CURREY lists the 1957, 1958, and 1959 Merril anthologies as the Second Annual Volume, the Third Annual Volume and the Fourth Annual Volume. While technically accurate, this designation is not found on the covers or title pages of any of the Gnome books, although Third Annual Volume and Fourth Annual Volume are found on the front flaps of the 1958 and 1959 books respectively. Dell is more forthright and yet far more confusing, pairing Second Annual Volume on its cover and title page with 2nd Annual Volume on its spine; Third Annual Volume only on the title page with 3rd Annual Volume on the spine; and 4th Annual Volume with Fourth Annual Volume on cover and title page respectively without any mention on the spine.
After these four annual volumes, Dell would continue to publish Merril’s best-of-the-year anthologies 5 through 12. Hardback publication was given over to the far more prestigious and better-paying mainstream presses Simon & Schuster for volumes 5 through 9 and Delacorte for 10 through 12. Dell acted as a reprint publisher for each of those (and the 1967 volume, SF: The Best of the Best, also published by Delacorte) with the hardcover edition appearing a year earlier, not simultaneously.
Merril drew much criticism from f&sf insiders for her choices of stories. In retrospect, her audience was never fans but the much wider and less knowledgeable mainstream audience reached by Dell. She gradually introduced this audience to the field by feeding them works in and adjacent to the field, a prescience we can now acknowledge.
The dust jacket is mis-sized, more than usual for Gnome. A white strip appears down the right side of the front cover, indicating space that should have been wrapped around for the front flap. The back cover is even worse, because the print on the rear flap wraps around the edge of the boards and the white border intrudes onto the spine. Whose fault it is for such a sizing mishap is not clear. The cover artist, W. I. van der Poel, Jr., can certainly be blamed for the cover design itself. The mutated cornstalk – or whatever the misshapen thing on the cover is supposed to be – vies for the dishonor of the worst Gnome cover, although the decision to print the image in shades of government-fallout-shelter green may not be attributable to anyone, and is probably the result of losing a bar bet.
As is true for several of the late green boards variants, my copy came from a library. Were the green bindings deliberately targeted at them? Or were they relegated to Pick-a-Book orders as the cheapest possible binding to sell for as little as $1.20? Many libraries ordered multiple copies of Gnome titles after Pick-a-Book started, so that could be the connection.
Another in the long history of unbelievable Gnome typos appears on both the front and rear flaps, somehow designating this volume as SF’58 instead of SF’59. This cannot be simply a holdover from the Third Annual Volume because the fonts are different. The bibliographic nightmare of properly designating the title continues from earlier volumes. The front cover states SF:59. The title page and half title page both have it as SF: ’59. The back panel lists it as SF ’59. I am sticking, therefore, to my rule that the title page governs the title, making the proper form SF: ’59.
The copyright registration was again made by Dell, and dodges the issue as “SF: THE YEAR’S GREATEST SCIENCE-FICTION AND FANTASY. Edited by Judith Merril. 4th annual vol.” Gnome’s front matter again retains the first volume’s Library of Congress Catalog Card Number of 56-8938, so that all four volumes are given the same number. No LoC number is given in the Dell paperback.
The cover lists the authors in order, but omits three: Richard Gehman, Arthur Zirul, Daniel Lang. Admittedly, these were probably the three least known names, and therefore least attractive from a selling perspective, but it seems a shabby thing to do.
Kirkus Reviews gave the expected publication date as September 1, 1959.
Damon Knight, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1959
The thirteen s.f. and fantasy stories are of high quality, but there is not one new s.f. idea in the book…
Robert R. Kirsch, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1959
[A] must for science fiction addicts and a very good bet for those who normally take small dosages.
Contents and Original Publication
• Judith Merril, “Introduction” (original to this volume).
• story introductions, unsigned, presumably by Judith Merril (original to this volume).
• Carol Emshwiller, “Pelt” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1958).
• J. F. Bone, “Triggerman” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1958).
• Robert Sheckley, “The Prize of Peril” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1958).
• Richard Gehman, “Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac” (Playboy, March 1958, as by Martin Scott).
• Rog Phillips, “The Yellow Pill” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1958).
• Gerald Kersh, “River of Riches” (The Saturday Evening Post, March 8, 1958).
• Theodore L. Thomas, “Satellite Passage” (If, December 1958).
• R. M. McKenna, “Casey Agonistes” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1958).
• Fritz Leiber, “Space-Time for Springers” (Star Science Fiction Stories, No. 4, edited by Frederik Pohl).
• Avram Davidson, “Or All the Seas with Oysters” (Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1958).
• Brian W. Aldiss, “Ten Story Jigsaw” (Nebula Science Fiction, January 1958).
• E. C. Tubb, “Fresh Guy” (Science-Fantasy, June 1958).
• Arthur Zirul, “The Beautiful Things” (Fantastic Universe, May 1958).
• Theodore Sturgeon, “The Comedian’s Children” (Venture Science Fiction, May 1958).
• John Steinbeck, “The Short-Short Story of Mankind” (Playboy, April 1958; originally published as “We’re Holding Our Own” in Lilliput 37, November 1955).
From Science Fiction to Science Fact: The Universe and Us
• Daniel Lang, “Man in Space” (The New Yorker, November 15, 1958).
• Judith Merril, “Rockets to Where?” (original to this volume).
• Isaac Asimov, “untitled poem” (Future Science Fiction, October 1958 as “It’s All How You Look At It”).
• Isaac Asimov, “The Thunder Thieves” (original to this volume).
• Judith Merril, “The Year’s SF: A Summary” (original to this volume).
• Judith Merril, “Honorable Mention” (original to this volume).
SF: ‘59 The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, Edited by Judith Merril, 1959, copyright registration 30Jun59, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 56-8938, title #76, back panel #40, 256 pages, $3.00. 4000 copies printed. Hardback. Jacket design by W. I. Van der Poel, Jr. “First printing” stated on copyright page. Designed by Western Printing & Lithographing Company. Printed by Noble Offset Co., New York. Bound by H. Wolff, New York. Manufactured in the U.S.A. Back panel: 32 titles. Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N.Y.
Variants, in probable order of priority
1) (CURREY A) Red boards, spine lettered in black.
2) (CURREY B) Green boards, spine lettered in black.
3) (CURREY C) Red cloth, spine lettered in black.
True first edition
Dell First Edition, B129, (New York: Dell Publishing Co), First printing – June 1959.