In his Foreword to his Fourth Annual Collection of Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, which gathered stories published in 1974, Lester del Rey makes the case for Sense of Wonder as the core literary virtue of science fiction.
There is another element that must be present in every good science fiction story. It should excite a feeling of wonder, of something beyond the ordinary. It is the expectation of finding such wonders that makes the reader turn to science fiction rather than to more conventional tales of adventure.
There was a time, forty or fifty years ago, when what was then called “scientifiction” had little more than this sense of wonder to recommend it. Most of the writing was dreadful, the characters were little more than stick figures, and the plots were creakingly devoted to nothing but gadgetry. Yet, bad as they were, these stories opened the imagination to wonderful vistas of the future, of the triumph of mankind beyond normal limits, and to all things strange and alien.
Today, the situation has changed. The newer writers — and the older ones who have survived in the field — have learned their craft well. The writing is incredibly better. Gone are the horible cliches of the worst of pulp fiction: the trite mad scientists, and the banal heroines who are mere props for the hero to save from a fate worse than death. Gone are the spate of pseudo-science words and the plethora of meaningless adjectives.
Happily, in the best of science fiction the sense of wonder is still with us.
We need that feeling of wonder today, perhaps more than ever, when mainstream literature and our daily newspapers keep telling us that — in the words of Wordsworth — “The world is too much with us; late and soon;/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” We need to be reminded that the future is still unexplored territory and that we can read to the end of the sonnet and “Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;/Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”
I don’t often get to mix Wordsworth with my science fiction; allow me to celebrate a little when it happens organically.
[CLick the images for 1974-sized versions.]
I recently looked at the Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, which also covered fiction from 1974, so when I found a copy of del Rey’s volume from the same year at Half Price Books for $1.49, I snatched it up immediately. Other than Rich Horton and Piet Nel, there probably aren’t a lot of folks interested in how the top reprint editors in SF differed in story selections 44 years ago, but I am. So let’s have a look.
Del Rey’s selection is very different indeed from Carr’s, and in fact there isn’t a single story in common between the two books. I can’t be sure if that was a rights issue, editorial courtesy, or if the two editors simply differed that drastically… all three are plausible explanations, really.
In any event, del Rey assembled a top-notch collection of authors, including John Brunner, R.A. Lafferty, Clifford D. Simak. Alan Dean Foster, Harry Harrison F.M. Busby, Robert Silverberg, Vonda N. McIntyre, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
Foreword: The Sense of Wonder, by Lester del Rey
“If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy” by F. M. Busby (Universe 5, 1974)
“Sleeping Dogs” by Harlan Ellison (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, October 1974)
“The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” by Vonda N. McIntyre (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1974)
“Earth Mother” by Carolyn Gloeckner (Long Night of Waiting by Andre Norton and Other Stories, 1974)
“Dream Gone Green” by Alan Dean Foster (Fellowship of the Stars, 1974)
“The Night Is Cold, the Stars Are Far Away” by Mildred Downey Broxon (Universe 5, 1974)
“Ad Astra” by Harry Harrison (Vertex: The Magazine of Science Fiction, August 1974)
“And Name My Nam” by R. A. Lafferty (Orbit 13, 1974)
“What Friends Are For” by John Brunner (Fellowship of the Stars, 1974)
“Mute Inglorious Tam” by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1974)
“The Man Who Came Back” by Robert Silverberg (New Worlds Science Fiction, #103 February 1961)
“Dress Rehearsal” by Harvey Jacobs (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1974)
“Enter a Pilgrim” by Gordon R. Dickson (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, August 1974)
“The Postponed Cure” by Stan Nodvik (Vertex: The Magazine of Science Fiction, June 1974)
“The Birch Clump Cylinder” by Clifford D. Simak (Stellar 1, 1974)
The Science Fiction Yearbook: 1974, by Lester del Rey
Strong as the line-up is, it is missing several of the major stories of the year, including Larry Niven’s Hugo Award-winner “The Hole Man,” Robert Silverberg’s Hugo nominee “Born with the Dead,” Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts,” and William Tenn’s “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi” — all of which are in the Carr book — as well as George R. R. Martin Hugo winning novella “A Song for Lya” and Harlan Ellison’s famous “Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans.”
Also, what the heck is a 1961 Silverberg story (“The Man Who Came Back”) doing in an anthology reprinting the best stories from 1974?
That’s a darn good question. Del Rey introduced the story with this cryptic note:
Every so often, something gets mislaid in editorial offices. In this case a story somehow wasn’t published for years after it was bought. Hence, we have a brand-new middle period Silverberg. And a very good one indeed, as Silverberg looks at just how stubborn a determined man can be.
A story gets mislaid? For thirteen years?? I don’t quite buy it. “The Man Who Came Back” originally appeared in the UK in New Worlds Science Fiction in 1961, but wasn’t reprinted in the US until it appeared in the December 1974 issue of Galaxy. I presume that’s the delay del Rey was talking about.
Donald A. Wollheim and Arthur W. Saha edited The 1974 Annual World’s Best SF, published by DAW Books, collecting the best short fiction from the previous year. Here’s the line-up, including a Hugo Award-winning novella by George R. R. Martin, Hugo nominated short stories by Michael Bishop and Alfred Bester, a Nebula nominated short story by Craig Strete, and a novella by Sydney J. Van Scyoc.
Introduction by Donald A. Wollheim
“A Song for Lya” by George R. R. Martin (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, June 1974)
“Deathsong” by Sydney J. Van Scyoc (Galaxy, February 1974)
“A Full Member of the Club” by Bob Shaw (Galaxy, July 1974)
“The Sun’s Tears” by Brian Stableford (Amazing Science Fiction, October 1974)
“The Gift of Garigolli” by C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl (Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1974)
“The Four-Hour Fugue” by Alfred Bester (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, June 1974)
“Twig” by Gordon R. Dickson (Stellar 1, 1974)
“Cathadonian Odyssey” by Michael Bishop (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1974)
“The Bleeding Man” by Craig Strete (Galaxy, December 1974)
“Stranger in Paradise” by Isaac Asimov (Worlds of If, May-June 1974)
In case you’re wondering, Gardner Dozois did not edit a Best of the Year anthology in 1974. He took over as editor of Lester’s series beginning with volume 6 in 1977. He wouldn’t launch the massive The Year’s Best Science Fiction series with St. Martin’s Press, for which he’s best known today, until 1984.
Gardner Dozois’ first Best of the Year anthology (1977)
Our recent coverage of vintage Best Of Science Fiction anthologies includes:
World’s Best Science Fiction 1965 – 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1966-1970)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr (1974)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, edited by Terry Carr (1975)
The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year 1, edited by Terry Carr (1979)
A Return to Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year (1973-1980)
Thomas M. Disch on the Best Science Fiction of 1979 (1979)
The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XIII edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1985)
Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection was edited by Lester del Rey and published in hardcover by E. P. Dutton in July 1975; it was reprinted in paperback by Ace Books in May 1977 with a new cover by Paul Alexander. It is 254 pages, priced at $1.75.
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4 was edited by Terry Carr and published as a paperback original by Ballantine Books in July 1975. It is 304 pages, priced at $1.95.
The 1975 Annual World’s Best SF was edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Arthur W. Saha and published as a paperback original by DAW Books in May 1975. It is 269 pages, priced at $1.50. The cover was by Jack Gaughan.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.