SF 57: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy

Merril ranged across an even wider range of mainstream sources for this second best of the year anthology, taking from as far away as the newspaper The London Observer, which in 1954 ran a story contest for tales set in the year A. D. 2500 and collected them the next year in an anthology of that name. Eric L. Malpass won the competition with “Return of the Moon Man” over such competition as the very young Brian Aldiss and the world famous Arthur C. Clarke, whose entry, a little something called “The Star,” was passed over entirely. The story was rejected by every mainstream magazine – Michael Ashley reports that The Saturday Evening Post found it blasphemous – and finally landed near the bottom of the genre in the first issue, dated November 1955, of Infinity. Merril also passed it over for SF: The Year’s Greatest along with every other anthologist of the 1950s, but it did manage to win a Hugo and go on to be reprinted probably 2500 times. You may be wondering how a 1954 story managed to be eligible for the best of the year of 1956. Merril undoubtedly did not discover the story until it was reprinted as “When Grandfather Flew to the Moon” in the prestigious mainstream Canadian magazine MacLean’s, January 21, 1956 under the pseudonym Samson Darley.

While browsing through mainstream magazines, Merril found stories in Playboy and Harper’s and Esquire and Tiger. Tiger? A men’s magazine by that name was founded in 1956 and ran at least into 1957 and maybe longer, although it is so obscure even the obsessively thorough Fiction Mags Index has the contents for only one issue. Nevertheless it published three issues in 1956, including a piece by the equally obscure Roger Thorne. This mystery is solved when you find out that Roger Thorne was a pseudonym for Ray Russell, who not only was garnering a small reputation as a writer, but happened to be the fiction editor for Playboy, where he made the magazine the leading mainstream source for f&sf. That gave him two almost back-to-back stories in the anthology. Those two stories were anthologized a grand total of two more times in the 60 years since. Russell is far more important as an editor than as a writer.

The true first edition of the book remains unknown. CURREY again notes that “the Dell and Gnome Press editions were published simultaneously.” Dell First Edition B110 claims a June 1957 first printing on the copyright page. The anthology is listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries 1957 under Dell rather than Gnome and with a registration date of July 9, 1957. The Gnome date of issue is unknown, but is presumed to be July 1957 (the ISFDB cites W. R. Cole’s A Checklist of Science Fiction Anthologies). That still leaves room for ambiguity. For some reason, Dell cut the printing from the 208,000 for SF: 56 to a mere 100,000 for this volume. Not a good decision, since a second printing of 50,000, listed as November 1957 but released January 1958, needed to be rushed out. Richard Powers produced archetypal Powers covers for each of the Dell anthologies.

Contents and original publication

• John Bernard Daley, “The Man Who Liked Lions” (Infinity, October 1956)
• C.M. Kornbluth, “The Cosmic Expense Account” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1956, as “The Cosmic Charge Account”)
• Theodore L. Thomas, “The Far Look” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1956)
• E.L. Malpass, “When Grandfather Flew to the Moon” (The London Observer, January 1955, as “Return of the Moon Man”)
• R. Bretnor, “The Doorstop” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1956)
• Algis Budrys, “Silent Brother” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1956 as by Paul Janvier)
• Damon Knight, “Stranger Station” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
• Isaac Asimov, “Each an Explorer” (Future Fiction, August 1956)
• Randall Garrett, “All About ‘The Thing’” (Science Fiction Stories, May 1956, as “Parodies Tossed”)
• Ray Russell, “Put Them All Together They Spell Monster” (Playboy, October 1956)
• Robert Nathan, “Digging the Weans” (Harper’s, November 1956)
• Roger Thorne, “Take a Deep Breath” (Tiger, 1956, pseudonym of Ray Russell)
• Robert Abernathy, “Grandma’s Lie Soap” (Fantastic Universe, February 1956)
• Mack Reynolds, “Compounded Interest” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1956)
• J. G. Ballard, “Prima Belladonna” (Science Fantasy, December 1956)
• Theodore Sturgeon, “The Other Man” (Galaxy, September 1956)
• Garson Kanin, “The Damnedest Thing” (Esquire, February 1956)
• Zenna Henderson, “Anything Box” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1956)
• Judith Merril, “The Year’s SF” (original to this volume)

Floyd C. Gale reviewed the anthology for May 1958 Galaxy:

Remembering that “Best” is at best a superlative comparative, let’s just agree that the average is “Good.”

 

SF:57 The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Judith Merril, 1956, title #61, 320 pages, $3.95, 3000 copies printed

Hardback. Red cloth with black lettering. Jacket Design by W. I. Van der Poel. ”First Edition” stated on copyright page. Printed by: Noble Offset Co. Binding by: H. Wolff. Back cover: 35 titles. Gnome’s address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3.

Note, printed simultaneously with Dell First Editions B110, no priority known.

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