Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: The 10th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F edited by Judith Merril (Delacorte, 1965)

The paperback edition, from Dell (the hardcover, which I first read, was published by their hc arm Delacorte)

The Contento Index:
The 10th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F edited by Judith Merril (Delacorte, 1965, $4.95, 400pp, hc)
· Automatic Tiger · Kit Reed · ss F&SF Mar ’64
· The Carson Effect · Richard Wilson · ss Worlds of Tomorrow Nov ’64
· The Shining Ones · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Playboy Aug ’64
· Pacifist · Mack Reynolds · ss F&SF Jan ’64
· The New Encyclopaedist · Stephen Becker · vi F&SF May ’64
· The Legend of Joe Lee · John D. MacDonald · ss Cosmopolitan Oct ’64
· Gas Mask · James D. Houston · ss Nugget, 1964
· A Sinister Metamorphosis · Russell Baker · ss The New York Times, 1965
· Sonny · Rick Raphael · ss Analog Apr ’63
· The Last Secret Weapon of the Third Reich · Josef Nesvadba · ss Vampires Ltd., New York: A. Vanous, 1964
· Descending · Thomas M. Disch · ss Fantastic Jul ’64
· Decadence · Romain Gary; trans. by Richard Howard · ss Hissing Tales, Harper & Row, 1964
· Be of Good Cheer · Fritz Leiber · ss Galaxy Oct ’64
· It Could Be You · Frank Roberts · ss Coast to Coast, Sydney, Australia, 1964
· A Benefactor of Humanity · James T. Farrell · ss The Socialist Call, 1958
· Synchromocracy · Hap Cawood · ss Motive, 1964
· The Search · Bruce Simonds · pm F&SF Jun ’64
· The Pirokin Effect · Larry Eisenberg · ss Amazing Jun ’64
· The Twerlik · Jack Sharkey · ss Worlds of Tomorrow Jun ’64
· A Rose for Ecclesiastes · Roger Zelazny · nv F&SF Nov ’63
· The Terminal Beach · J. G. Ballard · nv New Worlds Mar ’64
· Problem Child · Arthur Porges · ss Analog Apr ’64
· The Wonderful Dog Suit · Donald Hall · ss The Carleton Miscellany, 1964
· The Mathenauts · Norman Kagan · ss If Jul ’64
· Family Portrait · Morgan Kent · ss Fantastic Aug ’64
· A Red Egg · José Maria Gironella; trans. by Terry Broch Fontseré · ss, 1964
· The Power of Positive Thinking · M. E. White · ss New Directions #18 ’64
· A Living Doll · Robert Wallace · ss Harper’s Jan ’64
· Training Talk · David R. Bunch · ss Fantastic Mar ’64
· A Miracle Too Many · Philip H. Smith & Alan E. Nourse · ss F&SF Sep ’64
· The Last Lonely Man · John Brunner · ss New Worlds May/Jun ’64
· The Man Who Found Proteus · Robert H. Rohrer, Jr. · ss Fantastic Nov ’64
· Yachid and Yechida · Isaac Bashevis Singer · ss, 1964
· Summation · Judith Merril · ms
· Honorable Mentions · Misc. · bi

One of the pivotal books of my youth, and the first Merril anthology I read, and quite likely the best of its series (of twelve annuals) for its breadth and as good as any and better than most for its consistency of quality.

When I found it in the Nashua, New Hampshire, library, at the Golden Age (13), I already knew of a number of the writers included, and was already several years additcted to Alfred Hitchcock Presents: anthologies, which this fat, somewhat weathered book resembled. I had also happily made my way mostly through one other sf annual, Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss's SF: 71, which was a thinner if no less ambitious and eclectic volume...while in their initial volume, for 1967, Harrison (then the primary editor, with Aldiss advising) ran a credo from Merril's long-term friend and sparring partner James Blish, rather bluntly criticizing both Merril's and the annual series edited by (another ex-Futurian) Donald Wollheim and Terry Carr, the Harrison/Aldiss volumes came increasingly to resemble Merril's, with perhaps even less "traditional" sf and certainly less out-and-out fantasy (for Merril's series, S-F meant "science-fantasy" initially, in its broadest this 10th volume, she opted instead for her broadest-sense version of Robert Heinlein's old term, "speculative fiction"--basically anything fantasticated in any significant way; fantasy was always a component).

The book was nearly as old as I was, since its contents were (largely) drawn from first publication (at least in English) in the year of my birth, 1964, and those contents by and large impressed me and broadened my horizons (certainly Mack Reynolds's "Pacifist" had an effect on my thinking about as profound as Joe Gores's "The Second Coming"...which I read in an AHP: volume). Several others came close: I was young enough not to find the metaphor of Kit Reed's automatic tiger too heavy-handed, while old enough to know that one of Richard Wilson's characters, a more experienced Vice President who had been passed over for a relatively callow Presidential candidate, was an analog for the not yet disappointing LBJ (and Wilson's story written and set in type no doubt before the events of November '63). J. G. Ballard, who just died this past weekend, challenged me; Roger Zelazny dazzled me (though I had seen his story already, in Robert Silverberg and the SFWA's The SF Hall of Fame), Frank Roberts sobered me (and might not've published much more fiction; my Australian friends and acquaintances are unaware of much else, nor is the web), Donald Hall, whose poetry has been his major passion, charmed me. (The recently late) Thomas Disch's heavy metaphor was just as effective as Reed's or Hall's; Larry Eisenberg's broad comedy was almost as funny as Hall's subtler story and Becker's sly parodies, and Rick Raphael's amiable telekineis fantasy as much fun as David Bunch's grimly funny family psychodrama (if even Bunch not as grim as Nesvaba nor Romain Gary, Raphael not in the same league with Singer for the sense of life...Merril, btw, chose to render the characters' names in the title of "Jachid and Jechidna" in more goy/English-friendly transliteration--surprised she didn't opt for "Yackid"). While nineteen of the stories are from magazines devoted to sf and fantasy, and only three from relatively eclectic little magazines (assuming Coast to Coast was an Australian general-interest magazine of some sort, and counting Harper's as not quite Little), their presence, along with the selections taken from collections (albeit at least one, I don't have my copy at hand to check which but perhaps the Roberts, the slightly older Farrell, or the cancer-fantasy by Gironella, first read by Merril in the then-new newsstand magazine Short Story International) and such odd places as The Call, gave this and other of Merril's later annuals a sense of eclecticism that many readers found over-broad; some of those were also put off by Merril's running commentary in the books, wrapped around the stories and joining them, sometimes more effectively than other times, in a common purpose, even if only to suggest that the literary approaches in the 1960s within the fantastic fiction community and without were pretty much on par and often focused on the same developments in human events. Which, as the fiction collected here, and in her other anthologies, usually demonstrated, and in part was due to her efforts. And those of such magazine editors as Fantastic and Amazing's Cele Lalli, not long before Ziff-Davis sold her magazines out from under her, and she went on to edit Z-D bridal magazines for the rest of her career, and F&SF's Avram Davidson, not long before he had to give up his run as that magazine's best editor due to the untenable postal connection between the NYC offices and his home-office first in Mexico, then in Guyana. (Merril very happy about Short Story International, as well, then in its shorter, earlier run; by 1978, it had been revived and up and running for several years, just waiting on a well-stocked newsstand for me to discover it, and read it whenever I could find it, along with Fantastic and F&SF and Hitchcock's and Ellery Queen's issues then, and now (though Fantastic is gone again, after a brief revival, though Weird Tales and Cemetery Dance and particularly Realms of Fantasy, which we are told is not-dead-just-resting, have taken the space Fantastic used to hold), and Zoetrope All-Story is perhaps the closest current newsstand approach to SSI, which left us again in the 1990s.

Merril's volumes weren't the first annual series in Speculative Fiction (that fell to E. F. Bleiler and Ted Ditky, with August Derleth making a brief run at it as well), but from 1956 on they helped set the tone more than anyone else's, then or since, even Carr and Wollheim either together or (as they were for most of the 1970s) separately, or Gardner Dozois and his competitors in sf, and the imrpessive array of fantasy and horror annuals. led by veterans Ellen Datlow and Stephen Jones, today.

Bent my twig, certainly. Even moreso than it was already.

For more of this Friday's "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, and the blogroll links she has...this "meme"'s been going on for a year, and even if she didn't get my tripartite FFB post into the archive yet, she's done an impressive job of motivation and organization through some tough times. I thank her for her efforts, and am proud to continue to contribute and to have offered other small service...


Ed Gorman said...

That was a great series of Year's Best. Merrill was no snob and covered the entire range of sf and fantasy, though some of the more insular people in the field criticised her for going to "the slicks" for some of her material.

Todd Mason said...

And, if anything, more criticism for increasingly going to the little magazines (the middle volumes, such as the 5th or 6th, for including cartoons, missing from the 10th...but also she was being overruled in some of her choices when her hardcover edition was being published by Simon & Schuster by her S&S editor...I gather that with Delacorte, as with the first volume with Gnome, she had a freer hand (and presumably a better budget at Delacorte than at the small press).

Anonymous said...

I miss your sharing your passion for SF, Fantasy, and Horror. I often skim your blogs, but I actually read all of this one. I liked reading about how the authors moved you as an adolescent.

Todd Mason said...

Glad you liked this one...I see, in the gush, where there are still a few questionable punctuations, at least, to clean up...