SF: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy

Judith Josephine Grossman, born in 1923, was part of the generation of New York City f&sf enthusiasts that circulated through the fan group known as the Futurians, along with Gnome authors Frederik Pohl, James Blish, and Issac Asimov, along with Gnome co-founder David Kyle. All the Futurians wanted to write f&sf; most  succeeded to some degree, some also went on to become editors.

Judith married Dan Zissman in 1940. Their daughter was named Merril. Except for some fanzine editing under the name Judy Zissman, Judith Merril became the name she was known by professionally and in fandom. Even when she wrote two novels under the name of Cyril Judd with Cyril M. Kornbluth, another Futurian, their true identities were revealed in the Galaxy serialization.

Never a prolific writer, Merril started producing anthologies in 1950, when she was married to Pohl. Starting an annual best of the year series was not an original idea in 1956 but she read widely and was determined to expand the vision of the field past the standard genre magazines. She also championed women writers, who were finding a home in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s hard to imagine Zenna Henderson’s People series anywhere else, e.g. Merril was sometimes criticized for including marginal stories from famous names from outside the field to boost readership, as with Jack Finney and Steve Allen, but here she includes Reuben Robert Merliss’ only entry in the ISFDB, from Astounding yet.

It would not be Gnome without a mystery and this one strikes at the heart of bibliography: identifying the first edition. Merril would publish the first four of her twelve year’s best anthologies in hardback with Gnome. They each were published simultaneously by Dell according to both CURREY and William H. Lyles in his monumental Dell Papers, 1942 to Mid-1962, A Catalog-Index. Indeed, they have the same pagination, indicating that they used the same plates. This first volume appeared as Dell B103, part of its Dell First Editions line. Leaving aside the misleading aspect of a paperback “First Editions” line also seeing publication in hardback, the claim of “simultaneous” publication ws probably more an intention than a reality. The Dell paperback was in April of 1956. The Gnome hardback was published… when?

The entry in the ISFDB says of the Dell edition:

According to L. W. Currey, this is the first edition, published simultaneously with the Gnome hardcover. Bleiler agrees but lists the Gnome edition first. The Cole Checklist [A Checklist of Science Fiction Anthologies, by W. R. Cole, 1964] says it was published in May 1956, two months before the Gnome hardcover.

Whether April or May is correct, Dell B103 appears to be the true first edition. For inexplicable reasons, the book is not listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. (See also the chronology in Highways in Hiding.) Dell printed a healthy 208,000 copies in its only American edition, and added 12,000 more for its Canadian edition.

Contents and original publication

• Orson Welles, “Introduction” (original to this volume)
• Judith Merril, “Preface” (original to this volume)
• R.R. Merliss, “The Stutterer” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1955)
• Avram Davidson, “The Golem” (Fantasy & Science Fiction,  March 1955)
• Robert Abernathy, “Junior” (Galaxy, January 1956)
• James E. Gunn, “The Cave of Night” (Galaxy, February 1955)
• Walter M. Miller Jr., “The Hoofer” (Fantastic Universe, September 1955)
• Theodore Sturgeon, “Bulkhead” (Galaxy, March 1955 as “Who?”)
• Mark Clifton, “Sense From Thought Divide” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1955)
• Zenna Henderson, “Pottage” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1955)
• Algis Budrys, “Nobody Bothers Gus” (Astounding Science Fiction November 1955, as by Paul Janvier)
• E. C. Tubb, “The Last Day of Summer” (Science Fantasy, February 1955)
• Shirley Jackson, “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1955)
• Willard Marsh, “The Ethicators” (If, August 1955)
• Mildred Clingerman, “Birds Can’t Count” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1955)
• Jack Finney, “Of Missing Persons” (Good Housekeeping, March 1955)
• Isaac Asimov, “Dreaming is a Private Thing” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1955)
• Damon Knight, “The Country of the Kind” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1956)
• Steve Allen, “The Public Hating” (Blue Book, January 1955
• Henry Kuttner &. C.L. Moore, “Home There’s No Returning” (No Boundaries, collection by Henry Kuttner &. C.L. Moore
• Judith Merril, ““SF: 1955,” (original to this volume)

Floyd C. Gale reviewed the anthology for February 1957 Galaxy:

[S]ome of the finest science fiction of all time is being produced and published right now. Miss Merril’s book is indication enough of that. … A cautionary note: … it is a collection of unswervingly personal favorites.

J. Francis McComas reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1956:

[A] gallant few have faithfully observed Miss Merril’s own rule, that a writer’s “first big job is entertainment.” The majority of her contributors seem to have ignored that basic qualification entirely.

SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Judith Merril, 1956, title #57, 352 pages, $3.95, 3000 copies printed

Hardback. Oversize 6 1/6 x 8 1/4. Jacket Design by Emsh. ”First Edition” stated on copyright page. Printed by: Noble Offset. Binding by: H. Wolff. Back cover: 36 titles (Groff Conklin is misspelled “Grof”). Gnome’s address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3.

Variants in order of probable priority:

CURREY (A) Cloth, Dark red cloth with spine lettered in black.
CURREY (B) Boards, Dark red boards with spine lettered in black.

Note, printed simultaneously with Dell First Editions B103, which is probably the true first edition.

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