Blish is usually included in the 1950s generation of SF writers, but only because he didn’t have the explosive starts of many of the others. A member of the Futurian crowd of New York teenagers panting to break into the field, in 1940 the nineteen-year-old Blish sold two stories to fellow prodigy Frederik Pohl who was a veteran editor of two magazines despite being only 20. Sell is something of a misnomer; Pohl’s magazines were fourth-rank and he accepted everything his pals submitted, sometimes for free. Blish continued to sell to low-prestige publications until he broke out with “Surface Tension” in 1952, later chosen for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology voted on by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. That story, based on a pseudonymous story written a decade earlier, would become the core of The Seedling Stars, postulating the out-of-the-box notion that adapting humans for alien planets was easier and quicker than terraforming would be.
Book One: “Seedling Program” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, February, 1956 as “A Time to Survive”)
Book Two: “The Thing in the Attic” (If, July, 1954)
Book Three: “Surface Tension” (adapted from “Sunken Universe”, Super Science Stories, May, 1942 as by Arthur Merlyn) and from “Surface Tension”, Galaxy, August, 1952)
Book Four: “Watershed” (If, May, 1955)
A half dozen of Gnome’s 1957 books wound up with a 1959 reprinting in gray cloth. Two, Earthman’s Burden and Two Sought Adventure also have an unrecorded binding in red boards which is most likely a later printing. Since there’s no known priority or print date for the red boards variant here, I would normally assume that it too is a later printing from the same session. The find of black boards, therefore, is confounding. Could there be three variant boards for the 1959 printing or should I assume that it is just a coincidence?
Just as confounding and perhaps more so is the variant cover I’ve discovered. Identical in every way to all other covers I’ve seen for the title, the gray spine is unexplainable. It does not appear simply faded or sunned; the cover is completely even throughout. Yet it can’t be a dropped-plate because the spine and cover would be printed together and the cover is the identical green on all other bindings. Perhaps this would be more explicable If this had come on one of the unknown variants. Instead it is from my gray boards copy, presumed by everyone to be from the original run in 1957.
Floyd C. Cole reviewed the book in the January 1958 Galaxy:
A thought-provoking job.
The Seedling Stars, by James Blish, 1957, title #66, 185 pages, $3.00. 5000 copies printed 1957, later printing 1959.
Hardback. Jacket design by Lionel Dillon. “First Edition” stated on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by H. Wolff, New York. Back cover: 34 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3.
Variants, given in CURREY
1) CURREY (A) Green boards, spine lettered in brown, printed 1957
2) CURREY (B) Red boards, spine lettered in black, printed?
3) CURREY (C) Gray boards, spine lettered in red, printed 1957
NOTE: No known priority among these three states.
4) CURREY (D) Gray cloth, spine lettered in red, known later state, printed 1959
Variant, Not in Currey
5) Black boards, spine lettered in red, printed?
6) Variant cover with gray spine replacing green spine