(This is me having speaks in Feb 2023) I made a start reading this in 2019, then got into buying and reading the Bleiler/Dikty Year’s Bests from the previous years. I’ve picked this up again and will read this and the matching Dikty volume for the same year immediately after.
(Two 2019 reviews)
John Bernard Daley. The Man Who Liked Lions.
Originally in Infinity Science Fiction, October 1956.
Mr. Kemper has been on Earth for millenia and finds little to differentiate the creatures in cages at the zoo from those staring in at them. Full Best SF Review here.
C.M. Kornbluth The Cosmic Expense Account
Cited as being from : The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sixth Series. Originally in Fantasy and Science Fiction January 1956, with the title ‘The Cosmic Charge Account’.
A story that would sit nicely in today’s F&SF with only a few changes – blackly comic and satirical, it features two men setting out into zombie-infested territory. Full Best SF Review here.
(It’s 2023 again…)
Theodore L. Thomas. The Far Look.
Originally in Astounding Science Fiction August 1956
A good story from an author new to me – he did in fact have a 30-year career, mostly short SF. He looks at how the men who have been to the moon come back with ‘The Far Look’ : something about being the only two members of humanity on the moon for several weeks evidently does something to a man. We find out about a couple of previous missions to the moon, and then the story follows the current pair, who have to overcome a couple of obstacles – at one point very similar to ‘The Martian’. And they do make it home, and they do indeed return with ‘The Far Look’. Worth remembering that this was written a decade and a half before the first moon landing! [23rd Feb 2023]
E.L. Malpas. When Grandfather Flew to the Moon.
Originally in : A.D. 2500: The Observer Prize Stories 1954
Another story from an author new to me, and he’ll be new to much everyone I reckon, as he only ever had two stories published (according to ISFDB). Merril mentions the unusual provenance of the story – a winner in a story competition on the theme 2500A.D. run by the national UK newspaper The Observer (and possibly having been in a bank’s in-house magazine prior to that). And it’s an absolutely delightful little story, that was a real pleasure to read. True enough, it’s set in the specified year, and the story opens with a remote Welsh farmhouse finally being connected to The Electric. But whilst they’re only just being connected, the locals include Uncle ‘Spaceship -Repairs’ Jones and Llewellyn ‘Time Machine’, so it’s not that it’s a backward society they’re living in. And when a spaceship headed for the moon has to make a dramatic landing outside their farm, Unce ‘Spaceship-Repairs’ Jones is summoned, and he fixes the ship, and Grandfather takes the place of the one crewmember who decides he’s had enough of spaceflight and takes the train home. Grandmother is bereft at his loss, and nightly climbs the nearby mountain to be as close to possible to him, bemoaning the waning moon, for when it’s no longer there, he’s bound to fall off it. But Grandfather does return home, only to find Grandmother has married and run off back in time with Llewellyn Time Machine! It’s a story that deserves to be much more widely known. I wonder whether the fact that it wasn’t in fact written by an SF writer was a factor in that! But for whatever reason, Malpas very much epitomises being a One Hit Wonder. [24th Feb 2023]
R. Bretnor. The Doorstop.
Originally in Astounding Science Fiction, November 1956
Merril notes that is a serious, straight SF story, possibly Bretnor’s first ever. She also notes that he had another story, published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, that was the best story in any SFF magazine published this year, but which wasn’t SF or F and so she couldn’t consider it for this volume. It’s a simple story, no plot, simply the reflections and responses of a man who realises that there is much, much more to the odd-shaped doorstop his wife has bought from a flea market. Much, much more. It’s a good complement to ‘The Far Look’ in looking at the human response to the reality of just how big a universe it is in which we live, and just how small we are. And much more to my taste than his ‘The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out’ which appeared in a Bleiler/Dikty anthology earlier inthe decade. [25th Feb 2023]
Algis Budrys Silent Brother.
Originally in Astounding Science Fiction, February 1956 (attributed to Paul Janvier)
A thoughtful piece about ‘aliens’ from Budrys, and somewhat different to many stories of this ilk due to the very benign, nay, positive impact of the aliens on humanity. The first starship, Endeavour, arrives home on Earth. It has been a successful mission, finding inhabitable planets in the Alpha Centaurus system. Watching the crew step back on the soil of Earth and walking into history, Harvey Cable struggles not to be bitter and jealous. He could have been one of them, and indeed was instrumental in developing part of the technology that made the mission possible. But he was badly injured when testing a previous version of the rocket, and is missing his legs, has damaged sight, and much more. But he soon has to turn his mind to a more pressing matter : just who is fiddling with the electronics behind his television set each night?? It’s a bit of a locked room mystery, as there is no sign of entry into his flat, even after he bars and locks all ways in. And after further testing, he realises that despite him not having the technological knowhow to do the work on the set, it has to be himself. And also, his missing teeth appear to growing back, as well as…. It transpires that the starship crew have brought back something to Earth – something that appears to be happy to help humans and humanity, and to reach further for the stars. It’s a good read, although it’s best not to think too much about some of the mechanics of what is happening.
As an aside, I still have a strong memory of, in the late 70s, happening upon a film on TV called ‘Who?’ and being thoroughly engrossed (the critics were evidently not impressed) and going out and buying the paperback of the original Budrys novel. It’s on my shelves still, as part of my initial SF collection (which only amounted to about 100 volumes – the collection is somewhat larger now, once I resumed by book buying after a bit of a gap after that initial collection). [27th Feb 2023]
Damon Knight. Stranger Station.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956
A very strong story from Knight, one that feels very contemporary and quite, quite different to a lot of stories from this period (I’m feeling, halfway through this Merril volume, that the stories she has chosed are in fact quite different to those that I’ve been reading in the preceding year’s anthologies from Bleiler/Dikty). A taut psychological drama played out on a space station in distant Earth orbit, where every 20 years one representative from humanity and one from an alien race rendezvous. The aliens are quite, quite alien, and the two races never meet or speak, and the human protagonist is very much aware that his six month visit may well be a poisoned chalice. And indeed, as the weeks pass, the psychology pressure from the immense ‘other’ so nearby begins to take it’s toll. There’s a ship’s robotic brain (i.e an A.I.) to offer help, but which has limits on what it can do, and we follow his descent into madness as he ponders the nature of the relationship between the species and the individuals. [1st March 2023]
Isaac Asimov. Each an Explorer.
Originally in : Future Science Fiction #30.
I will have read this story before, in the anthology ‘Buy Jupiter’. But that was in the mid-70s, and there are onlh a couple of standout stories I remember from that time. It’s classic Asimov – he thinks of an idea, plonks a couple of characters in it, and uses the story to explore the idea, with the two characters helpfully having lengthy discussions to explain the ramifications of the idea. The idea : what if there was an alien plant species which could telepathically control other ‘more intelligent’ species and have them take on the role of pollinating the plants (this to include make them do so on trips between different planets). And as with many of Asimovs stories, the two spacemen head back to Earth, without a chance to communicate with Earth at any point and thus alerting humanity to the package that they are unknowingly carrying. The story suffers from being read straight after Knight’s much more complex and satisfying story. [1st March 2023]
Randall Garrett. All About ‘The Thing’.
A short parody in verse looking at John W. Campbell’s story which inspired the original movie version of ‘The Thing’.
Ray Russell. Put Them All Together, They Spell Monster.
Following on from the previous poem, a short essay/narrative about the rise of monster movies.
Robert Nathan. Digging the Weans.
A far-future archaeologist ponders the small number of finds from the northern continent which is now referred as the and of The Weans, aka The We or The US, and what this tells us of the society and the peoples that lived there. Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair…. [2nd March 2023]
Roger Thorne Take a Deep Breath
Robert Abernathy Grandma’s Lie Soap
Mack Reynolds Compound Interest
J G Ballard Prima Belladonna
Theodore Sturgeon The Other Man
Garson Kanin The Damnedst Thing
Zenna Henderson Anything Box
3 thoughts on “The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume ed Judith Merril 1957”
Anything box is an excellent story about a little girl with an imaginary box, that she looks into to see what she wishes was true. Her teacher realizes the box is real and can alter reality if you just believe in it…
I’m looking for a short story I read as a boy. I don’t recall the author but the title was “ Halcyon Days”. If you know anything about it I would love the information. Thank you, Charles
Hi. If the title is correct then a search of ISFDB.org is generally successful as that is a comprehensive resource. However, I’ve just tried that as a title search on there, without success.