SF:58: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy

The Henry Kuttner story “Near Miss” is original to this volume, surely unique or nearly so for an entry in a best of the year anthology. Kuttner died on February 4, 1958. Merril calls this Kuttner’s last unpublished story, so its inclusion is a tribute to him. (His last published f&sf story, “A Cross of Centuries,” appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories 4, edited by Frederik Pohl, released in November 1958.) The introduction to the story hints that it had been written in 1957 rather than earlier, making it at least technically eligible for the volume. No explanation is given for the oddity of its appearing here rather than in a regular science fiction magazine. Doing so would have paid more and offered the likelihood of a future anthology publication and more income, normally a serious matter for f&sf writers in the 1950s. Perhaps because of the oddness of its birth, the story remains completely obscure, never appearing again in any form until a high-priced 2010 Kuttner and Moore tribute collection. The Kuttner name was sometimes used for stories Kuttner wrote by himself, sometimes for collaborations with his wife, C. L. Moore. [See Tomorrow and Tomorrow/The Fairy Chessmen.] It is not known which this might be, although the tribute to Kuttner implies that it was his alone. Perhaps telling is that Moore never wrote science fiction again after his death. They had been moving away from the f&sf world in any case. The couple had crossed coasts back to Los Angeles to pursue degrees and teach at USC while making plans to write for the infinitely more lucrative tv and movie business. In addition, they returned to writing mysteries, also far better paying in the 1950s, with the last of four novels in their Michael Gray series not published until after Kuttner’s sudden death. Kuttner is usually given as sole author of these novels but Moore never wrote another mystery, either. His death ended two fabled careers.

Contents and original publication

Judith Merril, “Introduction” (original to this volume)
Brian Aldiss, “Let’s Be Frank” (Science Fantasy, June 1957)
George Langelaan, “The Fly” (Playboy, June 1957)
Isaac Asimov, “Let’s Get Together” (Infinity, February 1957)
George Byram, “The Wonder Horse” (Atlantic Monthly, August 1957)
Theodore R. Cogswell, “You Know Willie” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1957)
Henry Kuttner, “Near Miss” (original to this volume)
Rog Phillips, “Game Preserve” (If, October 1957)
Avram Davidson, “Now Let Us Sleep” (Venture, September 1957)
Eugene Ionesco, “Flying High” (Mademoiselle, October 1957)
Algis Budrys, “The Edge of the Sea” (Venture, March 1958)

From Science Fiction to Science Fact: Sputnik and Beyond
Judith Merril, “How Near is the Moon?” (original to this volume)
Arthur C. Clarke, “Transition—From Fantasy to Science” (original to this volume)
G. Harry Stine, “Sputnik: One Reason Why We Lost” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1958)
Dennis Driscoll, “Going Up!” (Boys’ Life, May 1957)
Willy Ley, “Where Do We Go From Here?” (original to this volume)
Anthony Boucher, “Science Fiction Still Leads Science Fact” (The New York Times, December 1, 1957)

Judith Merril, “The Year’s SF: Summary and Honorable Mentions” (original to this volume)

Floyd C. Gale reviewed the anthology for the December 1959 Galaxy:

The real trouble is that her literary tastebuds are too few, too far apart, and too overdeveloped, so that sharing an anthologized meal with her causes gagging, about halfway through, to those who don’t share her affliction….

Using a large section of her book for Sputnik articles is surely one of the great editorial blunders of our time.

SF:58 The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, Judith Merril, Editor, 1958, title #72, 255 pages, $3.50, 4000 copies printed (1,263 remaindered)

Hardback. Oversize 6 1/6 x 8 1/4. Jacket Design by W. I. Van der Poel, Jr. ”First Edition” stated on copyright page. Designed by Western Printing & Lithographing Company. Printed by Noble Offset Co., New York. Bound by H. Wolff, New York. Back cover: 35 titles. Gnome’s address given as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N.Y.

Variants in order of probable priority:

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

Note: The ISFDB lists this and the Dell First Edition paperback, B119, as being simultaneously published in June 1958. After the small 1957 volume, Dell increased the printing to 153,000 copies, with an additional 8,770 in Canada. A second printing of 26,500 was issued in October 1958.