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

19th Century Science Fiction Short Stories

 

19th century science fiction

Over the years several anthologies have reprinted science fiction short stories from the 1800’s. These tales are fascinating to read on many levels. Way before the establishment of the science fiction genre, writers were telling science fictional stories. Even without modern technology, they explored the same SF possibilities we do today. Ideas I thought original with Golden Age science fiction writers turn out to be much older. Reading these stories reveals universals about human nature that you don’t get from history books.

The Anthologies

The Stories

Here are all the stories from the above anthologies. You can see the editors have done a good job of finding stories the other editors haven’t, although there are stories loved by more than one editor. Where I can, I’ve linked to an online version of the story. If one isn’t available, I’ll link to an essay about the story. For some stories, you’ll need to get the anthology. Actually, reading the anthologies are much more convenient.

Year Title Author Editor
1809 The Conquest of the Earth by the Moon Washington Irving Franklin
1833 The Mortal Immortal Mary Shelley Asimov, Moskowitz
1835 The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Phall Edgar Allan Poe Moskowitz
1835 The Great Moon Hoax Richard A. Locke Lester, Sims
1839 The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion Edgar Allan Poe Kuebler
1840 A Heavenward Voyage Samuel-Henry Berthoud Stableford
1844 A Tale of the Ragged Mountains Edgar Allan Poe Franklin
1844 Rappaccini’s Daughter Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin, Asimov, Gunn
1844 The Artist of the Beautiful Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin, Stableford
1844 The Sandman E. T. A. Hoffman Asimov
1845 The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar Edgar Allan Poe Sims
1849 Mellonta Tauta Edgar Allan Poe Franklin, Gunn
1852 A Descent Into the Maelstrom Edgar Allan Poe Asimov
1854 The Birthmark Nathaniel Hawthorne Franklin
1855 The Bell-Tower Herman Melville Franklin
1858 The Diamond Lens Fitz-James O’Brien Franklin, Gunn, Lester
1859 The Wondersmith Fitz-James O’Brien Moskowitz
1859 What Was It? Fitz-James O’Brien Stableford
1860 The Atoms of Chladni J. D. Whelpley Franklin
1863 Darwin Among the Machines Samuel Butler Lester
1870 Annie Denton Cridge Franklin
1872 The Brick Moon Edward Everett Hale Moskowitz
1872 The End of the World Eugène Mouton Stableford
1873 The Automaton Ear Florence McLandburgh Sims
1874 The Tachypomp Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1875 The Soul Spectroscope Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1875 The Story of the Deluge Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1876 The Inside of the Earth Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1876 The Telescope Eye William Henry Rhodes Sims
1877 The Age of Science Frances Power Cobbe Lester
1877 The Man Without a Body Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1879 A Paradoxical Ode (After Shelley) James Clerk Maxwell Stableford
1879 A Psychological Shipwreck Ambrose Bierce Franklin
1879 The Ablest Man in the World Edward Page Mitchell Davies, Stableford
1879 The Facts in the Ratcliff Case Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1879 The Senator’s Daughter Edward Page Mitchell Davies, Sims
1880 From Mizora: A Prophecy Mary E. Bradley Lane Franklin
1880 The Professor’s Experiment Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1881 The Clock That Went Backwards Edward Page Mitchell Asimov, Davies, Sims
1881 The Crystal Man Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1882 Into the Sun Robert Duncan Milne Asimov, Davies
1882 Josuah Electricmann Ernest d’Hervilly Stableford
1884 A Tale of Negative Gravity Frank R. Stockton Asimov, Davies
1884 The Child of the Phalanstery Grant Allen Stableford
1885 Old Squids and Little Speller Edward Page Mitchell Davies
1885 The Great Keinplatz Experiment Arthur Conan Doyle Asimov, Davies
1886 The Blindman’s World Edward Bellamy Franklin
1886 The Monarch of Dreams Thomas Wentworth Higginson Franklin, Sims
1887 Christmas 200,000 B.C. Stanley Waterloo Franklin
1887 The Horla, or Modern Ghosts Guy de Maupassant Asimov
1887 The Shapes (Les Xipéhuz)  J. H. Rosny aîné Asimov
1888 An Express of the Future Jules Verne Moskowitz
1888 Tornadres J. H. Rosny aîné Stableford
1889 Our Second Voyage to Mars W. S. Lach-Szyrma Evans
1889 To Whom This May Come Edward Bellamy Asimov, Davies
1890 Dr. Materialismus Frederic Jesup Stimson Franklin
1890 In the Year Ten Thousand Edgar Fawcett Stableford
1890 Professor’s Bakermann’s Microbe Charles Epheyre Stableford
1891 Old Doctor Rutherford D. F. Hannigan Moskowitz
1891 The Revolt of the Machines Emile Goudeau Stableford
1891 The Salvation of Nature John Davidson Stableford
1892 In the Year Ten Thousand Will N. Harben Franklin
1892 The Doom of London Robert Barr Moskowitz
1892 The Los Amigos Fiasco Arthur Conan Doyle Moskowitz
1892 The Philosophy of Relative Existence Frank R. Stockton Stableford
1893 June, 1993 Julian Hawthorne Stableford
1893 Mysterious Disappearances Ambrose Bierce Sims
1893 The Damned Thing Ambrose Bierce Gunn, Kuebler
1895 A Wife Manufactured to Order Alice W. Fuller Sims
1895 Lost in a Comet’s Tale Frank Reade, Jr. Moskowitz
1895 The Purple Death W. L. Alden Davies, Russell
1896 Citizen 504 Charles H. Palmer Moskowitz
1896 In the Abyss H. G. Wells Asimov
1896 In the Deep of Time
George Parsons Lathrop, Thomas A. Edison
Locke
1896 London’s Danger
C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
Evans, Russell
1897 The Aeriel Brickfield John Mills Evans
1897 The Crystal Egg H. G. Wells Knight
1897 The Microbe of Death Rudolph De Cordova Russell
1897 The Star H. G. Wells Kuebler, Stableford
1897 The Thames Valley Catastrophe Grant Allen
Asimov, Davies, Evans, Moskowitz, Russell, Sims
1898 A Corner in Lightning George Griffith Evans, Moskowitz, Stableford
1898 From the “London Times” of 1904 Mark Twain Franklin, Knight
1898 The Lizard C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne Asimov, Evans, Russell
1898 Where the Air Quivered L. T. Meade, Robert Eustace Moskowitz
1899 A Thousand Deaths Jack London Asimov, Davies, Franklin
1899 Moxon’s Master Ambrose Bierce Knight
1899 The Master of the Octopus Edward Olin Weeks Russell
1899 The Monster of Lake LaMetrie Wardon Allan Curtis Moskowitz, Russell, Sims
1899 The Purple Terror Fred M. White Davies, Evans, Moskowitz, Russell
1899 The Wheels of Dr. Ginochio Gyves Ellsworth Douglass, Edwin Pallander Locke, Russell

James Wallace Harris (9/20/18)

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)