This time around, we have an SF anthology. This one is an oldie, from 1955, and is compiled and edited by Judith Merril, another of my favourite anthologists. This is the first Judith Merril anthology that I’ve featured on this blog, and most certainly won’t be the last.

EDITED BY: Judith Merril
CATEGORY:Short Fiction
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1955
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 291 pages


  • Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon
  • Preface by Judith Merril
  • “Wolf Pack” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (short story, Fantastic, Sept/Oct 1953)
  • “No One Believed Me” by Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post, April 24, 1948)
  • “Perforce to Dream” by John Wyndham (short story, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Jan 1954)
  • “The Laocoon Complex” by J. C. Furnas (Esquire, April 1937)
  • “Crazy Joey” by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Golden Man” by Phillip K. Dick (novelette, If Magazine, April 1954)
  • “Malice Aforethought” by David Grinnell [Donald A. Wollheim] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov 1952)
  • “The Last Seance” by Agatha Christie (short story, Ghost Stories, November 1926)
  • “Medicine Dancer” by Bill Brown (short story, Fantasy Fiction, November 1953)
  • “Behold It Was a Dream” by Rhoda Broughton (Temple Bar, November 1872)
  • “Belief” by Isaac Asimov (novelette, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1953)
  • “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950)
  • “Mr. Kincaid’s Pasts” by J. J. Coupling [John R. Pierce] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Warning” by Peter Phillips (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1953)
  • “The Ghost of Me” by Anthony Boucher (short story, Unknown, June 1942)
  • “The Wall Around the World” by Theodore R. Cogswell (novelette, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, September 1953)
  • “Operating Instructions” by Robert Sheckley (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953)
  • “Interpretation of a Dream” by John Collier (The New Yorker, May 5, 1951)
  • “Defense Mechanism” by Katherine MacLean (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1949)

This anthology is a 1st UK Edition, published in London by Sidgwick & Jackson, old stalwarts in the SF publishing field. It features nineteen stories by a wide assortment of authors, many of them pretty obscure. There is also an Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon, a Preface by Judith Merril, and a Bibliography at the back of the book.

The Bibliography erroneously lists the Anthony Boucher story (“The Ghost of Me”) as having appeared in the June 1942 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. It was the June 1942 edition of Unknown. I’ve done the usual with all of the stories that appeared in the SF&F magazines, giving their month and year of publication, and noting if the stories were short stories, novelettes, etc. But several of the stories were not published in the SF&F magazines, appearing instead in general mass media publications. In those instances, only the name of the magazine and the year of publication is listed.

Highlighting the stories from the regular SF&F publications of that era, there are a few familiar faces and stories, although many are also totally unfamiliar to me. There are some old favourites – Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, Asimov’s “Belief”, and Dick’s “The Golden Man” (an old childhood favourite of mine). There are also a bunch of unfamiliar stories from very familiar authors – Wyndham, Miller, Boucher, Sheckley, Clifton, Cogswell, Phillips, Wollheim (as David Grinnell) and MacLean. But the other stories are by totally unknown authors (to me, anyway). The stories may have appeared in the regular SF mags, but I’m afraid I’m totally unfamiliar with them and their authors (J. J. Coupling and Bill Brown).

In among the regular SF authors and magazines from that era, there are some real oddities. As I’ve already mentioned, there were several totally unfamiliar stories by unfamiliar authors, originally published in mainstream non-SF publications – John Collier (The New Yorker), J. C. Furnas (Esquire) and Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post).

There is also a story from 1926 by Agatha Christie (“The Last Seance”), which is a strange one for an SF anthology, although many pre-1960s SF&F anthologies were often a varied mix of more cross-genre types of stories. Finally, there is another oddity which was first published way back in 1873, a story by Rhoda Broughton (“Behold It Was a Dream”). Broughton was the niece of J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and an accomplished author in her own right, although regretfully now mostly forgotten. The Bibliography completely omits the listing for this story, for some reason.

A very interesting anthology, and a bit of a strange mix. Should be a good read.

Reading Science Fiction

Reading Science Fiction literature has always been one of my main interests in life, and I’ve been reading “proper” science fiction since I first signed out H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from the local library at the tender age of about eight or nine years old (circa 1969-1970).

I usually prefer older (classic) SF, pre-“New Wave”, with a particular fondness for the vintage SF of the “Golden Age” and the SF “Pulps”. Any list of my favourites classic SF authors would contain some very familiar and famous names:

H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell Jr, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Brian W. Aldiss, Harry Harrison, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Alfred Bester, Algis Budrys… and many, many others (I’d be here all night listing them).

Although I’m mainly a reader of older SF, there are a few types of modern SF that I do like to read, in particular New Space Opera, Hard SF, and good old Classic Space Opera, which never seems to go out of fashion, no matter how hard the literary wannabes among the SF writing and reading fraternity have tried to kill it off over the years. Some of the modern SF authors that I’m a huge fan of would include:

Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Wil McCarthy, Peter Watts, Ian R. MacLeod, Paul J. McAuley, Iain MacDonald and a few others.

Although I do still like the occasional good SF novel by my favourite old and modern authors, the volume of novels that I read has declined sharply over the years. I used to read a lot more novels when I was younger, particularly during my teens (the 1970s), but that started to drop off sharply from about 1978 onwards, as the increasingly intensive study commitments during my A-Levels and university years totally wiped out most of my previously plentiful free reading time.

Once I finished university (1983, at the age of twenty-two), started work, discovered a social life (I didn’t even know what a social life WAS back in my teens, no going out, no drinking, no women – it’s really no wonder that I’d had so much reading time), and with the many trials and tribulations of adult life kicking in, any free time that I may have had left for reading disappeared as quickly as Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. So the number of novels that I read declined sharply during those years, and has never recovered to its former levels, even now, thirty years later.

I also loved reading short story collections and anthologies back in my teens. At that time, it was pretty much 50-50 between novels and short fiction, but as the number of novels that I read declined sharply during the late-1970s and early-1980s, the balance swung sharply towards short fiction, which began to take up more and more of what reading time I did have remaining. I’ve always considered short fiction to be the bedrock of the science fiction genre anyway, and, if you add to that the fact that it’s simply much easier to fit the occasional short story into a hectic lifestyle, particularly in these days of monstrously bloated and padded novels, nine times out of ten, you’ll find me reading a good anthology or author collection, rather than a novel.

I do NOT like (and never have liked) reading a novel piecemeal, a few chapters at a time, and prefer to do it all in one go. But that pretty much became impossible once the size of the average SF novel went above four hundred pages or so. I can usually manage about 300-350 pages max before I want to call it a day. That was okay with most classic SF novels, which usually came in at about 250-300 pages, and which I can read in one sitting. I can’t do that with these bloated modern bricks. I have to read a few chapters at a time, but I often find it very hard to go back and just pick up where I left off. My train of thought and enjoyment of the story has been broken, and before I start on new chapters of the novel I almost always have to go back and do a recap, and re-read the earlier chapters again (certainly if it’s been days, maybe weeks even, since I’d read the previous chapters), because I’ve forgotten details of the story.

I do still sometimes long for the days when a good SF novel was a mere 250-300 pages, and I could finish it in one sitting. If that were still the case, I’d probably have gotten back into reading SF novels, and I’d be reading a lot more of them today. But I find myself looking at these eight hundred page bricks and thinking “Nah, can’t be bothered”. It’s simply too much time and effort to put into reading a single story, when I can read twenty short stories in a similar-sized anthology much more easily. With a short story collection or anthology, I can read one story at a time, one over lunch, another when I visit the bathroom, another before I go to bed. I can leave the book down for days, weeks even, and start on a completely new story when I lift it up again, without missing out on anything, or having to go back and recap.

While I may be much more a fan of short fiction these days, the real truth is that reading short fiction has become habitual for me over the past thirty years, whereas I seem to have lost the knack (and the patience) for reading novels. I’ve become much more accustomed to reading short fiction in recent decades, and while I can still tackle the much shorter, older classic SF novels easily enough, reading one of those overly-padded modern monsters is a real effort, and one that I’m rarely willing to make, unless it’s one of my favourite modern authors (someone like Alastair Reynolds or one of the others mentioned above).

Maybe I can re-train myself to read these big novels. And maybe this blog can help me focus, get back into the groove, and give me a reason to start into reading novels on a regular basis. Fingers crossed.