Cover by Earle Bergey
In 1972, Knight famously wrote a cranky essay for Robin Scott Wilson’s Clarion II about the disappearance of SF’s old guard, focusing on the long-forgotten pulp writer Henry J. Kostkos, who published a dozen stories in Amazing and Astounding from 1933-1940. Knight complained that it was impossible to sell pulp reprints to a modern audience, mostly because the stories were crap.
In 1974 Isaac Asimov published Before the Golden Age, a massive 928-page retrospective of the early science fiction pulps, wth stories by Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, P. Schuyler Miller, Clifford D. Simak, Stanley G. Weinbaum, John W. Campbell, Jr., Charles R. Tanner, and many others. It was picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club and became a huge hit, remaining in print for nearly 15 years.
Two years after Asimov proved just how wrong he was, Knight published his own pulp anthology, Science Fiction of the 30’s. He opened with this mea culpa in his introduction.
In compiling this volume I have partially fulfilled an old ambition, one which I thought I had give up years ago — to reread all the old science fiction magazines I loved when I was young and write their critical history. I wrote about this in an essay called “Goodbye. Henry J. Kostkos, Goodbye” [Clarion II, edited by Robin Scott Wilson], where I said the project was no longer possible because there was no audience for the old stories, and, in addition, because they were all junk. This was sour grapes. In fact, as you will see, many of the forgotten stories of thirties are neglected gems.
Science Fiction of the 30’s was a success, and it was quickly followed by Science Fiction of the 40’s (1978) and Science Fiction of the 50’s (1979), all three of which were reprinted as oversize trade paperbacks by Avon Books. For the 40’s volume the editing reins were picked up by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl, who assembled a very fine book that still reads well today, with a robot story by Isaac Asimov, a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, a City story by Clifford D. Simak, a classic novella by William Tenn, and Retro Hugo Award nominees by CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Fredric Brown.
[Click the images for pulp-sized versions.]
Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
Introduction by Frederik Pohl
“Stepson of Space” by Raymond Z. Gallun (Astonishing Stories, October 1940)
“Reason” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1941)
“Magic City” by Nelson S. Bond (Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1941)
“Kazam Collects” by C. M. Kornbluth (Stirring Science Stories, June 1941)
“My Name Is Legion” by Lester del Rey (Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1942)
“The Wabbler” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1942)
“The Halfling” by Leigh Brackett (Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
“Doorway Into Time” by C. L. Moore (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, September 1943)
“Deadline” by Cleve Cartmill (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944)
“City” by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1944)
“Pi in the Sky” by Fredric Brown (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1945)
“The Million-Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury (Planet Stories, Summer 1946)
“Technical Error” by Arthur C. Clarke (Fantasy No. 1, December 1946)
“Memorial” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1946)
“Letter to Ellen” by Chan Davis (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1947)
“It’s Great to Be Back!”” by Robert A. Heinlein (The Saturday Evening Post, July 26, 1947)
“Tiger Ride” by James Blish and Damon Knight (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1948)
“Don’t Look Now” by Henry Kuttner (Startling Stories, March 1948)
“That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1948)
“Venus and the Seven Sexes” by William Tenn (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, and Other Stories, 1949)
“Dear Pen Pal” by A. E. van Vogt (The Arkham Sampler, Winter 1949)
This was the first book the three editors did together, but it wasn’t the last. Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander became a potent editing triumvirate in the 70s and 80s, with four notable books under their collective belts:
Science Fiction of the Forties (1978)
Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (1980)
The Great Science Fiction Series (1980)
Worlds of If: A Retrospective Anthology (1986)
Although the three — what’s the word? Decadal? — anthologies of science fiction of the 30s, 40s, and 50s were curated by three different groups of editors, they still make a handsome collection together on my bookshelf. I wish there were additional volumes for the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Maybe I can convince Rich Horton to attempt it someday.
Covers by Julian S. Krupa (left) and Stanislaw Fernandes (right)
In the meantime, we have these three to enjoy. Here’s the details for the Avon trade paperback editions.
Science Fiction of the Thirties, edited by Damon Knight (478 pages, $4.95, March 1977)
Science Fiction of the Forties, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl (377 pages, $4.95, October 1978)
Science Fiction of the Fifties, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph Olander (460 pages, $4.95, September 1979)
And though it’s not part of the same sequence, I often include this Ace paperback collection edited by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini when I talk about excellent decadal SF anthologies.
The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the Fifties, edited by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini (1979)
And here’s our look at the granddaddy of them all.
Before the Golden Age, edited by Isaac Asimov (Doubleday, 928 pages, $16.95 in hardcover, reprinted in 3 paperback volumes, April 1974) — cover by Tim Lewis
See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.