The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF. edited by Donald A. Wollheim. DAW, 1972

After co-editing a Year’s Best series with Terry Carr for several years, the pair went their separate ways with their own Year’s Best series. This is Wollheim’s first volume, a handsome series of hardbacks.

The Fourth Profession. Larry Niven.

Aliens, known as The Monks due to their habits (the ones they wear, as opposed to living a life of poverty and prayer) arrive in the USA. One Monk turns up in Frazer’s bar and during the course of some serious drinking, offers him what would appear to be education tablets. The following day the Secret Service arrive and Frazer struggles to recall the content of the tablets he swallowed, before he realises that he has to ensure that the aliens plans do not mean trouble for Earth.

Gleepsite. Joanna Russ.
Orbit 9.

Short, unsettling story. A night-shift office cleaning duo have a visitation from a shadowy bat woman who has an offer to make. Deal done, the creature leaves via the balcony, flying into the world outside, which offers a disturbingly strange contrast to the office.

The Bear With The Knot On His Tail. Stephen Tall.
Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The Bear in question being the constellation from which a musical message of distress appears to emanate. A ship, including a lovey-dove husband and wife team, arrive on planet mere hours before it’s sun goes nova and destroys the planet.

Contact is finally made with the egg-like inhabitants in a scene from which Close Encounters could have drawn inspiration – with a crew member using a guitar to match musical notes with the aliens.

It being so close to the sun going nova (bnnnnng*) there is (not made clear why) no chance of evacuation, and the ovoids appear to be succeeding in preventing the crew escape. However a consignment of ovoid eggs (as in chicken eggs) and documentation is loaded just in time.

Reads more 1950s than 1970s.

The Sharks of Pentreath. Michael G. Coney.

A somewhat clumsy and misleading title for a lovely story.

Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World’ (in Terry Carr’s collection of the year’s best in this same year) faces the challenge of overpopulation with a 1-day per week solution. Coney proposes a 1 year out of 3 solution, with 2 years spent safely stowed away vicariously enjoying dangerous activities delegated to ‘remoters’ – metal boxes on legs.

Pentreath is a Cornish fishing village paying host to coachloads of remoter tourists. One ‘remoter’ couple are paying a return visit, having holidayed there in ‘real life’ many years previously. One of the locals who makes his living from the faux attraction is given food for thought by these lovers.

A Little Knowledge. Poul Anderson.

Three humans with no qualms about kidnap, spacecraft theft, illegal technology transfer or the arms trade, find the low-tech weapons of the oh-so polite Trillian race a most attractive proposition.

But they, like me, failed to spot the scientific kink in the rug over which they will trip.

Tongue in cheek, DAW ponders.

Real-Time World. Christopher Priest.
New Writings in SF 1971. Ed John Carnell.

Priest slowly, tantalisingly, reveals an almost PKDickian take on reality (or reveals as much as is ever revealed in such stories). Initially an off-planet observatory is studying the local flora and fauna. However, the observers are themselves being observed in a scientific study which is looking at the effect of lack of contact with news from Earth. But when the subjects of the experiment realise that all is not as it seems…

All Pieces of a River Shore. R.A. Lafferty.
Orbit 8.

A standout story which would be a serious contender for a place in my Top 100.

Elegantly told tale of carnival side-show oddities: extremely wide paintings typically billed as being The Word’s Longest. One collector finds several which are most peculiar – they show scenes of a river in startling detail, and which….

Only slightly spoilt IMHO by the last few sentences which make crystal clear the provenance of the ‘paintings’, rather than leaving it to the imagination of the reader.

With Friends Like These. Alan Dean Foster.

“…in some ways a perfect example of the best type of Analog story…come hell or highwater (humanity) is basically unbeatable”

Unbeatable in the sense of wiping out other species and not joining a wide federation of races? Perhaps a somewhat overblown opinion of our abilities?

Aunt Jennie’s Tonic. Leonard Tushnet.

Herbal remedies concocted by a very old Jewish lady appear to be particularly successful in treatment the ailments of her family and friends, and offering longevity. A grand-nephew, a chemist, dabbles and experiments.

Timestorm. Eddy C. Bertin.
De Achtjaarlijke God.

Flemish SF – and there’s not a lot of that about (although some of the poor SF can make me spit!)

Harvey Lonestorm is victim of a cosmic timestorm, which sends him helter skelter into a crazy situation where far-future humanoids appear to be tampering with history. Harvey intervenes (the kind of intervention which Arnold Schwarzenneger tends to do in his films) and uses the strange device to remove from all the evildoers throughout history, leaving him to return to a pastoral and peaceful Earth. Oh joy. Or not.

And my apologies for the appalling pun a couple of sentences ago.

Transit of Earth. Arthur C. Clarke.

An Earth-Moon-Mars-Sun conjunction offers a rare opportunity for observation. However, that beauty and the scientific data gathered rather lose their thrill when the observer….

Gehenna. Barry Malzberg.

Short story (very nice, but not SF and not really fantasy) which gives three different perspectives and three different outcomes of a troilistic relationship.

One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty. Harlan Ellison.
Orbit 8.

Gus Rosenthal finds himself back in his old yard, looking in on his parents and his young self. He desperately wants to make his own childhood a happier one, to make up for what he feels he lost in his youth. But you should never go back.

A very, very nicely handled story.

Occam’s Scalpel. Theodore Sturgeon.

Any tyro short SF writers should read this as an example of a master story-teller at work. It would prove difficult to describe the story without spoiling the story, so I won’t do that (Terry Carr in the Best Science Fiction of the Year 1 gives away a little too much in his intro), but suffice to say that in a short story Sturgeon keeps the reader off balance as the story twists and turns to a far from expected conclusion.

The scalpel is in the hands of someone carrying out an autopsy, which doesn’t give too much away.

One thought on “The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF. edited by Donald A. Wollheim. DAW, 1972

  1. I found a few of these HC books at a thrift shop the early 00’s. Liked them so much I endeavored to collect the whole set, up until 1990’s final volume. Rest in peace, DAW. It surprised me to see how prolific an author JRR Martin was, decades before GoT.

    My favorite story in this library is Bicentennial Man. It was a brilliant thought provoking and emotional story long before it made it to film version.

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