Vintage Treasures: The Best of British SF 1 and 2 edited by Mike Ashley

Vintage Treasures: The Best of British SF 1 and 2 edited by Mike Ashley

The Best of British SF 1 and 2 (Orbit, 1977). Covers by Bob Layzell

Every once in a while I sit back, take stock of our accomplishments, and think, “Man. We’ve showcased countless forgotten writers here at Black Gate, discussed tens of thousands of neglected books, writing late into the night on tight deadlines, and nobody has spell checked anything.”

Still, I’m justifiably proud of what we’ve accomplished in the 23 years this website has been live. Though I do have to admit that we have been, like the market at large, over-focused on American publishing. So I was delighted to find the massive two-volume anthology The Best of British SF 1 and 2, published as paperback originals by Orbit in 1977.

Containing nearly 800 pages of short fiction from Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, John Wyndham, John Russell Fearn, Eric Frank Russell, Arthur C. Clarke, John Christopher, John Brunner, E. C. Tubb, Brian W. Aldiss, James White, Bob Shaw, Philip E. High, Colin Kapp, Kingsley Amis, J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Keith Roberts, and many others — all interspersed with insightful genre history and commentary from editor Mike Ashley — these books are a wonderful retrospective of the finest science fiction from across the pond.

[Click the images for British versions.]

Back covers for The Best of British SF 1 and 2

Volume One kicks off with a fine Preface by Mike Ashley, in which he lays down his ambitions.

You are holding the biggest-ever science fiction anthology prepared in Britain. The two volumes contain thirty-two stories written by twenty-eight of Britain’s leading science fiction writers covering a period of eighty years. I’m convinced that all too few people realize just how much Britain has contributed to science fiction, and I hope this anthology will open their eyes to that fact.

Besides the stories, I have traced the development of science fiction in Britain from its earliest days up to the present, thereby setting the stories and their authors in their true context. Most of the introduction are accompanied by comments from the writers about their work, most of which were specifically written for this book. Indeed, several authors chose from their own stories that which they wanted to represent their best and I hope this collection will stand as a monument to the quality and standard of British science fiction.

Ashely delivers on the promise of that premise. He introduces every story with 2-3 pages of background and well-informed and entertaining commentary. Here’s a sample from his intro to “Adaptation,” the first of two contributions from John Wyndham.

Copies of Amazing Stories and it subsequent imitators reached the shores of Britain in various ways and usually ended up on the cheap counters of Woolworth’s. Followers of SF were attracted by their garish and colourful covers, often the work of Frank R. Paul, and it was natural that aspiring young writers would send their material to the American market since no equivalent existed in Britain… and paramount among the early writers, John Beynon Harris.

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, to give him his full name (from which you can see the source of his many pen names), was born on Knowle, near Solihull, Warwickshire, on July 10th 1903… Discovering Amazing in 1929 was the catalyst that set him scurrying to work on a tale along the lines of The Time Machine. That story finally appeared as “Worlds to Barter” in the May 1931 issue of Wonder Stories. It was soon followed by “The Lost Machine” (Amazing, April 1932) one of the earliest stories to treat robots sympathetically and which has since become a classic of its kind.

These and other early stories, all initially published in the United States, bore the by-line John Beynon Harris. When, in the mid-1930s Harris opened up an English market to which he sold two early novels The Secret People and Stowaway to Mars, he adopted a shorter alias, John Beynon. The name John Wyndham, under which he was to become internationally known, did not appear until the publication of his short story “The Eternal Eve” in the September 1950 Amazing Stories. The following year saw the appearance of his novel The Day of the Triffids and the start of his major rise to fame with novels like The Kraken Wakes (1953), The Chrysalids (1955) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957).

These books are 45 years old, but still highly entertaining, and a necessary addition to any serious library of modern SF.

Here’s a few of the magazines containing original appearances of the stories in The Best of British SF 1.

Some of the magazines containing stories reprinted in The Best of British SF 1

Here’s the Table of Contents for The Best of British SF 1.

Preface by Mike Ashley
Volume I – The Years of Sowing, by Mike Ashley
“The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” by H. G. Wells (Pall Mall Budget, March 28, 1895)
“From Pole to Pole” by George Griffith (The Windsor Magazine, October 1904)
“The Horror of the Heights” by Arthur Conan Doyle (The Strand, November 1913)
“The Star” by H. G. Wells (The Graphic, Christmas Number 1897)
“Original Sin” by S. Fowler Wright (The Witchfinder, 1946)
“Adaptation” by John Wyndham (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1949)
“Alice, Where Art Thou?” by John Russell Fearn (Vargo Statten British Science Fiction Magazine #4, 1954)
“I, Spy” by Eric Frank Russell (Tales of Wonder #12, October 1940)
“Forget-Me-Not” by William F. Temple (Other Worlds Science Stories, September 1950)
“The Other Place” by J. B. Priestley (The Other Place and Other Stories of the Same Sort, 1953)
“I Am Waiting” by Christopher Isherwood (The New Yorker, Oct 21, 1939)
“Frozen Beauty” by Gerald Kersh (John Bull, 29 November, 1941)
“Jupiter Five” by Arthur C. Clarke (If, May 1953)
“Limbo Rider” by Sydney J. Bounds (Vision of Tomorrow #7, April 1970)
“Summer’s Lease” by John Christopher (Argosy (UK), July 1959)
“The Totally Rich” by John Brunner (Worlds of Tomorrow, June 1963)
“Trojan Horse” by E. C. Tubb (Vision of Tomorrow #4, January 1970)
“Old Hundredth” by Brian W. Aldiss (New Worlds Science Fiction #100, November 1960)
Epilogue to Volume I by Mike Ashley

Below are some of the magazines that featured the original appearance of stories collected in volume two.

Some of the magazines containing stories reprinted in The Best of British SF 2

The Best of British SF 2 contains a Sector General novelette by James White, a Pavane tale by Keith Roberts, and a novelette in Michael Moorcock’s Tales from the End of Time series. Here’s the complete TOC.

Prologue, Volume II – The Years of Reaping, by Mike Ashley
“Tableau” by James White (New Worlds Science Fiction #71 May 1958)
“Starting Course” by Arthur Sellings (New Worlds Science Fiction #102, January 1961)
“Advertise Your Cyanide” by Kenneth Bulmer (Nebula Science Fiction Number 29, April 1958)
“A Full Member of the Club” by Bob Shaw (Galaxy, July 1974)
“The Jackson Killer” by Philip E. High (New Worlds Science Fiction#106, May 1961)
“The Emptiness of Space: The Asteroids A.D. 2194” by John Wyndham (New Worlds Science Fiction 100, November 1960)
“The Teacher” by Colin Kapp (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, August 1969)
“Transit of Earth” by Arthur C. Clarke (Transit of Earth, 1971)
“Zoomen” by Fred Hoyle (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1967)
“Something Strange” by Kingsley Amis (The Spectator, 1960)
“Manuscript Found in a Police State” by Brian W. Aldiss (Winter’s Tales #18, 1972)
“Now: Zero” by J. G. Ballard (Science Fantasy #38, December 1959)
“Pale Roses” by Michael Moorcock (New Worlds 7, December 1974)
“The Signaller” by Keith Roberts (Impulse: The New Science Fantasy, March 1966)
Epilogue to Volume Two by Mike Ashley

Here’s the complete details for both volumes.

The Best of British SF 1 (411 pages, £0.95 in paperback, 1977)
The Best of British SF 2 (378 pages, £0.95 in paperback, 1977)

Both volumes were paperback originals from Orbit with covers by Bob Layzell. They have never been reprinted, and there are no digital editions.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tony Den

Wow! Where I live we tend to traditionally have a more British slant toward imported books publishers Orbit, Corgi, Grafton, Pan etc. Yet I have never encountered these, was totally unaware. Thanks for sharing, I will need to keep a lookout while rummaging the shelves of book exchanges.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x