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Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels : The…

Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels : The Blast; Coventry; The Other… (original 1960; edition 1954)

by Groff (Ed.); Stuart Cloete; Robert A. Heinlein; Murray Leinster; Anthony Boucher; James Blish; Theodore Sturgeon Conklin (Editor)

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Title:Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels : The Blast; Coventry; The Other World; Barrier; Surface Tension; Maturity
Authors:Groff (Ed.); Stuart Cloete; Robert A. Heinlein; Murray Leinster; Anthony Boucher; James Blish; Theodore Sturgeon Conklin
Info:Dell Books (1954), Paperback
Collections:Book Publishing

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Six great short science fiction novels by Groff Conklin (Editor) (1960)



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When I was growing up I spent every other Christmas and a couple of weeks each summer at my paternal grandparents’ farm in northern Arkansas. There was a series of things I’d always do every time I was there: have endless adventures in the big red barn my great-grandfather had built shortly after the turn of the century, construct buildings with the set of original Lincoln Logs kept in an old cardboard box at the back of the living room closet, and read the same paperbacks kicking around in that same closet like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Hobbit, anything by Wilbur Smith or even the ancient World Book Encyclopedia that was perpetually bowing the bottom shelf almost to the point of collapse.

But, hands down, the book I always looked forward to rereading every time I was there was a thirty-five cent Dell paperback anthology from 1954 edited by Groff Conklin: Six Great Short Novels of Science Fiction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that book lately, especially in light of the recent article “Fresh Hell” by Laura Miller examining the current appeal of dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature to the young adult (YA) demographic. That is, since, as Miller posits, the YA entries into this genre are relatively recent—at least, all of the titles she cites were published well after my teenage years—it’s gotten me wondering exactly how my interest in this genre was set at such an early age.

Old age—or at least, middle age—is the process by which you have to construct a history for yourself of the formative moments that you haven’t given any active thought to for years. Sure, when I was ten or twelve I could’ve expressly told you the order in which I read War of the Worlds and The Time Machine which likely to the classic Who Goes There? all the way up to A Canticle for Leibowitz and from there to Make Room! Make Room! and finally, especially, Stand on Zanzibar. Any exact timeline, however, constructed at this late date is just a fiction, a best guess, an unsure recollection.

But, one thing I know for sure is that probably the earliest entry was the Conklin-edited anthology that included these novellas:

* “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete (from Colliers, April 1947)
* “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (from Astounding, July 1940)
* “The Other World” by Murray Leinster (from Startling Stories, November 1949)
* “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher (from Astounding, September 1942)
* “Surface Tension” by James Blish (from Galaxy, August 1952)
* “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon (from Astounding, February 1947)

The book, even when I first start reading it, was so dog eared and torn up that I could only read four of the six stories as big chunks of pages from “Barrier” and “Maturity” were completely missing. But, man, the ones that were left, it was like visiting an old friend every time I made it up there. “The Blast” was my favorite, about a survivor in New York twenty years after a nuclear attack. “Coventry” was probably my first exposure to Robert Heinlein and even then the anti-establishment nature of the narrator appealed to me. “The Other World” was the scariest, being about a crazy amulet of sorts that allowed people to see into a parallel world where Egyptians, as I recall, had their own civilization on Manhattan and were stealing people from our world to be their slaves. And, finally, there was “Surface Tension” with its evolution of a microscopic race of beings trying to break past the barrier of the water they were trapped underneath. Each novella was a compelling story all on its own, completely different from the other ones collected with it, and they never failed to transport me from rural Arkansas to worlds infinitely far away from there (as well as the small Texas town I grew up in).

It’s been years since I’ve been up to the farm: there have been funerals, moves to nursing homes, all those types of things. The last time I was there ten years ago I made sure to grab the two wooden pistols my grandfather had carved just for me and a toy plastic canoe I used to float in the creek at one edge of their property, but it didn’t dawn on me grab this book while I had the chance. And, to be honest, I figured I’d never come across a copy of it again. Although I knew the plots of the stories, I could only remember the actual name and author of one: Blish’s “Surface Tension” (although I can’t believe now I’d forgotten about “Coventry”).

But, you know, that’s the beauty of the Internet: absolutely almost everything is cataloged on it somewhere. It took a few rounds (and several hours) of searching last week but I finally came across The Locus Index to Science Fiction and a little more poking around turned up the info I was looking for by virtue of finding the complete publication history of “Surface Tension.” From there, it was a quick few clicks at Amazon to turn up a used copy for a little less than four bucks from Hammonds Books (a skosh more than seven dollars total with shipping). Then, it was on its way to me . . . and arrived in the mail this afternoon!

So, I’m already looking forward to working my way through it again, beginning with the opening paragraph from “The Blast”:

"I am writing this today because I saw two girls. It was very odd after twenty years. I do not know if anyone—the word anyone looks funny—will find this, or be able to read it, or even if it will last, because it is written in pencil. Naturally there is no ink. It all dried up long ago, but there are plenty of pencils, thousands of them, pencils by the hundred thousand gross—all the best kinds, just for the picking up."

Don’t worry, man, I’m reading it. ( )
1 vote DystopiaPress | Jun 24, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Conklin, GroffEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction (1954) and Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels (1960), both edited by Groff Conklin, are two different collections.
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* “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete

* “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein

* “The Other World” by Murray Leinste

* “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher

* “Surface Tension” by James Blish

* “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon
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(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:31 -0400)

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