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Keith West on the Ballantine Best of Series and Why We Need it More Than Ever

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Leigh Brackett 1977-smll

Over at Adventures Fantastic, the distinguished Keith West visits a topic near and dear to our hearts: the Ballantine Best of series, perhaps the most important line of paperback collections the genre has ever seen. The 21 volumes of the Ballantine Best of series introduced thousands of readers to the best short fiction by the greatest SF and fantasy writers of the 20th Century — and more than a few writers who have now been forgotten. Here’s Keith:

I’ve already written about how the Leigh Brackett volume I bought through the [Science Fiction Book Club] was a game changer for me. The authors I first encountered through the SFBC editions were Pohl (the first I bought through the club), Kornbluth, Hamilton, Brown, del Rey, Campbell, plus Brackett, but the one that really blew my mind was Kuttner. His was the second Best of I bought through the club. Something about Kuttner’s wit and cynicism, plus his imagination captured me and has never really let me go…

So why did I say we need the Ballantine series more than ever? Because of the way it captured the literary history of the field. There’s no one today who writes like Cordwainer Smith. Or Stanley G. Weinbaum. Or Eric Frank Russell. These writers were the trail blazers and pioneers of the genre, folks for whom an entertaining story wasn’t just a good thing. It was how they made a living.

James McGlothlin has been reviewing the series for us, one book at a time. Our previous coverage includes the following 16 volumes (listed in order of publication).

Ballantine Best of series

Rich Playboys, Mad Scientists, and Venusian Monsters: The Best of Stanley Weinbaum
Vampires, Frozen Worlds, and Gambling With the Devil: The Best of Fritz Leiber
Space Colonies, Interstellar Fleets, and The Martian in the Attic: The Best of Frederik Pohl
A Neglected Master: The Best of Henry Kuttner
A Shaper of Myths: The Best of Cordwainer Smith
The Best of Henry Kuttner
The Best of John W. Campbell
The Best of C M Kornbluth
The Best of Philip K. Dick
The Best of Fredric Brown
The Best of Edmond Hamilton
The Best of Murray Leinster
The Best of Robert Bloch
The Best of Jack Williamson
The Best of Hal Clement
The Best of James Blish
The Best of John Brunner

See the complete list of titles in the series at LibraryThing.

Read the complete text of Keith’s article, “An Ode to the Ballantine Best of Series and Why We Need it More Than Ever,” here.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

6 Comments »

  1. My review of The Best of C. L. Moore is coming soon!

    Comment by James McGlothlin - March 30, 2017 6:43 pm

  2. Thanks for the shoutout, John. Much appreciated.

    Comment by westkeith - March 30, 2017 10:03 pm

  3. Looking forward to it, James.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 30, 2017 11:18 pm

  4. You’re most welcome, Keith. Keep up the great work!

    Comment by John ONeill - March 30, 2017 11:19 pm

  5. I love those Ballantine Best of… collections. That’s how I discovered “The Veil of Astellar”, one of my all-time favorite short stories. And the stuff by Stanley G. Weinstein, and CL Moore, and Edmond Hamilton…
    Those books may be among the most important in the history of science fiction.

    Comment by Amy Bisson - March 31, 2017 12:18 am

  6. Woops, typo. Of course I meant Weinbaum. I guess I’ve been reading so many Trek novels that my mind automatically thought of Howard Weinstein.

    Comment by Amy Bisson - March 31, 2017 12:20 am


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