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The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 (ed. E. F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty)

03/28/2012

This is the first ever year’s best anthology of science fiction short stories, published in 1949 to cover those released in 1948. I thought, for some reason, that it would be “fun” to start here and slowly make my way to the present by means of the various annual anthology series that have been published over the years. Turns out, though, is that these are, by and large, not stories worth reading. Forced to sum them up pithily I would probably default to “monumentally boring.” Maybe sticking with this project will allow me to pinpoint exactly when the genre became worthwhile – I was struck by the fact that even in 1949 the prefatory comments here harp over and over on the point that, contrary to popular belief, science fiction “often may be a respectable form of literature and of value for four reasons: historical precedent, prediction value, educational value, and insight into one of man’s most pressing problems.” To that end, Bleiler and Dikty selected these stories “first of all by literary craftsmanship and artistic insight, secondly by the desire to make a representative selection of trends and ideas within the modern range of development.” To the first I’ll only say that I would describe the best of these stories (Bradbury’s) as being written competently, and all of them are written in the straightest most unsubtle version of realism possible.

Of the 12 stories, one was written solely by a woman, and one other might have coauthored by a husband and wife team.* Astonishingly, eight of the 12 have no women characters at all, while three others have female love interests for a male character, and In Hiding features the main character’s grandmother. It probably goes without saying that none pass the Bechdel test. All of the authors are white (with the possible exception of Wilmar Shiras, about whom I know nothing), and the only time race is mentioned in the book is when one astronaut in And the Moon Be Still as Bright mentions having Cherokee ancestors. That character’s name is “Cheroke,” by the by.

Eight (and let’s call Thang another half) take place on Earth, two on Mars, and one farther out in the galactic realm.

The stories’ locations in future timelines is the only real point of variance. Three and a half take place in the present, four in the near future, one in a more unclear mid-future period, and three and a half in the far future (Happy Ending, a time travel story, providing the two halves).

* Let’s see how confusing we can make this: Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, partners, collaborated on most of their material in the 1940s and 1950s, some of which was published pseudonymously as by Lewis Padgett (a combination of the maiden names of their mothers). The Gallegher stories, though, while published as by Padgett, were written by Kuttner alone, while Happy Ending, published under Kuttner’s name, is generally held to be a collaborative (and, frankly, vastly superior) work.

The stories.

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