Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Theme.


Before the late 1940s, sf short stories, novellas and novelettes (see Hugo for definitions) were largely restricted to Magazines. (Magazines are, of course, a form of anthology, but they are not so counted in this encyclopedia.) 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; Birch's own "The Moon Terror" (May-June 1923 Weird Tales), which dominates the volume, is a Yellow Peril tale. The earliest sf anthology in English could more properly be described as an anthology of Proto SF. It is Popular Romances [for subtitle see further reading below] (anth 1812) edited by Henry William Weber (1783-1818), which contains Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735) by Jonathan Swift, Journey to the World Underground (1741) by Ludvig Holberg, Peter Wilkins (1751) by Robert Paltock, Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe and The History of Automathes (1745) by John Kirkby. All stories except for Kirkby's had already been assembled by Charles-Georges-Thomas Garnier in his Voyages imaginaires (anth 1787-1789 36vols); Weber followed Garnier's lead in other work as well. Some early instalments of the Beeton's Christmas Annual contain considerable sf (for details see Samuel Orchart Beeton), beginning with the stories assembled as The Coming K – (anth 1872 chap); edited after Beeton's death, the 1880 issue (anth 1880) contains several sf-like stories linked to Max Adeler's long Lost-Race tale "Professor Baffin's Adventures" (vt "The Fortunate Island" in The Fortunate Island and Other Stories, coll 1882), the linked stories being surtitled The Fortunate Island: not only an sf anthology of sorts, but one set in a Shared World.

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 (it has been speculated that Esenwein wrote them all under one-off pseudonyms), 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, an extraordinarily high batting average considering that more than half a century has since elapsed. Also relevant at this point is Wollheim's Omnibus volume The Portable Novels of Science (omni/anth 1945), comprising three novels and one novella.

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) (see First Contact).

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 Orbit 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 Universe 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. Other original anthologies which, like the above, receive separate entries in this volume are Berkley Showcase, Chrysalis, Destinies, Full Spectrum, Infinity, L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, New Voices, Nova, Other Edens, Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, QUARK/, Stellar and Synergy; New Worlds Quarterly (see New Worlds) was also in book format. This list is not fully comprehensive, but contains most of the sf original anthology series that ran for three or more numbers.

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. Two extraordinarily prolific anthologists were Roger Elwood, from 1964 to 1977, and Martin H Greenberg, from 1974 to date, both of them often in partnership with others and both specializing in thematic anthologies. Greenberg, who edited more anthologies than anyone else in sf, maintained the higher standard.

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.

Anthologies had a great deal to do with finding a new audience for sf in the UK. Here the important date was 1955, when Edmund Crispin launched his Best SF series (1955-1970), seven volumes in all. Among the finest anthologies produced, always gracefully introduced, they were not selected on an annual basis and are thus not directly comparable to Merril's books. Overlapping the Crispin era, the ten-volume Out of This World series (1960-1973) edited by Amabel Williams-Ellis with Mably Owen (later, with Michael Pearson) was aimed at younger readers and introduced many to a wide selection of sf. Later important anthologists in the UK were Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest with their Spectrum series (1961-1966), five volumes in all, and Brian W Aldiss with the Penguin Science Fiction series (1961-1964), three volumes in all. Aldiss remained an active anthologist for some time, and with Harry Harrison he edited nine Best SF books annually 1967-1975, beginning with Best SF: 1967 (anth 1968; vt The Year's Best Science Fiction No 1).

More recent "Best" series have been edited by Lester del Rey (1971-1975), starting with Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year (1971) (anth 1972), from E P Dutton & Co, Del Rey's successor as editor of this series being Gardner Dozois (1976-1981); by Donald A Wollheim with Terry Carr (1965-1971) from Ace Books starting with World's Best Science Fiction: 1965 (anth 1965); by Wollheim alone (1972-1981) and with Arthur W Saha (1982-1990) for DAW Books, starting with The 1972 Annual World's Best SF (anth 1972); by Carr alone (1972-1987), first for Ballantine Books, later various publishers, UK edition from Gollancz, beginning with The Best Science Fiction of the Year (anth 1972); by Gardner Dozois alone (1984 to date), beginning with The Year's Best Science Fiction, First Annual Collection (anth 1984), from Bluejay Books to 1986, then from St Martin's (with UK reprint from Robinson) starting with Year's Best Science Fiction, Fourth Annual Collection (anth 1987; vt The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction) and Year's Best Science Fiction, Fifth Annual Collection (anth 1988; vt Best New SF 2); and by David S Garnett in the UK (1988-1990), in a short-lived but interesting series starting with The Orbit Science Fiction Yearbook (anth 1988). Tastes in these matters are subjective, but the critical consensus was clearly that Terry Carr's selection was on the whole the most reliable through to the mid-1980s, and that his mantle passed to Gardner Dozois, whose selection was then both the biggest and the best, each volume being introduced by an extensive essay on changes and developments in the sf world (including a sad litany of deaths) through the relevant year; unfortunately the series ceased with Dozois's death, the 2018 volume being the last. Carr's and Dozois's "Year's Best" collections are required reading for anybody seriously interested in sf in short forms. Also valuable were David G Hartwell's Year's Best SF assemblies beginning with Year's Best Science Fiction (anth 1996), co-edited with Kathryn Cramer from Year's Best SF 7 (anth 2002) to Year's Best SF 17 (anth 2012), but apparently ceasing with Year's Best SF 18 (anth 2013) edited by Hartwell solo. Still-current Year's Best series are The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Rich Horton – beginning with the separate volumes Fantasy: The Best of the Year: 2006 Edition (anth 2006) and Science Fiction: The Best of the Year: 2006 Edition (anth 2006), which merged in 2009 – and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, edited by Paula Guran from 2010.

Anthologies consisting of award-winning stories, of course, are of an especially high standard. Hugo-winning short fiction was for many years collected in a series of Hugo Anthologies edited by Isaac Asimov and others. Nebula-winning short fiction has been regularly anthologized in the Nebula Anthologies along with some runners-up, and also winners of the Rhysling Award for Poetry (whose shortlist is published as the annual Rhysling Anthology); the Science Fiction Hall of Fame stories, which like the Nebulas are judged by members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, have also been anthologized in a sequence of Nebula Anthologies which still continues.

A number of anthologies from the 1970s onwards have been specifically designed for teaching SF in the Classroom, and some are discussed in that entry. Also important have been various anthologies characterizing particular historical periods of sf through reprinting their most interesting stories. Sam Moskowitz has been an important editor in this area, as have been Mike Ashley, Brian W Aldiss and Harry Harrison, and Isaac Asimov and Martin Harry Greenberg with a series in which each book reprints stories all from a single year, beginning with Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories Volume 1, 1939 (anth 1979), from DAW Books, complete in 25 volumes.

Aside from those mentioned above, notable anthologists have included Michael Bishop, Anthony Boucher, Jack Dann, Ellen Datlow, August Derleth, Thomas M Disch, James E Gunn, David G Hartwell, Richard A Lupoff and Barry N Malzberg. There have been many others.

A traditional problem for all sf readers used to be the location in book collections or anthologies of short stories that have been recommended to them. Early indexes to sf anthologies, by Walter R Cole and Frederick Siemon, were superseded by a series of books by William G Contento, which in their day were essential tools of reference for the serious sf researcher (see also Bibliographies), beginning with Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (1978) and Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections: 1977-1983 (1984). After that, researchers needed for many years to turn to the annual compilations produced by Contento with Charles N Brown and published by Locus Press (see William G Contento for details). These annual indexes are currently available on line at the Locus website, and a complete compilation to date is regularly issued on CD-ROM. The combined pre-1984 index is also on line, at the Galactic Central website run by Phil Stephensen-Payne. More recently, in the Internet era, the ever-expanding coverage of the online Internet Speculative Fiction Database [see under links below] has made it increasingly convenient to locate most if not all of a story's magazine, anthology and collection appearances via a simple search. [PN/DRL]

see also: SF Reprise.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies