The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels : 1955 (ed T.E. Dikty, Frederick Fell Inc. 1955)

My copy of this volume is without it’s dust-jacket and is in a relatively sorry state, but it’s absolutely readable, and I’m starting to read it now! (Jan 2023)

Edited just by Ted Dikty, his length review of The Science-Fiction Year is an intriguing read – if you read it after a few beers of glasses of wine you might be confused into thinking you were reading a Dozois annual summation.

Tom Godwin. The Cold Equations.

One of *the* classic SF stories of the 1950s, which I’ve read several times over the decades. My enjoyment of the story is now tempered by a bit of web research I did a couple of years ago when I read his You Created Us in the Dikty volume for the year after this one in hand, which had less of an impact, and found that Godwin’s ‘Cold Equations’ went to and from with editor John W. Campbell, (infamous for being very hands on in editorial input and rewriting) three times, leading Algis Budrys to note that ‘Cold Equations’ was the best story that Godwin never wrote. Anyhoo, the story must have been very impactful at the time, as it remains so now. [20th Jan 2023]

Chad Oliver. Of Course.

The heads of state of goverments and communities across the world are on tenterhooks, as the aliens who have suddenly arrived above the United Nations building have let it be known that they intend to choose a representative from Earth’s most civilised community to take back with them to their home planet. Just which country will be the one chosen? In the end it’s not one of those that see themselves as being the obvious candidate – it’s an ‘Eskimo’. It’s not the most subtle of stories, and the characterisation of the ‘Eskimo’ who travels in the spaceship eating fish from a bucket must have been crude even for the 1950s! [20th Jan 2023]

Ward Moore. Dominions Beyond.

A very droll, satirical recounting of the story of The First Man on Mars. He is one Humphrey Beachy-Cumberland, a man of good character, family and wealth, who is funding the building of a spaceship to travel to Mars. Due to an unfortunate incident when he is inspecting the vessel, he is unceremoniously sent alone on a one way trip to the Red Planet. He meets with the locals, and like countless of his forebears over the centuries, he has the British wherewithal to stand proud and bring civilisation to them, and he very much creates a new dominion for the Empire in the name of Her Majesty the Queen and very much a replica of everything that makes The Empire great. What what. Future visitors from Earth are very much bemused….. [20th Jan 2023]

Arthur Porges. Guilty as Charged.

A team of scientists have made an amazing breakthrough – their invention projects images from the future onto a monitor! The view they have is from the inside of a law court, and they avidly watch the courtroom drama unfold on the screen. They can only watch, because a- that is all their equipment enables them to do and b- if they could hear what was happening, that would spoil the story! They try to work out what the female defendant might be charged with from the gestures of the witnesses in the dock, and ponder (there is quite a bit of pondering) on the nature of this future legal system, and what crimes and punishments are common in the future. There’s a chilling ending SPOILER! as the woman is found guilty and quickly removed to an adjacent room which can be viewed through a window, and, before their eyes and those in the court, summarily zapped out of existence. The camera then pulls back to reveal a notice on the wall indicating the day’s court business and we find out that the charge was …. witchcraft. The story is a little clunky TBH. [31st Jan 2023]

Albert C. Friborg. Careless Love.

I will come back to this one. A couple of attempts to get into it failed due to a writing style that grated.

Walter M. Miller, Jr. Memento Homo.

A well told story of a old spacer spending his final days, and hours, at home on Earth, receiving palliative care, who reviews his time in space. It veers towards sentimentality, but stays this side of the line, and I enjoyed it – a good character study, with a strong supporting cast (the wife struggling with his imminent departure), and the ending is a tad cliched – he dies moments after hearing the latest rocket take off from the nearby space station. [31st January 2023]

Andre Norton. Mousetrap.

Norton is one of those authors who I haven’t come across very much at all in my half century of reading SF. Here she spins a yarn, partly set in a Martian bar, about an old-timer who regrets letting a chancer in on his big secret : he knows where there is one of the very delicate ‘sculptures’ of the indigenous but extinct Martians. Said ‘sculptures’ are not only passing rare, but crumble to dust when touched. The chancer does indeed touch and ruin the old-timer’s treasured secret, but he pays the price… [31st January 2023]

Raymond E. Banks. Christmas Trombone.

A helpfully titled story, as whenever you come across it you will recall it’s the story about the guy with the trombone at Christmas. Not an obvious SFnal premise, I’ll admit. We’re in the relatively near future, and we’ve explored Venus and brought back some natural structures that are able to record sound, and play it back. Not only that (it does stretch credibility a bit and perhaps a technological means of achieving this end might have been better) but they are able to compare different versions of the same tune and create one master tune that takes the best bits from each. The protagonist is a guy who was well known, and loved, from his tromboning, especially at Christmas. But since the advent of these Venusian devices, he’s under strict orders (from the police no less) to keep his trombone under wraps. This Christmas he is fed up to his back teeth, so takes his trombone into the woods and plays such a beautiful rendition of Silent Night that a nearby Venusian thingie records it, and does not editing whatsoever – it is indeed a perfect rendition that can never be improved. And as a result his tromboning becomes a thing of legend. [31st January 2023]

Frank M. Robinson. One Thousand Miles Up.

Robinson posits an International Space Station, manned (it is just men) by four scientists from different countries, and this being a 1950s story, that means Cold War Tensions!! The station offers an existential threat, as it controls the nuclear missons that each country owns! The US scientist aboard has just died, and his replacement is not a normal scientist, but an agent whose mission it is to take over the station and preventing those from the other side of the Iron Curtain taking it over. Robinson uses this structure to consider whether individual humans working closely together might take a different view to the politicians and military back down on Earth. SPOILER : they do! And huzzah! for humanity. The story doesn’t quite work for me – it’s not a subtle set up and once it’s clear what the story is set up to do it’s just a bit obvious. [31st January 2023]

Clifford D. Simak. How-2.

An entertaining robot story, very much in the Asimov tradition. Simak sets his story in a wonderful future : a world with lots of leisure time (mind you, the protagonist complains that he doesn’t actually have enough leisure time, on account of having to work a full *15* hours a week!!). And the How-2 corporation helps out by supplying DIY kits that help a man to take on any hobby or craft that takes his fancy – house building, dentistry, you name it. (Women also – there is painting and curtain-making and pottery you know). The protagonist sends off for a robot dog, fancying putting together a Best Friend for himself. However, he is supplied with a full blown robot – something so very far out of his price range. What should he do? Return it? Or… have a go and assemble it? The assembly, as with all How-2 kits, is a doddle (provided you follow the instructions) but it becomes clear that this robot isn’t a production model, and is perhaps a faulty experimental model, for things begin to get increasingly complicated… The story moves into a longer-than-I-would-have-liked courtroom drama, where the issue of the status of robots is reviewed. [31st January 2023]

Robert Abernathy. Heirs Apparent.

After a promising start, this one trailed off for me. It’s set near-future, in a world devastated by nuclear war. The protagonist is Colonel Nikolai Bogomazov, one time member of the Red Army and Hero of the Soviet Union. He happens upon a small community living in huts by a river, and decides that his military background and Communist Party membership put him in prime position to take control of matters. However, there is a fly in the ointment, as the community is in thrall to a charismatic American soldier, who has a range of skills suited to this back to basics life. There then follows a length debate over capitalism vs communism, and when the village is threatened by a nomadic tribe, by the issue of nomadism v civilization (not a debate that I was aware of actually being a thing). [6th Feb 2023]

Winston K. Marks. John’s Other Practice.

Entertaining story revolving around medical technology. A handsome young gynaecologist finds his career is on the slide – things are no longer looking up. (Or should that be down?) His solution : create slot-machines machines that dispense medical advice. The medical establishment is up in arms about this, and the protagonist is an investigator who intends to get to the bottom of the case. However, he is outwitted. Quite racy for the mid-1950s! [8th Feb 2023]

William Morrison. The Inner Worlds.

Quite an intriguing setup. Humans arrive on a planet and think the local bear-like creatures are their primary threat. Turns out that it is the highly advanced and microscopic ‘endos’ living in their bodies that are the biggest threat. More than half the story is from the ‘endo’ perspective, which is quite entertaining, although these tiny creatures are quite human in their communication. (I’ve just read Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ which features humans having to deal with uplifted spiders on another planet, which was *very* successful in creating intelligent spiders that came across as intelligent spiders, rather than spiders who talked an acted like humans).

“The Will”, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
“Felony”, by James Causey
“The Littlest People”, by Raymond E. Banks
“One Way Street”, by Jerome Bixby
“Axolotl”, by Robert Abernathy
“Exile”, by Everett B. Cole
“Nightmare Blues”, by Frank Herbert

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