There was no Dikty volume in 1957 (he makes no mention of this fact anywhere in the volume) and this volume covers stories published in both 1956 and 1957. These later Dikty volumes are much smaller than the earlier hefty tomes, and consequently this volume makes for a fairly thin coverage of two years of SF writing. FWIW there is a nice little bookplate in this hardback that I have, identifying it as being owned by one George Krueger. It’s a Book Club Edition, so was he a member of the book club? We will never know. Anyway George, possibly some 60+ years since you stuck the bookplate into the book, it’s still being cared for and being read.
Michael Shaara. 2066 : Election Day.
Originally in Astounding Science Fiction, 1956.
Asimov has published his story ‘Franchise’ the year before, in which his Multivac supercomputer interviews one randomly chosen member of the US population, and from that interviews, determines the result of US Presidential Election. Here, Shaara looks at a similar premise : his distributed network supercomputer, SAM, interrogates 50 candidates who are put forward for President, to determine who is the man best suited to the job. And the story revolves around a panic at the very top level, as it appears that none of the 50 candidates are going to be deemed by SAM to be up to the job. Might SAM decide to take control?? (No, the cunning Powers that Be trick SAM to choose an academic to take up the role. It’s an ok story, but does feel somewhat dated. [9th June 2023]
Kate Wilhelm. The Mile-Long Spaceship.
Originally in : Astounding Science Fiction, 1957.
I was looking forward to this – an early story from one of a prolific and enduring short SF writing. A good spot from Dikty in terms of identifying talent, although the story was in fact a bit of a disappointment. It took a little while to understand what was going on, and I was confused a little by a reference to a crash involving a ‘biwheel’ (I was pondering a more complicated sfnal thing, but evidently a motorbike!) Allan Norbert wakes up in a hospital bed, dazed and confused. The docs are telling him he’s been in an auto crash, but surely he was out in space?? Then we are introduced to some very alien aliens, out in deep deep space, on the titular mile-long spaceship. The ship’s telepath is evidently linking to Allan, who is getting visions of deep space from the spaceship, whilst they try, unsuccesfully to divine from his mind exactly where his home planet is. (So they can come and rule us, obvs). Fortunately for humanity, Allan’s doesn’t play ball – not knowingly, but because he knows so very little about astronomy that they can’t pinpoint our location and we’re safe. Even more safe than we might be, as rather than carrying out a systematic search for us, the captain of the alien ship decided to self destruct the mile-long spaceship. The story feels like the work of a young writer, and doesn’t feel that is should be a representative of the best of two year’s worth of short SF. [9th June 2023]
Tom Godwin. The Last Victory.
Originally in : If – Worlds of Science Fiction, 1957.
A human spaceship unexpectedly hits a hyperspace vortex without warning, and ends up a long long way from home, able to land, heavily on an alien planet. Fortunately it’s habitable. However, there is immediately a tension between the crew and the Frontier Guards, and there are also the ‘outlander’ colonists. And a kitten. And a dog. All the more complicated by the fact the outlanders are people who have turned their back on Technogration, a combination of technology and integration which has ‘abolished race, creed and color, nations and borders..’ but which requires all to submit to the Common Good (and not to have pets!), but which the crew and the guards are all for. And then there are the green creatures which attack their campe on the first night. And then there are the invisible spiderlike creatures which can control the minds of more intelligent creatures. There’s an awful lot packed into a short story. (Fortunately, the power battle that ensues doesn’t lead to the establishment of Technogration on this new planet, and doggos and kitties are allowed.) I can remember a couple of series of stories in Asimovs in the 90s and 00s featuring settlers facing issues of this kind. Rather too much going on to really work – certainly compared to a short hour or two with one guy and a stowaway in a small spaceship. [9th June 2023]
Poul Anderson. Call Me Joe.
Originally in : Astounding Science Fiction, April 1957
A story that stands up well to the passage of time. On a space station orbiting Jupiter, the wheelchair bound Ed Anglesey is telepathically controlling the titular Joe, a multi limbed, strong creature designed by humans to thrive in Jupiter’s gravity and extreme conditions. Ed relishes the hours he spends, virtually, on Jupiter’s surface, controlling Joe and experiencing the creature’s hard work and virility. However, there is a problem – the connection between Ed and Joe is under threat from breaking components on the space station. Investigation suggests that there is a danger that Joe is trying to take control of Ed. But in fact, it is the other way around, Ed is trying to imprint himself onto Joe to such an extent that he will be able to leave his own frail body and to take over Joe. Which he succeeds in doing, leaving his withered human shell of a body behind. And there looks to be a future in this – there will be many on Earth willing to leave their aged and infirm bodies to live a full life on Jupiter. An influence on Cameron’s ‘Avatar’?? [8th Jul 2023]
Chad Oliver. Didn’t He Ramble.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1957
A neat little story from Oliver, one that could so easily slide into the pages of F&SF some 66 years later. An extremely wealth elderly businessman takes a one-way trip to a small space-station in the asteroid belt. It’s a Westworld-type setup : the jazz lover has paid for a bespoke reality, populated by androids, to live out his final days. That reality is Storyville, a red-light district in New Orleans from the early 20th century, famous for being the birthplace of Satchmo himself. He has all he needs : liquor, female companionship, and his beloved jazz, which he does indeed enjoy to the end of his days, at which point he receives a traditional musical journey to his grave. [8th July 2023]
John J. McGuire. The Queen’s Messenger.
Originally in Astounding, May 1957.
McGuire evidently didn’t have much of an SF writing career, so props to him for getting one of his half dozen published stories in a Year’s Best. I can’t tell you what Ted Dikty saw in the story to include it in this volume, as I didn’t get beyond a half dozen pages. Pages of dialogue. Corblimey, page after page of dialogue. [15th July 2023]
Leigh Brackett. The Other People.
Originally in : Venture Science Fiction, March 1957.
I spotted Brackett’s name in the contents listing and was looking forward to reading this one. Brackett was a prolific writer of short SF in the early days of the genre, and had dozens of stories under her belt from the previous 15 years or so. She was known for her planetary romance, but this is very much Earth based, a story which stands the test of time well, with very little about it that would stop if being published today. A local doctor is intrigued by a young child he has examined, and shares his thoughts with the protagonist. Could the boy be some kind of mutant? Indeed yes, and the tension ramps up as the journo explores the local forest-covered mountain, with a dramatic denouement akin to Close Encounters/ET, with a large spaceship descending into the forest. The boy has indeed been fathered by an alien, and the aliens are up to no good – not world-domination, but people smuggling. [15th July 2023]
Eric Frank Russell. Into Your Tent I’ll Creep.
Originally in : Astounding Science Fiction, September 1957
Altairans have arrived on Earth, and are quite enamoured of the human race. On of them, though, discovers he can telephatically read the minds of man’s best friend. And he realises that it’s very much the tail wagging the dog, in terms of the human/canine relationship, and he sees that as a threat to his race. But can he persuade his companions?? It’s a short little piece, with a single central conceit which, once the reader is told of it, doesn’t leave a whole lot more. Nice enough, but not a standout from two year’s worth of short SF imho.[17th July 2023]
James McConnell. Nor Dust Corrupt.
Originally in : If – Worlds of Science Fiction
Consolator Steen’s job is to meet those who wish to be buried on Earth, and either disabuse them of their ability to pay for this, or to get as much money as he possibly can for them to get a precious plot. You see, Earth is completely built over, over-populated, but has positioned itself as the place for the super wealthy to be buried, and many have fallen for this marketing ploy, coming from all point across the galaxy to see what their options are.
Fore those who can afford it, that generally means their ashes will be interred in a tiny cube in the basement of one of the massive skyscrapers covering most of the Earth. For the exceptional few, there are some green plots where one can be buried, and Joseph Krieg is hell bent on being buried on the Manhattan plot. We follow Steen as he follows his cunning strategy, supported by having had surveillance and research on Krief, to bait a hook for Krieg and to pull him in, paying as much as he can afford (or even ill-afford) from his mahoosive fortune.
However, Steen finds his plan derailed as Krieg diverges from what is the well-established plan, and leaves with nary a backward glance, leaving the Consolator scratching his head and determined to find out what has happened. The reader finds out in the last sentences – for (and this is something that Steen’s research has not found out) Krief is in fact the owner of the company which provides the automated bots which look after the manicured burial gardens, and which use fertiliser on the soil. Krieg has very much got a much cheaper way to have his remains in a very prime spot. [3rd Aug 2023]
Algis J. Budrys. Nightsound.
Originally in : Satellite Science Fiction February 1957 (as ‘The Attic Voice’)
I was looking forward to this, but was rather unimpressed tbh. A college student returns to the family farm after his father dies early in harness, so to speak. Searching through his papers in the attic, the son finds a very strange device that looks like some kind of radio. And from the radio are a number of voices speaking in alien languages, and on is repeatedly calling for help from his deceased father. He finds out that there is an alien out there in the farm, buried following a crash landing, and his dad was trying to help, and he is of course willing to take on that role. The son and the setting is nicely realised, but there’s not too much about the story beyond this. [18th Aug]
Lloyd Biggle, Jr. The Tunesmith.
Originally in : If – Worlds of Science Fiction
An interesting contrast to J.G. Ballard’s ‘Primadonna’ which I read a few weeks ago, in Judith Merril’s take on the Year’s Best SF. The Ballard story felt very much like a story ahead of it’s time, whilst this one feels like its from a decade earlier than when it was written. Biggle sets up a future where music is virtually forgotten, the population enthralled by short, addictive tunes very much like jingles for TV ads. The protagonist is a composer, struggling because he seeks perfection and working longer on his tunes than his contemporaries, who churn out their tunes and rake in the cash. Deciding to give up composing, and simply perform, he finds a job as a musician in a bar, where he stumbles up ways of performing that drive the audience wild. It’s going to be a big threat to the big industry that has evolved around the commercial jingles, and this draws him to the attention of some businessman who are far from pleased about this, and are willing to take measures to maintain the status quo. It’s a lengthy story but doesn’t quite zip along. [31st August 2023]
Carol Emshwiller. Hunting Machine.
Originally in Science Fiction Stories
Nice to see an early story from someone who was going to be writing short SF for another half century or more. This is my third favourite SF story with a hunting theme from the 1950s, behind J.G. Ballard’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’ and Arthur Porges ‘The Ruum’. Several years on after those stories, this story doesn’t really push the theme much further. Emshwiller has a young married couple on a hunting holiday, all mod cons supplied for the comfort, and a robotic hunting machine that will flush out their prey and make it easy for them to dispatch said prey – even if it is a 1500lb brown bear. A rather depressing read tbh. [31st August 2023]
Worth noting that the two year’s worth of SF in this volume are covered by Judith Merril in her take on the Year’s Best in her Second Annual Volume and Third Annual Volume of the Year’s Best, and there is no overlap in Dikty and Merril’s take on the best for the years in question. Hmm. Personally, my gut feeling is that if you read the volumes without knowing the date of publication, you would put the Dikty volume as being of a few years greater vintage than the Merril volumes.