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5th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F by…
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5th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F (1960)

by Judith Merril (Editor), Judith Merril (Introduction)

Other authors: J. G. Ballard (Contributor), Lawrence Block (Contributor), Ray Bradbury (Contributor), John Wood Campbell (Contributor), Mark Clifton (Contributor)17 more, Avram Davidson (Contributor), Gordon Dickson, R. (Contributor), Ralph Dighton (Contributor), Carol Emshwiller (Contributor), Jack Finney (Contributor), Randell Garret (Contributor), Daniel Keyes (Contributor), Damon Knight (Contributor), Darrel T. Langart (Contributor), Fritz Leiber (Contributor), Roger Price (Contributor), Hilbert Schenck (Contributor), Jack Sharkey (Contributor), Clifford D. Simak (Contributor), Cordwainer Smith (Contributor), Theodore Sturgeon (Contributor), Will Worthington (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Year's Best S-F (5)

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It is next to impossible to talk about a collection this old without talking about how kindly or unkindly time treats its subjects. So, I won’t try not to.

In this case, in general, time has been kind. And the reason, in no small part, is because the authors represented herein are some of the genre’s giants. Damon Knight, Avram Davidson, Ray Bradbury, Gordon Dickson, Clifford Simak – if you know anything about the genre, you know these names and know these are skilled artists who write well, no matter when they completed the work.

The one thing that has changed in these many years is the approach of the stories. In this collection, feel like they are relying more on the idea –that the idea is the raison d’etre for the stories existence. I’m not talking techie, I’m talking about the idea coming out a little more front and center than the current way stories are written. This is not a problem, just a change in style.

Meaning that, in spite of a slight change in style, these are generally strong stories that do more than just tell a story. And many still resonate with our current experiences.

“The Sound Sweep” by J. G. Ballard is the story of a mute whose job it is to sweep sound out of the walls. Seems the world has gotten so noisy that there is no more room for the old noises which are escaping and cluttering the aural landscape. Someone needs to clean them up, and the mute is one of the best at the job. But, Ballard doesn’t just stop with the idea, because this is the story of how this mute interacts with a former famous opera singer who, in a world that has changed without her, is trying to get back her past glory. The story of any individual being left in the dust of change can still hit any of us far too closely to home.

“The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon starts with a man trapped(?) on a beach, watching a small boy walk by. The story does not start out clearly, but the clues of what is occurring are embedded in a way that our realization happens at just the right moment. It is a story of disaster and triumph – the type that, when told well, will always resonate with a reader.

“Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller is set post apocalypse. It follows a small family that is trying to still maintain some semblance of urban life (living in the normal tract house, commuting to work, taking care of the boy). They decide to spend a day going to the beach. Nothing is normal around them – including the beach – but the wife tries to maintain her optimism. In spite of events that are not pleasant, and in spite of the unpleasantness of their situation (unpleasant is an understatement as is revealed throughout the story), they try to live their lives. However, this is not necessarily a story of hope, but one that questions when hope is just hiding from reality. (And if that doesn’t feel like today, I don’t know what does.)

Oh yeah, this collection also contains Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” and, if you haven’t read that one, go do something quickly to fill in that tremendous gap in your knowledge.

Notice I didn’t even mention the Bradbury, or the Simak, or the Dickson, or the Davidson. That’s how good this collection is.

Yeah, there are some stinkers in here – stinkers that stink not because they have gotten old, but because they just weren’t that good in the first place. And a few have taken a few dings from the passage of time.

One in particular I want to point out. “The Other Wife” by Jack Finney is a well-told story. Interesting ideas that postulate situations we haven’t thought of before. In fact, it would be a top story but for one thing. (At this point, I should technically say “spoiler alert”, so I’ll do so. But I’m not sure it’s really necessary.) The protagonist, tired of his life, accidently finds himself in an alternate universe, one where he has married the woman who got away. He lives there for a while, and then realizes he misses his old life. He figures out the talisman that allowed him to move between universes and goes back to his original life. Maybe not a bad story if it stopped there – realization that the grass isn’t always greener, etc. However, the story goes a little further, ending with the protagonist talking about how this talisman will now allow him, every time he gets tired of the wife in a certain timeline, to switch to the other one any time he wants. Yeah, he’s found a way to cheat and make it all okay.

That one doesn’t stand up quite so well in today’s environment. And let me remind you that the editor is female. Not sure exactly what that says, but it sure says it.

And one comment about the editor, Judith Merril. And let me note that one of the things I enjoy in short story collections are the introduction for each story. Many people don’t like these, but I am a fan. But the introductions in this collection have a weird vibe. In particular, Ms. Merril seems to be taking the opportunity to lash out at Kingsley Amis. I don’t know what was going on here (and it is so old an issue that it does not seem worth researching), but the effect is to turn the introductions into weird diatribes that don’t seem to have much to do with anything. (Of particular irony, the first attack on Mr. Amis comes in the introduction to Jack Finney’s story.)

Oh well, stuff happens.

The point is that, if you find this collection, then it is well worth picking up/buying/stealing and reading. A few clunks, but the majority of the contents are great stories I’ve read before, great stories I hadn’t read before, and good-solid story telling from when the genre was beginning to really expand ( )
1 vote figre | Mar 1, 2018 |
This is an eclectic collection of short stories by some of the masters of science fiction and fantasy with a wonderful variety of ideas.

It is also worth it just for Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, one of the greatest and most poignant stories about disability ( )
  mumfie | Jun 5, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Merril, JudithEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Merril, JudithIntroductionmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballard, J. G.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Block, LawrenceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, RayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Campbell, John WoodContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clifton, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AvramContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dickson, Gordon, R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dighton, RalphContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Emshwiller, CarolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Finney, JackContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garret, RandellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Keyes, DanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Knight, DamonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Langart, Darrel T.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leiber, FritzContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Price, RogerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schenck, HilbertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sharkey, JackContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Simak, Clifford D.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, CordwainerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sturgeon, TheodoreContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Worthington, WillContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Powers;, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Variant Title = "The Best of Sci-Fi 5"
This is a different series from Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction.

The Handler - Damon Knight
The Other Wife - Jack Finney
No Fire Burns - Avram Davidson
No No Not Rogov! - Cordwainer Smith
The Shoreline at Sunset - Ray Bradbury
The Dreamsman - Gordon R. Dickson
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
A Death in the House - Clifford D. Simak
Mariana - Fritz Leiber
Inquiry Concerning the Curvature of the Earth's Surface - Roger Price
Day at the Beach - Carol Emshwiller
What the Left Hand Was Doing - Darrel T. Langart
The Sound-Sweep - J. G. Ballard
Plenitude - Will Worthington
The Man Who Lost the Sea - Theodore Sturgeon
Make a Prison - Lawrence Block
What Now Little Man? - Mark Clifton
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