelyn E. Smith
  26. The Stroke of the Sun” by Arthur C. Clarke
  27. The Velvet Glove” by Harry Harrison
  28. “The House from Nowhere” by Arthur Stangland
  29. The Tunnel Under the World” – Frederik Pohl

Volume 4 (2012) – $10.95

  1. Arena” by Fredric Brown
  2. “Mate in Two Moves” by Winston Marks
  3. Love Story” by Irving E. Cox
  4. “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick
  5. Advanced Chemistry” by Jack G. Huekels
  6. The Dueling Machine” by Ben Bova
  7. Time Enough at Last” by Lyn Venable
  8. “Sorry, Wrong Dimension” by Ross Rocklynne
  9. Duel on Syrtis” by Poul Anderson
  10. “The Gostak and the Doshes” by Miles J. Breuer
  11. Keep Your Shape” by Robert Sheckley
  12. “Home Is Where You Left It” by Stephen Marlowe
  13. “Planet of Dreams” by James McKimmer, Jr.
  14. Blessed Are the Meek” by G. C. Edmonson
  15. Incident on Route 12” by James Schmitz
  16. The Invader” by Alfred Coppel
  17. “Monkey on His Back” by Charles DeVet
  18. “Robots of the World Arise” by Mari Wolf
  19. A Woman’s Place” by Mark Clifton
  20. The K-Factor” by Harry Harrison
  21. The Hanging Stranger” by Philip K. Dick.

Volume 5 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. The Skull” by Phlip K. Dick
  2. Sam, This Is You” by Murray Leinster
  3. “Manners of the Age” by Horace Brown Fyfe
  4. Omnilingual” by H. Beam Piper
  5. “Heist Job on Theiser” by Gordan Randall Jarrett
  6. The Yillian Way” by Keith Laumer
  7. “The Ultimate Vice” by A. Bertram Chandler
  8. “Backlash” by Winston Marks
  9. “Adolescents Only” by Irving Cox
  10. Project Mastodon” by Clifford Simak
  11. “Sargasso of Lost Starships” by Poul Anderson
  12. The Dictator” by Milton Lesser
  13. The Misplaced Battleship” by Harry Harrison
  14. A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber
  15. “The Vilbar Party” by Evelyn E. Smith
  16. “The Servant Problem” by Robert F. Young

Volume 6 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. Perchance to Dream” by Richard Stockham
  2. “Father Image” by Robert Silverberg
  3. Tree, Spare That Woodman” by Dave Dryfoos
  4. “Disaster Revisited” by Darius John Granger
  5. Subversive” by Mack Reynolds
  6. “The Stutterer” by R. R. Merliss
  7. Infinite Intruder” by Alan E. Nourse
  8. “A Bottle of Old Wine” by Richard O. Lewis
  9. “B12’s Moon Glow” by Charles A. Sterns
  10. “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster
  11. No Strings Attached” by Lester del Rey
  12. The Street That Wasn’t There” by Clifford D. Simak
  13. “Regeneration” by Charley Dye
  14. “Wheels Within” by Charles V. Devett
  15. “The Lonely Ones”, by Edward W. Ludwig
  16. “The God in the Box” by Sewell Peaslee Wright
  17. “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith
  18. “New Hire” by Dave Dryfoos
  19. “The Enormous Room” by H.L.Gold and Robert Kreps
  20. Turnover Point” by Alfred Coppel
  21. “Breeder Reaction” by Winston Marks

Volume 7 (2013)* – $5.95

  1. “The Ties That Bind” by Walter Miller, Jr.
  2. Toy Shop” by Harry Harrison
  3. Beyond the Walls of Sleep” by H. P. Lovecraft
  4. Victory” by Lester del Rey
  5. Accidental Death” by Peter Bailey
  6. The Color Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft
  7. “Cully” by Jack Eagan
  8. “The Statue” by Mari Wolf
  9. “Police Operation” by H. Beam Piper
  10. “See” by Edward G. Robles, Jr.
  11. “Thing of Beauty” by Damon Knight
  12. “A Scientist Rises” by Desmond Hall
  13. “The Small World of M-75” by Ed M. Clinton, Jr.
  14. “Two-Face” by Frank Belknap Long
  15. “Creature from Cleveland Depths” by Fritz Leiber

Volume 8 (2014)* – $6.95

  1. “The Last Days of Earth” by George C. Wallace
  2. “Contamination Crew” by Alan E. Nourse
  3. “The Memory of Mars” by Raymond F. Jones
  4. “A Traveler in Time” by August Derleth
  5. “The Colonists” by Raymond F. Jones
  6. “Doubletake” by Richard Wilson
  7. “Stamped Caution” by Raymond Z. Gallon
  8. “Success Story” by Robert Turner
  9. “Disqualified” by Charles L. Fauntenay
  10. “Say Hello for Me” by Frank W. Coggins
  11. “Witch of the Demon Seas” by Poul Anderson
  12. “The Last Two Alive” by Alfred Coppell
  13. “The Old Die Rich” by H. L. Gold
  14. “Ministry of Disturbance” by H. Beam Piper

Volume 9 (2016) – $6.95

  1. “The Concrete Mixer” by Ray Bradbury
  2. “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
  3. “Bedside Manner” by William Morrison
  4. “The Inferiors” by Mari Wolf
  5. “The Aggravation of Elmer” by Robert Arthur
  6. “Conquest over Time” by Michael Shara
  7. “The Virgin of Valkarion” by Poul Anderson
  8. “No Charge for Alterations” by H. L. Gold
  9. “Greylorn” by Keith Laumer
  10. “The Other Now” by Murray Leinster
  11. “The Ambulance Made Two Trips” by Murray Leinster
  12. “The Fun They Had” by Isaac Asimov
  13. “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester
  14. “A Matter of Importance” by Murray Leinster

Volume 10 (2018) – $6.95

  1. “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick
  2. “The Keeper” by H. Beam Piper
  3. “The Amazing Mrs. Mimms” by David C. Knight
  4. “The Girls from Earth” by Frank N. Robinson
  5. “The Man the Martians Made” by Frank Long
  6. “Pet Farm” by Roger Dee
  7. “A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick
  8. “Shock Treatment” by Stanley Mullen
  9. “The Variable Man” by Philip K. Dick
  10. “The Players” by Everett Cole
  11. “Common Denominator” by John D. MacDonald
  12. “Survey Team” by Philip K. Dick
  13. “Medal of Honor” by Dallas McCord Reynolds
  14. “The Highest Treason” by Randall Garrett

 

– – James Wallace Harris (11/8/18)

 

 

 

 

When Mainstream America Discovered Science Fiction

I’ve been researching how science fiction evolved through studying the history of science fiction anthologies. As I studied I began to wonder when did the mundane world realized science fiction was a thing. Yesterday some nice folks on the internet suggested I try Google’s Ngram viewer. Here’s the chart it developed:

NGram Science Fiction

This fits my research on anthologies. The Ngram viewer looks at terms used in books and magazines, but I don’t know if it indexed pulp magazines. In my essay about the first anthologies to collect science fiction I covered The Pocket Book of Science Fiction edited by Donald Wollheim, which came out in 1943, and reported that the first hardback books to anthologize science fiction came out in 1946. That matches the above chart perfectly.

Even more useful is the list of books and magazines Google provided that cited phrase science fiction. From it, I found the May 21, 1951 issue of Life Magazine, which featured an article on science fiction. 1951 was the year I was born. I grew up with science fiction. Life Magazine was a news magazine, so I have to assume the subculture of science fiction was news.

What a great service Google Books is for researchers. This is exactly what I wanted. Life Magazine was telling the mundane world about the strange world of science fiction and its fans. The reporter Winthrop Sargeant did an excellent job, covering the genre’s history, the magazines, the movies, even going into the feuds and our embarrassing spinoffs like the Shaver Mystery and Dianetics.

I’m going to try and reprint the article here. It is copyrighted, but I have no idea how to get permission to reprint it, and besides, it’s 67 years old and already freely available through Google. You can read it at the Google Book site, with your own level of magnification but you’ll need to page back to the beginning of the article.

James Wallace Harris (9/21/18)

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What Anthology First Recognized the Science Fiction Genre?

The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction edited by Donald Wollheim

While growing up in the 1960’s I loved a certain kind of story. I did not know the terms “science fiction” or “genre” but I knew what I liked. I believe readers before the label “science fiction” was used in the 1930s felt the same way. I’m not sure when the general public began referring to science fiction stories as “science fiction” or book publishers began to market to its fans.

When Amazing Stories first appeared in April 1926 editor Hugo Gernsback and his readers already knew the kinds of stories they wanted – they just didn’t have a universal identifier to define them. Gernsback had been using “scientifiction” since 1916 but luckily that ugly word didn’t stick. The term “science fiction” had been occasionally used before then, but only accidentally. Sometime between ads using the phrase “science fiction” in Air Wonder Stories in the late 1920s and March 1938 when Astounding Stories became Astounding Science-Fiction did the label began to stick – at least with hardcore fans. I don’t know if the world at large realized there was a new genre. Stories using science fiction themes have been around for thousands of years. Hell, Noah’s Ark is about a generation ship and a post-apocalyptic world.

Also, I’m not sure if all the credit should go to the pulp magazines for creating our genre. Newspapers ran Buck Rogers and Flash Gordan comic strips, and those stories then moved to radio and movie serials. Comic books back then were full of science fictional plots. The play R.U.R. gave us the word robots premiered in 1920, and Metropolis the silent film about robots came out in 1927. The novels Brave New World and When Worlds Collide appeared in 1932 and 1933.

Why hadn’t book publishers spotted this trend and aimed at that market sooner?

Had any anthology editor before the 1920’s collected science fiction stories for the unnamed science fiction fans of the 19th-century or early 20th-century? General interest magazines, newspapers, dime novels, and pulp magazines had been publishing science fiction long before Amazing Stories. Had anyone tried to categorize or name these kinds of stories before Gernsback? Anthologies are seldom reprinted, so they are rare and hard to track down. I have found a few 19th-century anthologies that focused on weird, horror, and fantasy, but then ghost stories were a staple in that century.

Edgar Allan Poe helped develop the short story as a unique art form and wrote fiction that would eventually be classified as mystery, horror, detective, and science fiction. Poe had many imitators. When did readers decide they preferred stories about life on other planets, travels in space, artificial life, mechanical beings, time travel, invaders from other worlds, flying machines, etc?

Adventures to Come

There is a concise history of the science fiction anthology at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It suggests Adventures To Come (1937) edited by J. Berg Esenwein is the first science fiction anthology. It’s also the first SF original anthology, publishing stories written for that volume. But they were forgettable stories by unknown writers and that had no impact on the genre. The cover of Adventures To Come was obviously inspired by the 1929 Buck Rogers newspaper comic strip and the original Buck Rogers story from a 1928 issue of Amazing Stories.  We forget that daily comic strips were probably more popular than the pulp magazines. And Adventures to Come obviously looks like a children’s book. It may have been the first SF anthology aimed at young proto-SF fans, but it is so rare and so seldom remembered that I can’t think of it as important to the genre either. But it does show that publishers were seeing a new market.

The Other Worlds edited by Phil Stong

Next up is The Other Worlds (1941) edited by Phil Stong. I just got a copy of that one, and it collects stories from Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, Amazing Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories beside Esquire and Westminister Magazine. It features fiction by Lester del Rey, Ralph Milne Farley, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Harry Bates, Henry Kuttner, and Otto Binder. Authors remembered today as being science fiction writers. There are twenty-four writers in all, many of which I don’t know, probably because they came out of the horror genre.

I’ve only had time to read Stong’s introductions so far, but he shows a disdain for much of pre-1941 science fiction. For instance, Stong knocks War of the Worlds and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells and favors “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” as being more sensible. Stong uses the term “scientifiction” which was already a decade out of date and sneers at E. E. “Doc” Smith, the most popular SF writer at the time. The book’s introduction begins with two “true” stories of psychic premonition. I doubt Stong was a science fiction fan because none of the stories he collected has come down to us as classics. I’m guessing he liked borderline science fiction/weird tales that supported his metaphysical/philosophical interests. I think Stong realized there was a science fiction genre, but he didn’t like how it was shaping up. He picked stories he considered good from the genre but dismissed the rest as juvenile or crude. The Other Worlds didn’t hit the mark for me.

However, The Other Worlds fits my theory that there were science fiction fans before the term science fiction was widely used. There were readers, even literary readers, who loved weird stories that one day would be called science fiction. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia reports there were several anthologies from the 1800’s that collected fantasy and weird fiction. Did any of them have true science fiction in them? This matches my own research.  SF Encylopedia claims Popular Romances (1812) edited by Henry William Weber could be the first SF anthology, but it’s really an omnibus rather than an anthology, reprinting several famous novels about fantastic voyages (including Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe).

I want to believe there was at least one anthology published between 1800 and 1900 that included at least three stories we’d anthologize today as classics of the genre. Of course, this might be my Holy Grail that I shall never find. I’ve been using ISFDB.org with several anthologies published in recent decades that identify 19th-century science fiction hoping to spot an anthology from the 1800’s. Unfortunately, the Internet Science Fiction Database gets murky with data from that century.

I believe there were readers in the 1800’s that were drawn to themes we’ve come to attribute to science fiction. We know the novels of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells were popular. We know many other science fiction novels came out in that century. We know many shorter works of science fiction appeared in newspapers and magazines. That leads me to assume that fans existed, and they might have written letters to friends, letters to editors, essays, diary entries, or newspaper articles about their fondness for such stories. It’s hard to believe some editor didn’t capitalize on that interest.

For now, I consider The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction (1943) edited by Donald Wollheim the first anthology to collect stories that modern readers still read and think of as classics of science fiction. Five of his ten stories are still admired today:

  • “By the Waters of Babylon” (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benet
  • “A Martian Odyssey” (1934) by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  • “Twilight” (1934) by John W. Campbell
  • “Microcosmic God” (1941) by Theodore Sturgeon
  • “–And He Built a Crooked House” (1941) by Robert A. Heinlein

The last four were included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One (1970) edited by Robert Silverberg, which many still consider the best anthology of science fiction. Donald Wollheim was a super-fan in the 1930’s, began editing SF magazines in 1941, became a major editor for Ace Books in the 1950’s and eventually formed his own publishing company DAW Books. He was a major influence on the genre.

The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction was the first mass-market paperback of science fiction stories. It used the term science fiction in the title. It was sent overseas to the troops in WWII. I can’t help but believe that’s how the term science fiction really began to spread to readers outside of the pulp magazines.

1946-SF-Anthologies

In 1946 two hardback anthologies appeared: Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas and the Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin. Conklin even removed the hyphen in “science fiction.” McComas would co-found The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1949. Conklin would go on to edit many science fiction anthologies in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s that introduced classic short SF from the pulp era to Baby Boomers.

By the 1950’s science fiction should have been a well-known genre and term, but I’m not sure. There was an explosion of magazines, comics, television shows, and movies devoted to the genre. So it’s odd, as a kid in 1962 that I didn’t know the term science fiction. I was only ten, and I had been loving science fiction movies and television shows since 1955. I’m sure I heard the phrase frequently, but it didn’t stick with me. And it just didn’t occur to me that it defined a type of story at the library. I’d go up and down the school library shelves looking for books that were science fiction.

I wonder when other people my age realized there was a genre called science fiction? I wish my parents were still alive so I could ask them when they first remember hearing the term. I wished I had asked them in 1964 if they knew the phrase science fiction and could they describe it. They were born in 1916 and 1920 and grew up with science fiction in the 1930’s. Had they encountered it?

It wasn’t until 1964 when I was allowed into the adult area of the Homestead Air Force Base Library where they had a science fiction section. That’s when I realized there was a book category for the stories I loved. In 1965 I discovered Conklin’s anthologies at the public library and learned there were magazines devoted to science fiction, and had been for almost 40 years. Then I found Sam Moskowitz’s histories of science fiction and realized stories with science fictional themes were very old, they just weren’t called science fiction.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I became fascinated with the history of science fiction anthologies. It boggles my mind that there was a time when people didn’t know science fiction existed even though it did. I eventually want to write about that, but my next essay will be about anthologies that collected short fiction from the 1800’s. It seems every new editor that works that century finds more science fiction to reprint. I want to find the first science fiction fans. The first popular film I can think of that has a character who loves science fiction is Back to the Future from 1985. I’m sure I’m wrong that George McFly is the first SF fan depicted in the movies. I keep hoping I’ll see one mentioned in an old MGM film from the 1930’s or 1940’s. But what I’d really love is to find an SF fan from the 1860’s who wrote about his favorite stories in a diary.

James Wallace Harris (9/19/18)

Why Anthologies Are Important to Science Fiction

1946-SF-Anthologies

If anthologies didn’t exist, the only science fiction short stories we’d read from the past are those by the most famous of writers. For example, from the 1940s we still read science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein because they gained enough readers over a lifetime to keep their short story collections in print.

Short story writing is the minor leagues where authors labor until they can break into the majors writing novels. There are fans of short stories, but most readers prefer novels. Short stories mostly appear in periodicals and online, although some lucky stories make their debut in an original hardback anthology.

Most short stories are never reprinted. Their original publication is their only publication. Since 1949, shorter works of science fiction got a second chance to find new readers when editors of annual best-of-the-year anthologies reprinted them. They got yet another chance to find new readers when they were reprinted in theme, retrospective, and textbook anthologies. Although, the best bet for a short story to stay in print is to be by a very famous author who stays in print.

Anthologies are books collecting short artistic works (short stories, poems, drawings, songs, essays) by a variety of authors. As far I can discover, they developed in the 19th-century when publishers wanted to promote artists who couldn’t sell a solo collection. I have searched hard to discover a 19-century anthology that collected science fiction. The best I could find were anthologies of horror and weird fiction that might have a single story we’d call science fiction today. I still believe an SF anthology from that century could exist, but it must be very rare, like El Dorado. I’d love to know if there were proto-science fiction fans in the 1800’s. Did cowboys riding the range discuss life on other planets while sitting around the campfire?

There are several anthologies published since the 1960’s that unearth 19th-century science fiction. I’m going to devote a future essay to them. My point is those stories wouldn’t be remembered without an anthology editor.

There were earlier science fiction anthologies, but in 1946 Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas was the Amazing Stories beginning of science fiction anthologies. It introduced hardback book buyers to the best pulp science fiction short stories of the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, it was Groff Conklin, in the same year, that began a career editing science fiction anthologies that rescued stories from the pulps for a generation of hardback and paperback readers.

I’ve met readers from my generation all over the internet who got their start reading science fiction by discovering Adventures in Time and Space and the Conklin anthologies at their public library in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sadly, anthologies seldom stay in print. Every decade or generation new editors emerge to anthologize the best short science fiction of the previous year or redefine the best short science fiction for the genre’s history or illustrate the evolution of a science fiction theme with a series of shorter works. They keep short science fiction in our memories. Of course, newer editors will drop some older stories and discover newer stories for their generation of readers.

My plan is to write a series of essays about this process. As I collected anthologies for our Classics of Science Fiction Short Story lists, I began to notice that anthologies had a collective history. Few people notice this. Histories of books, magazines, and newspapers are common if you know where to look, but I’ve had a very hard time finding histories that recognize the importance of anthologies. For science fiction, I did find Bud Webster’s Anthopology 101 columns which were collected in his book, Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspects and Dissections of SF Anthologies. But even those 336 pages don’t begin to cover the topic.

For hundreds of science fiction writers, their only chance of literary immortality are the anthologies that remember them. A great example of this are the dozens of women science fiction writers being rediscovered in recent anthologies devoted to them. We need to give more credit to anthologists who mine the past for writers with a sense of wonder. Reading those old stories can give new insights into the evolution of the genre. It also makes us change how we think about our great-grandparents’ generation, and theirs before them.

James Wallace Harris (9/14/18)