Published in the UK in smaller format with fewer stories as ‘The Best Science Fiction Stories : Fourth Series’, which is the volume I have at present. I’ll fill this review with the stories in that Lite edition and who knows, I may one day splash out on the full version, or else seek the stories out elsewhere, at much lower cost (quite a factor now (Oct 2022) that the Conservative Party is doubling down on the economic disaster of Brexit, the economic disaster of COVID, and the economic disasters caused by Big Oil and Putin, with their very own self-inflicted economic disaster).
Alfred Bester. Trematode, a Critique of Modern Science-Fiction.
Zenna Henderson. Ararat.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
I read a later story in this series a year or two back, in Judith Merril’s take on the Year’s Best SF in 1956 (review here), and , somewhat confusingly, this story has similar elements to it viz a school setting for children of aliens, indistuingishable from humans other than their mental powers, where a teacher from outside turns out to be another of their race. (After checking, it was four years ago that I read the earlier story, not a year or two. Just where does the time go???) [27th Oct 2022]
William F. Temple. Counter-Transference.
Originally in Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1952.
A psychological thriller, in a near future in which, due to the incessant pace of change humanity have been facing (ha! little did they know back in the 50s!), anxiety and mental health are a major issue for almost half the population, and the protagonist, a female psychologist, is struggling to deal with her current small caseload, which here godlike senior psychiatrist bod insists she must rapidly deal with on a group basis, so that she can take on the next influx of patients, which turns out to be an even bigger problem, as their are bigger forces at play. (The senior psychologist believes humanity is headed towards a shared/hive mind developmental leap, and is in fact very much right!) [18th Oct 2022]
Mark Clifton. The Conqueror.
Originally in : Astounding Science Fiction
A simple story of a young Guatemalan boy living in a village on the foothills of a volcano, who discovers a dahlia that has tubers that are not only edible (unlike all the other dahlias) but also render a state of bliss unto the eater, and also leave them feeling sated for a whole day. The young boy’s dreams of conquering the world are indeed fulfilled, but not through politics. [27th Oct 2022]
John W. Jakes. Machine.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction April 1952
Just a few pages and quite lightweight TBH. A husband has a run-in with a toaster who he believes embodies his belief that machines have souls, and some of those souls are evil. Of course, the husband ends up as toast. Not really a Year’s Best SF tbh. [31st Oct 2022]
Murray Leinster. The Middle of the Week After Next.
Originally in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1952.
Mr. Steems in a New Yoik taxi driver, a bellicose chap, whose bellicosity reaches new heights as a result of amateur scientist Mr. Thaddeus Binder hailing his cab. Binder’s has been reading philosophy and this has inspired him to experiment with compenetrability, and is on his way to a friend to demonstrate his success in this field. However, he disappears from the back of Steems’ taxi, leaving behind just the metallic objects on him. And to Steems’ rising annoyance, this happens to each and every subsequent fare he takes on. On the positive side, he quickly amasses quite a collection of coins, watches and other valuable possessions from each fare. However, the missing people soon become a news item, and Steems looks to be fingered for mass homicide… A nice story, perhaps two or three pages too long, and Mr. Steems almost overstays his welcome! [7th November 2022]
Alfred Coppel. The Dreamer.
First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 1952
Only four pages long. An man who has dreamed of being an astronaut since he was a young child has achieved his dream and is about to set out to be the first man to travel to the moon and back. SPOILER : his trip is in fact a similation, designed by the boffins to weed out those psychologically unsuited to spending time in the dark depths of space. And indeed he comes back a gibbering wreck! [8th Nov 2022]
Fritz Leiber. The Moon Is Green.
First published in Galaxy, April 1952
A longer, darker story altogether, quite harrowing and claustrophobic. The protagonist is a young woman struggling under the stress of living in a barricaded and shuttered skyscraper, waiting out the fallout from the recent nuclear war. She is holed up with her controlling husband, and the outlook is bleak. That is, until she dares to peek outside. Is that a fresh new world out there?? Or not…. [8th Nov 2022]
Eric Frank Russell. I Am Nothing.
Originally in Astounding July 1952
A cold-hearted, ruthless leader, who strikes fear amongst all he commands, is quite willing to invade and subjugate another planet and it’s peoples. However, he is about to meet his match…
Having happily sent his son to the front-line, he is less than impressed by his son falling for a young survivor of one of their attacks, and, furthermore, sending her back home. He awaits the young woman, doubtless a scheming enemy hussy, but it turns out she is but a girl, a girl damaged by what she has witnessed.
A touching little ending to a character study of a particularly unpleasant protagonist. The first of two stories from Russell in this volume. [21st Nov 2022]
Walter M. Miller, Jr. Command Performance.
Originally in : Galaxy November 1952
A young woman finds herself somewhat listless – she has wealth, husband, children, social life, hobbies etc., but something is missing. It transpires that in fact it is not that she has something missing, but something extra. A young man who shares a genetic mutation with her, and who is able to communicate with her through her mind, and, worse still, see through her eyes, and she is able to see through his. This intimate relationship proves to be a challenge to her… A taut psychological thriller, with a touch of sauciness for the early 50s. [22nd Nov 2022]
John Wyndham. Survival.
Originally in : Thrilling Wonder Stories February 1952
As with the previous story, a female protagonist. This time it’s a somewhat shy and mousy wife who upsets her parents to travel with her husband to Mars for a five year stretch on the colony there. The familial arguments with her mother at the beginning sets the reader to thinking the story might be of a certain kind, but once the spaceship has problems en route, and things go from bad to worse, the young woman has to find hidden depths of resource to ensure that she and the child she is pregnant with are able to survive, and the story shifts into an altogether timbre as the food starts to run out…. The ending is macabre and you can imagine the story being rejected by some editors at the time, but as the story will have been submitted by John Wyndham with his ‘The Day of the Triffids’ just published, his name will doubtless have helped the story see the light of day. [22nd Nov 2022]
John D. MacDonald. Game for Blondes.
Originally in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1952
MacDonald was just getting into stride with his writing career at this point. He’d had his first story published some 15 years previously, but then the war got in the way, and part of his return to writing, according to wikipedia was writing 14hours a day and churning out 800,000 words in double-quick time, getting a mountain of rejection slips before getting properly into the writing swing. And this is a classily written story, with neat little touches in most paragraphs. It starts very crime noir, with the protagonist having hit rock bottom and become a functioning alcoholic after crashing his car and killing his wife. We follow him through a night out in several bars, during which he realises three attractive blonde dames are following. Something is clearly up. And that’s the sfnal element – they are aliens, playing a scavenger hunt game, groups of friends trying to find and capture red headed guys with different coloured eyes. Having been caught and displayed at the equivalent of a dinner party, he is given a chance to return to Earth and the time of his choosing, enabling him to return before that fateful night in which he crashed the car, and he gets a second chance with his girl. [23rd Nov 2022]
Frank M. Robinson. The Girls from Earth.
Originally in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1952.
A clever story looking at two sides of the mating game in a sfnal setting. A couple of guys on a remote planet in males have very few women to choose from, are excited at the imminent arrival of a spaceship with a batch of young brides-to-be from Earth. Then we see the scenario on Earth in which young women would willingly set out to a remote frontier planet to be married off to a man they have never met : the lack of men of Earth have made it tricky for women to find a mate, and many face a life of spinsterhood and a future as an ‘old biddy’. We follow a couple of unmarried women who set out on such a trip, and we fear for their future. However (spoiler) whilst on Earth they may be seen as fairly homely women, to the third generation settlers on the remote planet, they are seen as jaw droppingly beautiful. Very much a story of it’s time! [23rd Nov 2022]
Eric Frank Russell. Fast Falls the Eventide.
Originally in : Astounding Science Fiction, May 1952.
A thoughtful story from Russell, his second in the volume and quite a contrast to the first. It’s a far, far future, and Earth’s atmosphere is thinning, and many species have been lost, but humanity has adapted, living centuries, albeit with far fewer of us. But the reduced numbers is partly due to the fact that humanity sends out it’s members out as ambassadors to the multitude of strange races across the galaxy, who are very keen to draw on our expertise. The story (as such there is) follows Melisande as it is her turn to represent humanity elsewhere, and she chooses her destination – a race similar to upright alligators on a planet on the far reaches of the galaxy. Despite their appearance they are a thoughtful race, and they wish to follow in our footsteps (ensuring their race’s longevity by becoming the race that others wish to learn from). A couple of things struck me – so far, far in the future buy misogyny is still a thing. And so far, far in the future and punch card computer systems are still a thing! [25th Nov 2022]
A good range of stories, which stand the test of time well. Quite a number of female protagonists.
One story not in this volume is Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’ was also published in 1952. I can still, almost 50 years on, vividly remember reading that story at school as part of our English Literature course as a teenager, in Edmund Crispin’s anthology ‘The Stars & Under’, and remember the impact it had on me. I had been reading a little bit of SF at that point, mostly Asimov and ERB, but this story and the other stories alongside it in the SF anthology (Ballard’s ‘Billenium’, Porges ‘The Ruum’, Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Forgotten Enemy’, Henderson’s ‘Food to all Flesh’) really set me off in pursuit of more SF.