6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION (1954) edited by Groff Conklin

6 Great Novels of Science Fiction

For this post, we have an anthology, this one from 1954. It’s another from one of the old dependables and one of my own personal favourite anthologists, Groff Conklin.

This anthology is a paperback, published by Dell, one of their Dell First Edition range, number D9, to be precise. It’s billed as “six short novels by six masters of imaginative storytelling”. One of the six is a long novella (98 pages), and the other five are all short novellas, and one long novelette, spanning 49-58 pages in length, from shortest story to longest.

 

TITLE: 6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Paperback, 384 pages
PUBLISHER: Dell First Edition, New York, 1954.

CONTENTS (6 Stories)

  • Introduction by Groff Conklin
  • “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete (novella, Collier’s, April 1946)
  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1940)
  • “The Other World” by Murray Leinster (novella, Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (novelette, Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1947)

The first story, “The Blast”, is a bit of an oddity, as it’s by a writer that I’ve never heard of, Stuart Cloete, and it didn’t even appear in one of the science fiction magazines, but rather in an April 1946 edition of Collier’s, one of the big mass market, general magazines, which was published in the US between 1888 and 1957.

The other five stories are all from science fiction magazines, Astounding, Galaxy and Startling Stories, and all spanning the years 1940-1952. I’m familiar with three of them (Leinster, Boucher and Blish), and they’re old favourites of mine, although it’s many years since I’ve read any of them. The titles of the Heinlein and Sturgeon stories vaguely ring a bell for me, so I may or may not have read them at some point in distant past, but I recall absolutely nothing about them.

Quite an interesting anthology of stories. Should be fun reading this one.

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POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Groff Conklin

TITLE: POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 256 pages
PUBLISHER: Grayson & Grayson, Ltd, London, 1952.

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

Introduction by Groff Conklin

PART ONE: THE SOLAR SYSTEM

  • “Operation Pumice” by Raymond Z. Gallun (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1949)
  • “Enchanted Village” by A. E. Van Vogt (Other Worlds Science Stories, July 1950)
  • “Lilies of Life” by Malcolm Jameson (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1945)
  • “Asleep in Armageddon” by Ray Bradbury (Planet Stories, Winter 1948)
  • “Not Final!” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941)
  • “Moon of Delirium” by D. L. James (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “The Pillows” by Margaret St. Clair (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950)

PART TWO: THE GALAXY

  • “Propagandist” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1947)
  • “Hard-Luck Diggings” by Jack Vance (Startling Stories, July 1948)
  • “Space Rating” by John Berryman (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939)
  • “Limiting Factor” by Clifford D. Simak (Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Exit Line” by Samuel Merwin, Jr. (Startling Stories, September 1948)
  • “The Helping Hand” by Poul Anderson (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1950)

This is an interesting anthology, edited by one of the great classic SF anthologists, and another of my favourites, Groff Conklin. The theme of this anthology is “Possible Worlds”, mankind’s possible future exploration of space, and the worlds and lifeforms he might encounter “out there”. The book is divided into two sections. The first, containing seven stories, deals with possible worlds within the solar system. The second section, comprised of six stories, takes us out to encounter worlds and life out in the galaxy.

There are quite a few familiar names here from the many anthologies I’ve collected over the years. Anderson, Asimov, Vance, Simak, Van Vogt, Leinster, Bradbury and Gallun. The others – Merwin, St. Clair, Jameson, Berryman and James – aren’t familiar to me at all. I either don’t know them at all, or have met them so infrequently that they don’t register in my fading memory. As for the stories, however, only the Van Vogt, Asimov, Bradbury and Leinster ring a bell. I don’t recall the others at all. Maybe I’ve read some or all of them at some point in the distant past, but I just don’t remember them. So it should be fun making my way through this anthology, given that I really love vintage SF from this era.

We’ve got thirteen stories in all, the oldest from 1939, the newest from 1950. They are culled from a range of SF magazines from that period – unsurprisingly there’s a large contingent (six stories) from Astounding, and the rest are spread around Startling Stories (three stories), Thrilling Wonder Stories (two stories), and one story each from Planet Stories and Other Worlds Science Stories.

I’ve had this anthology in my collection for many years, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it. As I have a rather huge collection of many thousands of SF books, it’s not exactly on its lonesome there – so many books to read, not enough years left in my life to read ’em all. But at least this one has moved to the top of the list and will not remain unread before I shuffle off this mortal coil. 🙂

SCIENCE FICTION OF THE THIRTIES edited by Damon Knight

TITLE: SCIENCE FICTION OF THE THIRTIES
EDITED BY: Damon Knight
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Indianapolis/New York, 1975
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 464 pages

CONTENTS:

  • Foreword by Damon Knight
  • “Out Around Rigel” by Robert H. Wilson (1931)
  • “The Fifth-Dimension Catapult” by Murray Leinster (1931)
  • “Into the Meteorite Orbit” by Frank K. Kelly (1933)
  • “The Battery of Hate” by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1933)
  • “The Wall” by Howard W. Graham, Ph.D. (1934)
  • “The Lost Language” by David H. Keller, M.D. (1934)
  • “The Last Men” by Frank Belknap Long, Jr. (1934)
  • “The Other” by Howard W. Graham, Ph.D. (1934)
  • “The Mad Moon” by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1935)
  • “Davey Jones’ Ambassador” by Raymond Z. Gallun (1935)
  • “Alas, All Thinking” by Harry Bates (1935)
  • “The Time Decelerator” by A. Macfadyen, Jr. (1936)
  • “The Council of Drones” by W. K. Sonnemann (1936)
  • “Seeker of Tomorrow” by Eric Frank Russell and Leslie T. Johnson (1937)
  • “Hyperpilosity” by L. Sprague de Camp (1938)
  • “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” by Manly W. Wellman (1938)
  • “The Merman” by L. Sprague de Camp (1938)
  • “The Day is Done” by Lester del Rey (1939)

What SF Master Damon Knight has done for Science Fiction of the Thirties is to plough his way through hundreds of classic “pulps” from the 30’s, mining them for a few of the forgotten gems from that era, and picking out the best of them for this anthology. He has reappraised the best of the tales from the 1930s SF magazines, with the added condition that his choices are stories which have rarely, some of them never, been published before in SF anthologies. And it’s a real thrill to read these stories, particularly for a jaded old fan like me who thought he’d read all the good old stuff worth reading.

Reading the short but fascinating Foreword to this anthology, we come to understand that Knight had been a life-long critic of the stories in the pulps, but had undergone a recent change of heart. Sturgeon’s Law (“Ninety Percent of Everything is Crud”) applies to the pulps just as much as it does to everything else, and it is the ten percent of stories which are not crud which make it worth persevering, and wading through the crap, to find the diamonds in the rough. And these stories are all good ‘uns. Damon Knight, former unrelenting critic of the “pulps”, is a hard taskmaster, and his standards are VERY high.

So, given that I’ve read a LOT of vintage SF, how has he done? The good news is that I’m totally unfamiliar with at least six of the authors in this anthology. The rest of them are names that I know, but the real surprise is that I have never read most of these stories before. I’m familiar with only THREE out of the eighteen stories – Weinbaum’s “The Mad Moon”, Campbell’s “The Battery of Hate” and Bates’ “Alas, All Thinking” (all of which I read many, many years ago) – which is a pretty amazing strike rate for Knight and the stories that he has chosen here. He has really come up with the goods, producing an anthology of stories that few SF readers will have seen before.

Most modern SF anthologies showcasing stories from “the old days” have long since started to reprint the same classic stories over and over again, so an avid SF fan would very likely have read most of them before. As good as many classic SF stories are, it becomes a bit tiring and disheartening to see them in every other anthology – “The Cold Equations” and “It’s a Good Life” are two examples of classic SF stories that come to mind. I have these two in so many old anthologies that I could scream every time I see them in yet another. I love these stories to bits, but too much of a good thing, etc…

Which raises the question: if Damon Knight could find these forgotten gems, surely there are many, many more in those SF magazines, just waiting for some adventurous researcher and editor to find them? And now that Damon has sadly passed on from us, to that great everlasting Science Fiction Convention in the Sky, who is willing to step into his giant shoes and continue to unearth these hidden treasures of the past? Or do hardcore fans like me have to continue ponying up exorbitant amounts of money for the old SF magazines or rare, out-of-print anthologies from the dim and distant past, in order to unearth more forgotten SF gems?

SF editors need to start using a bit of imagination and initiative, as in “Great story, but it’s been published a zillion times before. How’s about something that hasn’t been published before?”. I know that great editors of the past (and present) have produced many excellent anthologies of vintage SF. Editors like Groff Conklin, Terry Carr, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Gardner Dozois, Brian Aldiss, Mike Ashley, and many others have produced some amazing anthologies over the years. But many of the classic editors/anthologists have now sadly passed on, and we have a dire need for newer editors to come forward and take up the gauntlet, to continue the great work that Damon Knight and the other great editors of the past have done to unearth the forgotten SF treasures of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Sure, I’d be the first to say that we need new authors producing great new SF. But we should also never, EVER forget the old masters.

So what’s my verdict of Science Fiction of the Thirties? Overall, I think this is an excellent anthology. Taking into account that these are NOT modern literary SF masterpieces, and that the stories are 1930s pulp SF tales, churned out at a few cents per word, it’s amazing that ANY of them were any good. But some were real beauts. Even for as low grade a market as the “pulps”, many talented writers took extreme pride and joy in their work, and went way beyond the line of duty, producing something much more than the miserly word rates they were being paid could ever merit. Damon Knight has uncovered a few of those forgotten gems for us and put them together in this very nice anthology. For someone like myself, who is a huge fan of finding good old SF stories that I haven’t read before, this type of book is just right up my alley.

I wish there were a few more volumes of anthologies containing similarly rare old SF magazine stories out there. Here’s hoping that someone will continue on with the good work of finding classic stories from the “pulps” that we haven’t read before. I, for one, will be eagerly watching out for more.