Crossroads in Time (Permabooks, 1953). Cover by Richard Powers
Modern science fiction is top notch, and I’d hold today’s best writers — John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Martha Wells, Nnedi Okorafor — up against the greats of yesterday without hesitation. If I were to be stranded on a desert island (or, more likely, locked in my basement during a pandemic) and could only bring a dozen books, my choices would be heavily weighted toward SF published in the last ten years.
Except for anthologies. For whatever reason — nostalgia, maybe? — during those times when I have only a few minutes to read before bedtime, my hand still wanders towards Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas’s monumental Adventures in Time and Space (1946), or The Hugo Winners, Volumes I and II (1972) edited by Isaac Asimov, A Treasury of Science Fiction (1948), edited by Groff Conklin, or The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition (1998), edited by Gardner Dozois.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great modern anthologies. I spent much of last weekend reading Neil Clarke’s terrific The Final Frontier, and I really enjoyed it. But the sight of newer anthologies doesn’t make my heart jump like the old ones do.
Partly I think it’s the contributors. There’s just something about opening a yellowing paperback and seeing a table of contents packed with names like Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Jerome Bixby, Fritz Leiber, Margaret St. Clair and other favorites. And also, of course, it’s the cover art. Take Crossroads in Time, the eleventh SF book by the great SF anthologist Groff Conklin. It was released as a paperback original in 1953 by Permabooks with a gorgeously colorful cover by Richard Powers which — even today, nearly seven long decades later — speaks of wonder and adventure on faraway worlds.
Crossroads in Time was a staple in science fiction collections for decades. So much so that copies are pretty easy to find, and it’s not considered rare or especially collectible.
But it’s packed with stories that you won’t find in other anthologies, including a novella by Hal Clement (“Assumption Unjustified,” from 1946), novelettes by F. L. Wallace and J. T. McIntosh, and 15 short stories by a Who’s Who of SF writers from the middle of the 20th Century.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
Introduction by Groff Conklin
“Assumption Unjustified” by Hal Clement (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1946)
“The Eagles Gather” by Joseph E. Kelleam (Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1942)
“The Queen’s Astrologer” by Murray Leinster (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949)
“Derm Fool” by Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown Fantasy Fiction, March 1940)
“Courtesy” by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1951)
“Secret” by Lee Cahn (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1953)
“Thirsty God” by Margaret St. Clair (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1953)
“The Mutant’s Brother” by Fritz Leiber (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1943)
“Student Body” by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1953)
“Made in U.S.A.” by J. T. McIntosh (Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1953)
“Technical Advisor” by Chad Oliver (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1953)
“Feedback” by Katherine MacLean (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1951)
“The Cave” by P. Schuyler Miller (Astounding Science-Fiction, January 1943)
“Vocation” by George O. Smith (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1945)
“The Time Decelerator” by A. Macfadyen, Jr. (Astounding Stories, July 1936)
“Zen” by Jerome Bixby (Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1952)
“Let There Be Light” by H. B. Fyfe (If, November 1952)
“The Brain” by Norbert Wiener (Technical Engineering News, April 1952)
I found a copy in a recent collection of anthologies I bought on eBay. I’ve put all the others away, but this is still sitting on the table next to my big green chair, calling to me. If the pandemic sends me to the basement any time soon, I’m bringing it with me.
Crossroads in Time was published by Permabools in November 1953. It is 312 pages, priced at $0.35. The cover is by Richard Powers. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition. Expect to pay under $10 for good condition copies on eBay or AbeBooks. It’s an inexpensive way to try a good mid-century SF anthology, if you’re in the market for such a thing.
Our previous coverage of Groff Conklin’s anthologies includes:
See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.