Anthologies

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Short stories and novellas are at the very heart of Fantasy and SF, and for many authors the starting points of their careers. Collections of these - anthologies - can fall into a number of sub- genres ranging from one-off editions to serialised editions covering years or topics. Anthologies are as a whole difficult to categorise so we’ve opted for a bit of a mix between the editors and the theme, some anthology series running the course of many years with multiple editorial changes.


A History:

Before the late 1940s, sf short stories, novellas and novelettes were largely restricted to Magazines. Since then, increasingly, many readers have been introduced to sf through stories collected in books. Books are less fragile, kept in print longer, available in libraries and (especially for young readers in the days of the lurid Pulp magazines) more acceptable to parents. The history of sf's ever-increasing respectability over the past half century has been in part the history of the gradual displacement of magazines by books, especially paperback books – although many anthology series have been given their initial publication in hardcover.

Much sf was anthologized in book form from quite early on, in a variety of fantasy and weird-fiction collections, but none of these was exclusively sf, although 'The Moon Terror and Other Stories' (anth 1927) edited by A.G. Birch, a collection of four stories from Weird Tales, came close to it. But the usually accepted candidate as first sf anthology is 'Adventures to Come' (anth 1937) edited by J. Berg Esenwein. It was also sf's first original anthology i.e., its stories were all previously unpublished – but they were by unknowns, and it seems the anthology had no influence at all. Much more important was 'The Other Worlds' (anth 1941) edited by Phil Stong, a hardcover publication reprinting stories by Harry Bates, Lester del Rey, Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon and many other well-known writers from the sf magazines. The first notable paperback anthology was 'The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction' (anth 1943) edited by Donald A. Wollheim, eight of whose ten stories are still well remembered.

The year that presaged the advancing flood was 1946, when two respectable hardcover publishers commissioned huge anthologies, both milestones. In February 1946 came 'The Best of Science Fiction' (anth 1946) edited by Groff Conklin, containing 40 stories in 785pp, and in August came 'Adventures in Time and Space' (anth 1946) edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas, containing 35 stories in 997pp. The latter was the superior work and even today reads like a roll of honour, as all the great names of the first two decades of Genre SF parade past. But Conklin's book is not to be despised, including as it does Sturgeon's "Killdozer!" (November 1944 Astounding), Robert A. Heinlein's "Universe" (May 1941 Astounding) and Murray Leinster's "First Contact" (May 1945 Astounding).

Both Conklin and Healy went on to do further pioneering work with anthologies. Conklin specialized in thematic anthologies, of which two of the earliest were his 'Invaders of Earth' (anth 1952) and 'Science Fiction Thinking Machines' (anth 1954). The thematic anthology has since become an important part of sf publishing, and many such books are listed in this volume at the end of the relevant theme entries.

Healy did not invent the original sf anthology, but he was one of the first to edit one successfully. His 'New Tales of Space and Time' (anth 1951) contains such well-remembered stories as "Bettyann" by Kris Neville, "Here There Be Tygers" by Ray Bradbury and "The Quest for Saint Aquin" by Anthony Boucher. Kendell Foster Crossen was not slow to take the hint, and half of his compilation 'Future Tense' (anth 1953) consists of original stories, including "Beanstalk" by James Blish. Wollheim had produced (anonymously) an original anthology, too: 'The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories' (anth 1949), the title story being by Fritz Leiber.

Until the 1970s the original anthology went from strength to strength, becoming an important alternative market to the sf magazines. The 'Star Science Fiction Stories' series (1953-1959) edited by Frederik Pohl, of which there were six volumes in all, was its next important landmark. John Carnell followed, in the UK, with his 'New Writings in SF' series (published 1964-1978; edited by Kenneth Bulmer from #22), with 30 volumes in all. This was followed rather more dramatically in the USA by Damon Knight, whose policy was more experimental and literary than Carnell's, with his ‘ rbit' series (1965-1980), which published 21 volumes. Since then the most influential original anthology series have been Harlan Ellison's two 'Dangerous Visions' anthologies (1968 and 1972), Robert Silverberg's 'New Dimensions' series (1971-1981), ten volumes in all, and Terry Carr's ‘ niverse' series (1971-1987), 17 volumes in all. The zenith of influence of the original anthologies was probably the early to mid-1970s; they became a less important component of sf publishing in the 1980s. Nonetheless, the 1970s saw a remarkable number of Hugo and Nebula nominees drawn from the ranks of the original anthologies, including a good few winners, and this is a measure of the change of emphasis from magazines to books. 

Another original anthology series is 'Wild Cards', edited by George R.R. Martin, which is also an interesting representative of a kind of volume that began to flourish only in the 1980s, the 'Shared-World' anthology. The majority of these are fantasy rather than sf.

Sf has been one of the few areas of literature to have kept alive the art of the short story. It is therefore unfortunate that, as sf-magazine circulations dropped further in the 1980s and 1990s, so did the popularity of original anthologies. Nevertheless, as of the early twenty-first century, the quality of the best sf short-story writing remains high, and fears expressed about the imminent death of sf short fiction caused by shrinking markets seem premature.

The general standard of reprint anthologies has dropped since the mid-1960s, probably because the vast backlog of sf magazines had been mined and re-mined for gold and not much was left, though obviously new collectable stories are published every year. In terms of numbers of anthologies published, however, there has been no very perceptible falling off – though the new century has seen a considerable shift from traditional publishing to small presses and print-on-demand books. 

The other two important categories of anthology are the several "Best" series, and the various series devoted to award-winning stories. The "Best" concept was introduced to sf by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, who between them edited six annual volumes, beginning with 'The Best Science-Fiction Stories 1949' (anth 1949); Dikty went on to edit a further three volumes alone in 1955, 1956 and 1958 (1957 was omitted). Judith Merril's record was long and distinguished, with 12 annual volumes (1967 was omitted) beginning with 'SF: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Stories and Novelettes' (anth 1956) and ending with 'SF 12' (anth 1968; vt The Best of Sci-Fi 12 UK 1970). Merril's anthologies were always lively, with an emphasis on stories of wit and literacy, and certainly helped to improve standards in sf generally. The editors of the major magazines, notably Astounding, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy and New Worlds, published "Best" anthologies of one kind or another from their own pages, most consistently and influentially in the case of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.