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Old Rivers Grow Wilder Every Day

The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the Fifties

By Barry N. Malzberg & Bill Pronzini 

11 Dec, 2022

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini’s 1979 The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the Fifties is an anthology of what the editors regarded as the better science fiction of the 1950s. The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the Fifties was also published as The Fifties: The End of Summer.

In keeping with the nostalgic theme of the Tears reviews, I opened my copy to find within a receipt from Scribe, the long-defunct but fondly remembered bookstore from which I purchased it1.

The End of Summer was published as an Analog Book, an Ace Books imprint under the editorial guidance of former Analog editor Ben Bova.

The line did its best to capitalize its connection to Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine and five-time Best-Editor-Hugo-winner Bova, despite which the line lasted just fourteen months and eleven books, of which this was the second to last. The series demise was not due to lack of trying. The series’ name is emblazoned on the cover of the Ace MMPB2 in font larger than the title of this book.

On rereading this anthology, I am astounded to discover that Malzberg, born in 1939, was only in his thirties when he and well-known mystery author Bill Pronzini assembled this anthology. Malzberg exhibits the embittered irascibility of a man two or three times his actual age. His love for the SF of the 1950s (which is to say, the SF of his personal Golden Age) is as undeniable as his sometimes extraordinarily lengthy sentences are … perhaps bold?

This would have been an interesting introduction to 1950s SF if by 1979 I had not already been familiar with older SF from previous anthologies by other editors. Rereading this anthology forty-three years later, I came away with a list of works to revisit3. That’s a win for me, if not necessarily for you.

If The End of Summer is available in any form aside from used, that is a well-kept secret.

And now for the stories themselves! Each story is accompanied by a biographical essay. The Wilson story has supplementary autobiographical notes.

Prefatory Note (The End of Summer) • essay by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini

Malzberg and Pronzini note that six of the ten stories in the collection are from Astounding, rather than Galaxy or F&SF. The anthology’s paucity of women authors is not acknowledged.

This foreshadows the rather defensive stance taken in this anthology towards Astounding and its editor, John W. Campbell, Jr.

Oh, and why is an anthology published by an imprint named for Analog under the guidance of a former Analog editor so touchy on the matter of Astounding? Because until 1960, the magazine currently known as Analog was called Astounding.

Introduction: The Fifties• essay by Barry N. Malzberg

Malzberg provides a brief history of the Golden Age of the 1950s, when the postwar magazine boom made it briefly possible to make a living selling short speculative fiction. This era came to a crashing halt with the demise of the American News Company. Recovery took the better part of a decade (and saw a shift from magazines to MMPB).

Malzberg gives the impression of being a victim of the great implosion, but in fact he was a product of the post-implosion recovery. His ire is no doubt inspired by all the worthy authors whose careers ended with the end of ANC.

“Darwinian Pool Room” • (1950) • short story by Isaac Asimov

What if evolution is directed, and what if humans are merely a means and not the goal? Also, atomic bombs.

This is an incredibly weak piece with which to begin the anthology.

“The Analogues” • [The Analogues] • (1952) • short story by Damon Knight

One man stands between America and well-intentioned medical tyranny. Or does he?

The twist ending is telegraphed by the identity of its author. Is a Knight going to have a happy ending? Probably not. I see this is part of a series, about which I remember nothing. Time to reread Hell’s Pavement?

“Love” • (1952) • short story by Richard Wilson

Despite social disapproval, a blind human woman dates a Martian. The opportunity of a miracle cure for blindness presents a dilemma: will her love survive knowing what her boyfriend looks like?

This tale of race-barrier-surmounting true love was not published in Astounding but in F&SF.

Sam Hall • [Sam Hall Universe] • (1953) • novelette by Poul Anderson

A well-placed, seemingly loyal functionary uses his access to America’s central computer records to create an entirely fictional and thereby untouchable revolutionary hero, thereby doing his bit to undermine America’s fascist government.

I remembered the end of this story incorrectly. In the actual story, the revolutionaries promise to eliminate central records after a suitable adjustment period. What I remembered was a New Boss, same as the Old Boss ending. Are there two versions or did teen me read more into the mildly ambivalent ending than was warranted?

“Disappearing Act” • (1953) • short story by Alfred Bester

The key to victory in the War for the American Dream is held by the peculiar patients sequestered in Ward T. Too bad for America that to protect the Dream, it abandoned the dreamers….

This is another non-Astounding piece, this one from Pohl’s Staranthologies.

“The Altar at Midnight” • (1952) • short story by C. M. Kornbluth

The Bowman Drive gave humanity the planets … at a terrible price.

This story is pretty gloomy—space travel comes bundled with profound, unavoidable workplace injury—but at least it is more upbeat than Kornbluth’s “Shark Ship.”

New Blood • [Dr. Russell Pearce] • (1955) • novelette by James E. Gunn

Restored to youth by an infusion of blood with miraculous properties, an oligarch is determined to track down and secure the source. There is a crucial detail of which the old man is unaware.

The catch with this form of immortality does make sense, given how it works. Too bad for the old guy that he was not a doctor or he’d have guessed that there would be a problem. As I recall, Gunn’s account of adapting this to TV was more interesting than the actual show or the fiction on which the show was based.

The End of Summer • (1954) • novelette by Algis Budrys

Ten thousand years in the future, an immortal tours an America that is totally stagnant due to an unfortunate side-effect of immortality.

There are any number of SF stories set in the distant future that seem to be straight out of the 1950s because their authors were just not very imaginative. This is not one of those: there are good reasons why nothing significant has changed in thousands of years.

“Try and Change the Past” • [Change War] • (1958) • short story by Fritz Leiber

A time war recruit gains personal appreciation for fate’s inevitability when he tries to alter his own fate.

Hex • (1959) • novelette by Laurence M. Janifer

A well-meaning witch employed as a social worker uses her powers to force shiftless, criminally inclined immigrants to get off the welfare and find a job. One target resists, a target for whom the witch has an entirely mundane fix.

Anyone surprised this is one of the Astounding pieces?

Afterword: Serendipity • essay by Bill Pronzini

A short afterword containing within it a surprisingly lengthy digression about the history of mystery fiction.

I was surprised to learn just how late Pronzini came to SF. He was in university when he caught the bug, at a time when getting older SF could have been challenging. He suggests that it is because he found SF so late that he has not written more of it: his brain was already conditioned to produce mystery-style narratives.

1: A librarian at UWaterloo’s Dana Porter Arts Library is a former Scribe clerk who sold me a lot of books in the 1970s. She was a little surprised that I remembered her and that forty years later I thought it would be a good idea to thank her for the books she sold.

2: I had all of the Analog Books at one point, some in Ace MMPB and some in Baronet trade paperback. The MMPB held up well. The trades, alas, are all shedding pages.

3: I need to review at least one of Pohl’s Star anthologies. I’d also like to revisit another nostalgic Analog Book, Tony Lewis’ The Best of Astounding. I am also tepidly considering tracking down a copy of William E. Cochrane’s Class Six Climb (the final Analog Book) to see if it is as dire as I thought it was back when I first read it. A display of reviewer masochism that I do not expect my readers to emulate.