Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction 1974, edited by Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year 4-medium The-Best-Science-Fiction-of-the-Year-4-Terry-Carr-medium2 The 1975 Annual World's Best SF-medium

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.

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A Return to Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Terry Carr Best Science Fiction of the Year-small

My taste in science fiction — like my taste in music and film — was shaped early. What I learned to love as a teen I largely still enjoy… with some exceptions. One of those exceptions is Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year. I picked up my first one in 1977, at the age of 13, and I discovered pretty quickly that they weren’t for me. I went back to reading pulp SF in books like Before the Golden Age, and was blissfully happy to do so for many years.

I’ve returned to Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year recently, and discovered why I didn’t connect with them four decades ago: unlike many of his contemporaries, Carr brought an adult eye to SF, and the fiction he selected spoke to adults. It still speaks to adults today, clearly and with no loss of voice, and I now consider Carr’s Best volumes — especially the ones he did in the mid-70s — to be some some of the best SF anthologies ever printed. Here’s what I said last year about #3, published in 1973.

How incredible was The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3? It contains some of the finest science fiction stories of all time, packed into one slender volume. Like “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr… perhaps her most famous story, and that’s saying something. And Vonda N. McIntyre’s Nebula Award-winning “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,” which became the basis of her 1978 novel Dreamsnake (which swept the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards the following year.) And Harlan Ellison’s classic “The Deathbird,” the Hugo and Locus Award-winning title story of his celebrated 1975 collection Deathbird Stories. Plus Gene Wolfe’s famous “The Death of Dr. Island,” winner of the Locus and Nebula awards for Best Novella.

And an unassuming little story by a young writer named Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and is considered by many (me included) to be one of the finest short stories ever written. And lots more — including a Jack Vance novella, plus stories by Philip José Farmer, Alfred Bester, R. A. Lafferty, Robert Silverberg, and F. M. Busby. All for $1.50!

Last month I purchased a fine collection of six Best Science Fiction of the Year volumes (pictured above) on eBay for the criminally low price of $7. They arrived a few weeks ago, and I’ve stolen a few minutes here and there to dip into them. It’s been an enormously rewarding experience.

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Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year 1, edited by Terry Carr

Monday, November 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year 1 Terry Carr-small The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year 1 Terry Carr-back-small

Some of the most rewarding books I’ve read in the past few years have been anthologies edited by Terry Carr. Even though he died 30 years ago, in April 1987, his books remain splendid reading for modern audiences, and I think it’s very possible Carr may have been the most gifted editor our field has ever seen. The sixteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction of the Year (1972-1987) he edited may well be the high water mark for Year’s Best anthologies.

In 1979 and 1980, Carr convinced Lester del Del at Del Rey Books to allow him to try an experiment. In effect, to see if the market would bear an additional Terry Carr Best SF, this one showcasing the best SF novellas of the year. It was a noble ambition, and a great idea, but that didn’t mean the market was ready for it. The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year died after two volumes, and Carr went back to the frustrating task of trying to fit as many novellas as he could into his slender Best SF paperbacks every year.

I’ve never read either of his Best Novellas books before. But, like his regular Best SF series, both volumes are packed with classic fiction that has stood the test of time, as well as genuine finds. I recently came across the first one in a collection I bought on eBay. I was expecting greatness, and I was not disappointed.

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Vintage Treasures: World’s Best Science Fiction 1965 – 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Ace Best Science Fiction of the Year 1965 1970-small

If you’ve been paying attention over the past two months, you’re probably aware that we’re deep into the Year’s Best Science Fiction season. So far this year Solaris, Night Shade, and Prime Books have all released Best of the Year anthologies (edited by Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke and Rich Horton, respectively), and in the next few months we can expect additional volumes by Gardner Dozois, John Joseph Adams, Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Stephan Jones, and others.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What the heck, world? My favorite fantasy series gets canceled after three volumes, but eight publishers happily produce Best of the Year anthologies every single year? How is that even possible? And you know, that’s not a bad question. How did we get to the point where the market is willing to bear so many books that all claim to contain the best science fiction of the year?

Everett F. Bleiler and T.E. Dikty are widely credited with creating the first such anthology, The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949. But our current appetite for Best of the Year volumes can be traced back to Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, two of the most important editors our field has ever seen. Starting in 1965 and running until Wollheim’s death in 1990, together and separately Wollheim and Carr produced over 50 Best of the Year volumes, and in the process they shaped the direction of short fiction in the genre for generations to come. Their books were of such high quality that they were must-reads for all serious fans of science fiction and fantasy. Year after year the Carr and Wollheim anthologies were absolutely indispensable, and if you enjoy the rich assortment of modern Best of the Year editions, you can trace our modern enthusiasm for the format directly back to these two men.

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Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3 Terry Carr-small The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3 Terry Carr back-small

How did Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year paperback anthology series last an incredible sixteen years, from 1972 until his death in 1987?

It’s not that hard to figure out. When early volumes were as amazing as #3, released in July 1974, it didn’t take long for these books to establish a stellar reputation — and a staunchly loyal readership.

How incredible was The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3?

It contains some of the finest science fiction stories of all time, packed into one slender volume. Like “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr… perhaps her most famous story, and that’s saying something. And Vonda N. McIntyre’s Nebula Award-winning “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,” which became the basis of her 1978 novel Dreamsnake (which swept the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards the following year.) And Harlan Ellison’s classic “The Deathbird,” the Hugo and Locus Award-winning title story of his celebrated 1975 collection Deathbird Stories. Plus Gene Wolfe’s famous “The Death of Dr. Island,” winner of the Locus and Nebula awards for Best Novella.

And an unassuming little story by a young writer named Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and is considered by many (me included) to be one of the finest short stories ever written. And lots more — including a Jack Vance novella, plus stories by Philip José Farmer, Alfred Bester, R. A. Lafferty, Robert Silverberg, and F. M. Busby. All for $1.50!

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Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, edited by Terry Carr

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 4 Terry Carr-small The Best Science Fiction of the Year 4 Terry Carr-back-small

With all the Best of the Year volumes arriving over the past few months — from Jonathan Strahan, Rich Horton, Neil Clarke, and David Afsharirad, and more due next month from Gardner Dozois, Paula Guran, and others — it’s hard to remember those dark years in the mid-20th Century when there were only two or three.

Hard, but not impossible. Don Wollheim, Lester del Rey, and the great Terry Carr all had Best of the Year anthologies back in the mid-70s. I know because I bought and cherished them as they showed up in bookstores, starting around 1977 or so. I think my favorite editor of the batch was Terry Carr, who was already famous for his exemplary work at Ace at the time.

How good was Carr at extracting the cream of the crop from the digest magazines in the 70s? Depends who you ask of course, but in general Carr’s reputation was stellar. I’d read plenty of anthologies from the era, but I didn’t remember the magazines I read at the time well enough to say for certain.

However, I recently had the opportunity to do a little primary research of my own. I bought a collection of vintage Analog magazines from the early 70s, back when Ben Bova was editor, and I’ve spent a week of warm evenings on the porch with them, pretending I was Rich Horton.

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Vintage Treasures: Universe 13 edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Universe 13 Terry Carr-smallLast Sunday, I was busy complaining about the apparent death of the original SF and fantasy paperback anthology series (as one does), when it occurred to me that I should probably read a few of the books I was talking about.

Nothing like waxing nostalgic and working up a good frothy indignation at the death of a vital part of American culture to remind you that your memories on the subject are actually kinda vague and unspecific. It’s a crime that Universe is no longer being published! It was a source of some of the most brilliant SF of the 70s! I think. Wait, which one was Universe again?

So I decided to start by reading Universe 13. Partly because Terry Carr really was a terrific editor and he knew how to put together a splendid anthology. But mostly because I found a copy in easy reach in a stack of vintage paperbacks and I didn’t have to get up out of my big green chair.

I’ve talked about Universe before, especially about Carr’s insight into the field. One of the most famous quotes about science fiction comes from his introduction to Universe 3, which I printed in 2012 and I’d like to reprint here:

When aficionados of this field get together, that’s a standard topic of discussion. When was science fiction’s golden age? Some say the early forties, when John W. Campbell and a host of new writers like Heinlein, Sturgeon and van Vogt were transforming the entire field; others point to the early fifties, to [editors] H.L. Gold and Anthony Boucher and to such writers as Damon Knight, Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. Some will lay claims for the late sixties, when the new wave passed and names like Ballard, Disch and Aldiss came forward. There are still people around, too, who’ll tell you about 1929 and David H. Keller, E.E. Smith and Ray Cummings.

The clue in most cases is when the person talking first began to read science fiction. When it was all new, all of it was exciting. Years ago a friend of mine, Pete Graham, tersely answered the question “When was the golden age of science fiction?” by saying “Twelve.” He didn’t have to explain further; we knew what he meant.

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Vintage Treasures: Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Creatures from Beyond-smallIt shouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t discover science fiction and fantasy through novels — not really. I discovered it by reading short stories in Junior High, and especially the enticing anthologies on display every week in the library at St. Francis School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I didn’t really know what science fiction was; but if it had monsters on the cover, I was all over it.

The first anthology I can recall reading was Creatures From Beyond, a marvelous monster-fest if ever there was one. When I tracked it down again decades later, I was delighted to discover the editor was none other than Terry Carr, the legendary editor whose Best Science Fiction of the Year and Fantasy Annual paperbacks I read avidly all through high school — and who pulled William Gibson’s Neuromancer out of the slush pile at Ace Books.

I think the reason I still remember it so well after all these years is that, unlike most of the collections I checked out of the library, it wasn’t a kid’s book. It’s a genuine SF anthology, with short stories from Henry Kuttner, Clifford D. Simak & Carl Jacobi, Theodore Sturgeon, Donald A. Wollheim, Brian W. Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, and other top-flight authors.

Carr reasoned — correctly — that there was no better source for action-filled monster tales than pulp science fiction magazines and he mined them heavily to generate Creatures From Beyond. The fiction is drawn from Amazing Stories, Astonishing, Unknown, Other Worlds, Comet, Thrilling Wonder, Future, and a smattering of anthologies.

Of course, the other reason I remember it is Eric Frank Russell’s brilliant novelette “Dear Devil,” the tale of a handful of children who survive a nuclear apocalypse on Earth… and the curious (and hideous) explorer from Mars who helps put them back on track towards a new and better civilization. Rejected by all the major SF magazines of the time, it landed at Ray Palmer’s fledgling Other Worlds, where it almost single-handedly put the magazine on the map — and instantly made a name for the young editor who pulled it from the slush, 26-year-old Bea Mahaffey, who’d been thrust the reins of the magazine when Palmer was incapacitated in an accident.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in April

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hell Hounds Banner

Joe Bonadonna had the top post at Black Gate in April, with his review of Andrew P. Weston’s Hell Hounds, the follow-up to his 2015 novel Hell Bound, and the second novel featuring the Daemon Grimm and his adventures in the Heroes in Hell universe created by Janet Morris.

Not to be intimidated, both Bob Byrne and Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month. Bob’s feature on Arthurian Elements in the Conan Canon came in at #4, and his post on Tolkien’s Magic Sword Anglachel placed 9th. Fletcher claimed the sixth slot with his review of Andre Norton’s classic Witch World, and his look at Fred Saberhagen’s long-neglected novel The Broken Lands landed at #10.

There were a handful of folks in the Top Ten who weren’t named Joe, Bob, or Fletcher. Our feature on 40 Years of Gaming in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar grabbed the #2 slot, and Ryans Harvey’s celebration of My 300th Black Gate Post soared to #3. James Wallace Harris asked if we are Fans of a Dying Art Form in our #5 piece, and our Vintage Treasure article comparing The Best Science Fiction of 1974 anthologies from Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim was good for #7. Rounding out the list was our brief history of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.

The complete list of Top Articles for April follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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Birthday Reviews: Colin Kapp’s “Ambassador to Verdammt”

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Analog Science Fiction April 1967-small Analog Science Fiction April 1967-back-small

Cover by John Schoenherr

Colin Kapp was born on April 3, 1928 and died on August 3, 2007.

Kapp was the author of the Cageworld series as well as a series of short stories featuring the unorthodox engineers. Capp’s first short story “Life Plan” appeared in New Worlds in 1958 and his first novel, The Dark Mind, was published in 1964, although serialized the year before.

“Ambassador to Verdammt”  was first published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact in April 1967. It was picked up by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr for inclusion in World’s Best Science Fiction 1968. The story was also included in a 2013 collection edited by John Pelan, The Cloudbusters and Other Marvels. It was translated in 1972 for an Italian edition of the Wollheim and Carr. It was included in Science Fiction Stories 33 from German publisher Ullstein.

Kapp focuses on the struggle between the military and the bureaucracy in “Ambassador to Verdammt.” A bureaucrat is preparing a planet for the arrival of its first human ambassador. Lieutenant Sinclair is opposed to building a landing pad for a faster than light ship on the planet Verdammt, especially when he learns it is so an ambassador can be brought to the planet, which is noted as having no sentient species. Orders are orders, however, and he does the work, even while clashing with Administrator Prellen and psychologist Anton Wald.

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