CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION – THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE edited by Terry Carr

Classic Science Fiction - The First Golden Age

Here is yet another SF anthology edited by one of my favourite SF anthologists, Terry Carr. It’s a nice, beefy one this time, at 445 pages, with twelve stories, plus an introduction by Carr.

I know most people usually dive on into the stories first, but take my advice, and do NOT skip the Introduction. It is a fascinating, lengthy, detailed 17-page thesis by Carr, which serves as an excellent historical background to the First Golden Age of Science Fiction. This one is an absolute must for anyone, like myself, who is as much a student of the history of science fiction as I am a fan of the literature itself.

TITLE: CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION – THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Harper & Row, New York, 1978
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 445 pages
ISBN 10: 0-06-010634-4
ISBN 13: 9780-06-010634-8

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • “The Smallest God” by Lester del Rey (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne (Astonishing Stories, June 1940)
  • “Vault of the Beast” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1940)
  • “The Mechanical Mice” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1941)
  • “-And He Built a Crooked House-“ by Robert A Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1941)
  • “Microcosmic God” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1941)
  • “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941)
  • “By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941)
  • “Child of the Green Light” by Leigh Brackett (Super Science Stories, February 1942)
  • “Victory Unintentional” by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, August 1942)
  • “The Twonky” by Henry Kuttner (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Storm Warning” by Donald A. Wollheim (Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1942)

Intriguingly, and in addition to the fantastic main Introduction, each of the twelve stories has its own multi-page introduction, each of which which gives detailed background information on the author and the story itself. How I wish that every anthology would do this. And then there are the twelve stories themselves. And what stories they are.

This anthology contains some of the greatest short stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and I’m familiar with most, but not all, of them, as they’ve appeared in other anthologies or single-author collections. Just looking at the roll-call of authors, it’s like a who’s-who of the biggest SF names from that era. Of course, eight of the twelve stories are from Astounding Science Fiction, which is unsurprising, as it was by far the biggest SF magazine of the Golden Age.

We have two of the best of the early stories written by Isaac Asimov, as well as one of the best and probably the most famous story written by Henry Kuttner, and likewise absolute gems by Eric Frank Russell, Theodore Sturgeon and Lester del Rey. I’ve always been a huge fan of Leigh Brackett, and her story “Child of the Green Light” is also a cracker. Even the two stories that I was totally unfamiliar with, “Storm Warning” by Donald A. Wollheim and “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne, are excellent stories.

A. E. van Vogt’s story “Vault of the Beast” easily ranks up there alongside “Black Destroyer”, “The Monster” and “Dormant” as one of my all-time favourite van Vogt short tales. And the two Robert A. Heinlein short stories, “By His Bootstraps” and “-And He Built a Crooked House-“, well, what superlatives can I heap upon them other than to say that they are two of the greatest SF short stories ever written?

As this is an older book, and has been out of print for a number of years, I guess anyone looking for a copy will have to haunt the second-hand/used books stores. And if you spot one, snap it up right away! This is a fantastic anthology of Golden Age SF short fiction. I enjoyed every single story, which is something that I rarely say about most anthologies, as there are usually at least one or two stories which aren’t as good as the rest.

Terry Carr very rarely disappointed with his anthologies, and with this one, he came up with the goods yet again. This is an absolute gem of an anthology, and I’d recommend it without any hesitation to all fans of Golden Age SF.

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THE GREAT SF STORIES VOL. 1 (1939) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

TITLE: ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS THE GREAT SF STORIES VOL. 1 (1939)
EDITED BY: Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Paperback, 432 pages
PUBLISHER: DAW Books, New York, 1st Printing, March 1979.

Those are the various general details, and here’s a listing of the contents:

  • Introduction by Isaac Asimov
  • “I, Robot” by Eando Binder (Amazing Stories, January 1939)
  • “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” by Robert Bloch (Amazing Stories, March 1939)
  • “Trouble with Water” by H. L. Gold (Unknown, March 1939)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” by Don A. Stuart (John W. Campbell, Jr.) (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939)
  • “The Day is Done” by Lester Del Rey (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1939)
  • “The Ultimate Catalyst” by John Taine (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1939)
  • “The Gnarly Man” by L. Sprague De Camp (Unknown, June 1939)
  • “Black Destroyer” by A. E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “Greater Than Gods” by C. L. Moore (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “Trends” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “The Blue Giraffe” by L. Sprague De Camp (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “The Misguided Halo” by Henry Kuttner (Unknown, August 1939)
  • “Heavy Planet” by Milton A. Rothman (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “Life-Line” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “Ether Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1939)
  • “Pilgrimage” by Nelson Bond (Amazing Stories, October 1939)
  • “Rust” by Joseph E. Kelleam (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939)
  • “The Four-Sided Triangle” by William F. Temple (Amazing Stories, November 1939)
  • “Star Bright” by Jack Williamson (Argosy, November 1939)
  • “Misfit” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1939)

This is a real gem of an anthology, and what a year 1939 was! It’s hard to know where to start with this lot, but it would probably be with the three that really stand out for me, Van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”, John W. Campbell’s (under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym) “Cloak of Aesir” and Milton A. Rothman’s “Heavy Planet”, which are all stories that impacted greatly on me when I first started reading short SF way back in my early teens.

But there are also so many other good stories here, in particular C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods”, Jack Williamson’s “Star Bright”, Lester Del Rey’s “The Day is Done”, Eando Binder’s “I, Robot”, Isaac Asimov’s “Trends”, and the two Robert A. Heinlein stories “Life-Line” and “Misfit”. Most of the others I can’t really remember, as I read them so long ago, and there are a few that I don’t think I’ve actually read before.

I’m really looking forward to reading (or is that re-reading?) Henry Kuttner’s “The Misguided Halo” (I’m a big fan of his), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Ether Breather” (likewise a big fan of his), Robert Bloch’s “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” and the two L. Sprague De Camp stories “The Gnarly Man” and “The Blue Giraffe”. All big names that I’ve enjoyed reading before.

This book was the first in a very long series, and Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories, Volumes 1-25, was one of the greatest ever series of science fiction anthologies. Published by DAW Books, the twenty-five volumes each covered a single year, and the entire series spanned the years 1939-1964.

The first twelve of these volumes were also later repackaged in a series of hardcovers, Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction. There were six volumes in total of that one, First Series-Sixth Series, each one containing two of the original paperback volumes. For some reason (I’ve never found out why), this series of hardcovers stopped at the half-way mark, and the remaining thirteen volumes of the paperbacks were never collected in hardback. Pity. Those hardbacks were really nice, and I’m fortunate enough to have all six of them.

The twenty-five volume paperback set is a different matter. I only started to collect those several months ago, and so far I only have nine of them, although I continue to pick up the odd one here and there, with the intention of collecting the entire series, eventually. The books in this series are also quite expensive and hard to find, and most of the copies that I’ve seen are from US sellers, so the shipping charges to the UK and Ireland are also very expensive. I’ve often seen costs totalling up to $50 on Ebay for one of these paperbacks inclusive of shipping, as some of the US sellers charge ridiculously and inexcusably high transatlantic shipping charges. It’s much better if you can find them on Amazon UK, as they only charge £2.80 shipping from all Amazon sellers, even those in the US.

Anyways, nine down, sixteen to go. Oboy! I guess it’s time to get the credit card out and start buying a few more of these books…

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.

BEACHHEADS IN SPACE edited by August Derleth

TITLE: BEACHHEADS IN SPACE
EDITED BY: August Derleth
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 224 pages
PUBLISHER: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1954 (Originally published in the US in 1952 by Pellegrini & Cudahy).

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

  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak (1951)
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey (1951)
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell (1946)
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham (1951)
  • “The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei (1934)
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith (1951)

This is an interesting old anthology, edited by another of my favourite SF anthologists, August Derleth. The theme of this anthology, according to the book’s jacket blurb, is “invasion from another world, or counter-attack from Earth against the planets”.

I haven’t read this one in many years, maybe twenty-five years or more, but I remember that it was a favourite of mine way back in the day, and it still has a special place on my bookshelves. Obviously my memories of the individual stories are vague after all this time, and I don’t remember all of them clearly, and a couple of them not at all. But the ones that I do recall really liking are Clifford D. Simak’s very clever short story “Beachhead” (AKA “You’ll Never Go Home Again!”, first published in Fantastic Adventures, July 1951), Eric Frank Russell’s excellent novella “Metamorphosite”, (from Astounding, December 1946), and Clark Ashton Smith’s scary and unusual alien invasion SF/Horror novelette “The Metamorphosis of Earth” (Weird Tales, September 1951).

I also remember liking Lester del Rey’s “The Years Draw Nigh” and Isaac Asimov’s “Breeds There a Man…?”, although for some reason I remember a lot less about them than I do about the Russell, Simak and Smith stories. I don’t recall anything at all about the Wyndham and Wandrei stories. I’m surprised about not remembering the Wyndham story, as I’m usually a big fan of his writing.

But as good as my recollections are of the Simak and Smith stories, the stand-out story for me in this anthology has always been Eric Frank Russell’s classic “Metamorphosite”, which I recall having a huge impact on me back when I was a young guy in my twenties. I don’t think this story is in any of my other anthologies (and I have zillions of the darned things!), so I reckon it hasn’t been reprinted very often. It’s far, far too many years since I last read it, and indeed this entire anthology, so it’s long overdue for a re-read. I’ve already started on the Simak story, and, so far, it’s at least as good as I remember it, if not better. If the rest of the stories hold up as well as this one is doing, I’m going to really enjoy reading this anthology again.

Please take note that this is the 1954 UK edition, which is different from the original 1952 US hardcover edition, published by Pellegrini & Cudahy. Apparently all editions aside from the original hardcover edition have been “butchered” in some way, missing stories, etc. This UK edition is missing the Introduction and seven of the stories from the US edition. Also note that John Wyndham has two stories in the original US edition, one under his usual John Wyndham pseudonym, and the other as John Benyon.

Here is the full Contents Listing of the original 1952 US edition:

  • Introduction by August Derleth
  • “The Star” by David H. Keller, M.D.
  • “The Man from Outside” by Jack Williamson
  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Ordeal of Professor Klein” by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “Repetition” by A. E. van Vogt
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov
  • “Meteor” by John Beynon
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham
  • “Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • “The Ambassadors from Venus” by Kendell F. Crossen
  • “To People a New World” by Nelson S. Bond

For lovers of old-style, classic SF short fiction, this anthology would be right up their alley. If you can actually find it, that is. As it’s such an old book, it’s obviously long out of print, and you’ll have to hunt through used book stores to find this anthology. But it’ll be well worth the trouble it takes to find it, as are any other anthologies edited by August Derleth.

After all these years, I think I’ll actually make a major effort to get off my butt and track down the longer original US hardcover edition, which I didn’t even realize was different/longer until I recently read the Wikipedia entry on the anthology.

Highly recommended, particularly the original US hardcover edition.

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

In my last post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about one of the anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the other anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. The second of the two anthologies is VOYAGERS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.