Judith Merril’s 1963 8th Annual Edition: The Year’s Best S‑F is the 8th volume of Merril’s Year’s Best S‑F anthology series. Variant titles include The 8th Annual of the Year’s Best S‑F and The Best of Sci-Fi No. 4. Stories were selected from those published in 1961 and 1962.
8th Annual Edition is a return to form for Merril and her series.
While the book does not feel especially long, close examination reveals that it is a hefty (by 1963 SF MMPB standards) 382 pages and that the font is eye-wateringly minute. There are a lot more words here than one might expect.
There are twenty-eight stories, of which two are by women. There are three essays, two by Merril. Merril’s sources are as follows:
Amazing Stories 2
Fantastic Stories of Imagination 1
Harper’s Magazine 1
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 6
New Statesman 1
New Worlds Science Fiction 1
New York Times 1
The Saint Mystery Magazine 1
The Saturday Evening Post 3
While The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is clearly the front-runner, it accounts for less than a quarter of the stories. No other source dominates even to that extent. I will say I am bit surprised that Galaxy isn’t better represented.
At least twenty-four of the stories were later reprinted. That is a lower limit: there may be mainstream reprints not tracked by ISFDB. In any case, clearly Merril had a good eye for material that would continue to appeal.
The good news is that while there are some duds in this volume, the ratio of duds to interesting material is much lower than it was in the previous two volumes. Either the early 1960s were SF’s doldrums or Merril had a couple of off-years. Given that Merril drew on material from the 1940s for volume seven, I am inclined to believe it was the first.
1: It’s unfortunate that when noting original publication, Merril abbreviated Analog as “anal.”
Now for the stories.
“The Unsafe Deposit Box” • (1962) • short story by Gerald Kersh
A scientist invents stabilized fluorine. It is perfectly safe except under certain uncommon conditions, at which point it will explode violently to scour continents. Said conditions almost immediately present themselves.
This is an unsubtle Bomb allegory.
“Seven-Day Terror” • (1962) • short story by R. A. Lafferty
A precocious tot terrorizes the neighbourhood with what seems to be a disintegrator.
The cat survives. For once a Lafferty story I didn’t hate.
“The Toy Shop” • short story by Harry Harrison
The magic trick is clearly an amiable con… But not the one the customers expect.
This is an Astoundingly Analog-ish story, combining antigravity and Dumb Scientists Just Won’t Listen. Unsurprisingly, that’s the magazine that ran it.
“The Face in the Photo” • (1962) • short story by Jack Finney
A cop chasing crooks with an ingenuous escape plan is provided with the means to pursue them … in a sense.
Were all of Finney’s stories about time travel?
“The Circuit Riders” • (1962) • short story by R. C. FitzPatrick
A network of empathic detectors facilitates pre-crime intervention… but the human factor is still vital.
I am pretty sure that this 24/7 monitoring of emotional states raises constitutional issues.
“Such Stuff” • (1962) • short story by John Brunner
A scientist discovers too late his safety measures have a significant flaw.
“The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity” • (1962) • short story by Fritz Leiber
An amiable coot able to converse with electricity discovers to his horror that electricity cares nothing for patriotism.
I expected the story to be about a fellow who constructed friends using electricity.
In electricity’s defense, it’s keen on keeping the infrastructure on which it depends functional. WW3 is never going to happen because it will intervene to prevent war.
Kings Who Die • (1962) • novelette by Poul Anderson
Among the unexpected benefits of cognitive enhancement, a vision of what the world could be. Alas, the world proves too good at preserving existing convention.
Well, it is a Poul Anderson story so if someone announces they have a better way, either they are self-deluding socialists or dead by the end of the story. The only exception I can think of is 1958’s “The Last of the Deliverers.”
“The Unfortunate Mr. Morky” • (1962) • short story by Vance Aandahl
A hapless dweeb is caught up in cosmic catastrophe.
Christmas Treason • (1962) • novelette by James White
Psychic children bent on an early Christmas very nearly trigger WW3.
“A Miracle of Rare Device” • (1962) • short story by Ray Bradbury
Forever stalked by a ruthless “pal” who keeps stealing their finds, two hobos stumble across a miracle. Their stalker proceeds to steal it … only to discover that the miracle only works for the pure of heart.
“All the Sounds of Fear” • (1962) • short story by Harlan Ellison
A method actor takes the method entirely too far.
I am sure I’ve listened to a radio adaptation of this.
“One of Those Days” • (1962) • short story by William F. Nolan
The protagonist cannot escape their surreal life.
“The Day Rembrandt Went Public” • (1962) • short story by Arnold M. Auerbach
Canny visionaries implement a brilliant new method of monetizing fine art.
If one updated a detail or two, this could be run today without readers suspecting it was sixty years old.
“Ms. Found in a Bus” • (1962) • short story by Russell Baker
A fragment of a manuscript.
“The Insane Ones” • (1962) • short story by J. G. Ballard
In a world where therapy is illegal, a mad man seeks sanity. Results are not what the man expected.
“Leprechaun” • (1962) • short story by William Sambrot
Thanks to booze and Irish superstition, first contact goes very badly.
As it happens, not only do I own a copy of the Sambrot collection in which this appears, I know where my copy is.
“Change of Heart” • (1961) • short story by A. Bertram Chandler [as by George Whitley]
What evil hides behind cetacean faces?
Remove the WWII reference and add a bit about the cetaceans targeting yachts and you could run this today.
Note: the whale does not survive being depth-charged.
“Angela’s Satyr” • (1962) • short story by Brian Cleeve
A miscast spell imperils true love between a naïve girl and her naïve satyr … unless the girl can somehow save the day.
“Puppet Show” • (1962) • short story by Fredric Brown
Membership in the galactic union requires only passing a simple test.…
Said test boils down to “don’t be dicks.” How hard could that be?
“Hang Head, Vandal!” • (1962) • short story by Mark Clifton
Patriotism combined with shoddy field research produces a crime against … well, not humanity, exactly.
The next three stories are bundled in a section labelled Mars Probe: Report in Triplicate.
“Earthlings Go Home!” • (1962) • short story by Mack Reynolds
A guide to the wonders tourists will find on Mars. It’s very clear that Martians do not benefit from the arrangement.
“The Martian Star-Gazers” • (1963) • short story by Frederik Pohl
Martian religion dooms the Martian race.
“Planetary Effulgence” • (1959) • short story by Bertrand Russell
A sequence of civilizations visit other worlds to find the worlds scoured by self-inflicted nuclear war. All the visitors subsequently repeat this suicidal error.
“Deadly Game” • (1962) • short story by Edward Wellen
An idealist gamekeeper goes to inordinate lengths to create a race of super-intelligent racoons.
“Subcommittee” • (1962) • novelette by Zenna Henderson
Peace between humans and the alien invaders seems impossible … until two housewives converse.
I just found my copy of the Henderson collection that includes this. Too bad that this Henderson story is pretty minor.
“The Piebald Hippogriff” • (1962) • short story by Karen Anderson
A boy rides a hippogriff.
Home from the Shore • (1963) • novelette by Gordon R. Dickson
For land-walking humans and sea-dwelling humans to coexist, land folk would have to be able to deal with unconventional lifestyles. War being inevitable, how can the sea folk survive?
“Summation: S‑F, 1962” • (1963) • essay by Judith Merril
A short uninformative discussion of SF.
“Books (The 8th Annual of the Year’s Best S‑F)” • (1963) • essay by Anthony Boucher
A longer, more informative commentary on SF circa 1962. Boucher is far more upbeat about the state of the genre than he was in volume seven.
“Honorable Mentions (The 8th Annual of the Year’s Best S‑F)” • (1963) • essay by Judith Merril
Exactly what it says. I don’t know all of these. Good thing I am not already spoiled for reading material…