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6th Annual Edition: The Year’s Best S‑F  (The Year’s Best S‑F, volume 6)

Edited by Judith Merril 

1 Aug, 2023

Judith Merril’s The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy


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1961’s 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F (also published as The 6th Annual of the Year's Best S-F and as The Best of Sci-Fi) is the sixth annual anthology in Judith Merril’s The Year's Best S-F series. The stories included were first published in 1960 and 1961.

Alas, every series has its duds and volume six appears to be the dud in this series.

6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F features commentary (editorial and essay) mentioning the Dean Drive. Favorably. If you don’t know what that was, treasure your ignorance. Curiously, none of the abundance of often craptastic Dean Drive stories published in Analog made it into this volume.

Bean counting: there are forty (!) pieces included in the almost 400-page volume. Contents include essays, poems, cartoons, and of course short fiction. Of the forty pieces, seven are by a total of five women (Merril is the author of three essays). The other works are by men, with the possible exception of R. C. Phelan’s “Something Invented Me”: I could find no information about Phelan.

Sources include, in order of frequency, Astounding/Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, The Dude, Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, Fantastic Universe, Galaxy 2, J.G. the Upright Ape (novel), Life, New Worlds Science Fiction, Punch, and The Reporter. Of the pieces not specific to this volume (Merril’s essays, for example), at least twenty-two were later reprinted. Given that a lot of the material Merril selected came from outside SF and so is not well tracked by the ISFDB, it is likely pieces for which I found no evidence of reprints were in fact reprinted. I am certain that the Walt Kelly piece was.

I believe this was the first volume in this series in which Astounding/Analog tied with F&SF as a source. Astounding/Analog in 1960 and 1961 was deep in late-Campbell era doldrums. One would expect noteworthy stories from Astounding/Analog to be a comparatively small part of their total output. Arguably, the field as a whole was languishing: 1960 was, as you know, the same year that Earl Kemp published Who Killed Science Fiction?

In any case, 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F has a depressingly high fraction of duds. The reading experience is not improved by Merril’s habit of lumping together stories that she thought shared themes. I doubt the anthology needed one abominable snowman story; it certainly didn’t need a sequence of them. Reading this volume was a bit of a chore.

Nevertheless! It wasn’t all bad. “The Brotherhood of Keepers” and “Mine Own Ways” offer different takes on the origin of human intelligence. “Keepers” asserts it was due to natural selection, while “Mine” is convinced that the push was culture. Moore, Henderson, and Brown do not disappoint. “Anvil” manages to be tepidly diverting. The standout is R. C. Phelan’s “Something Invented Me,” a surprisingly prescient tale about rich would-be authors compensating for lack of talent, creativity, and know-how through the application of blind, unthinking software. If Phelan is still alive, ChatGPT would have come as no surprise to them.

6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F is out of print.

Because there are so many pieces in this volume, descriptions will be very brief.

Introduction (The 6th Annual of the Year's Best S-F) • (1961) • essay by Judith Merril

A brief introduction.

“Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” • (1960) • short story by Holley Cantine

A retired radical’s invention and use of a duplicator doom civilization.

The Never-Ending Penny • (1960) • novelette by Bernard Wolfe

A never-ending supply of pennies proves more trouble than it is worth.

The Fellow Who Married the Maxill Girl • (1960) • novelette by Ward Moore

A moonshiner’s daughter’s life is greatly improved when she falls for a relentlessly kindly alien man.

“Something Invented Me” • (1960) • short story by R. C. Phelan

Determined to be a writer despite no applicable virtues, a millionaire commissions a computer to create for him.

A Sigh for Cybernetics • (1961) • poem by Felicia Lamport

Computers = threat.

Obvious! • (1960) • interior artwork by Michael Ffolkes

A scientist is affronted by a computer’s implied dig at his intelligence.

I Remember Babylon • (1960) • short story by Arthur C. Clarke

Orbiting communications satellites provide the means by which Red China will inundate American with cheap thrills and porn.

The Lagging Profession • (1961) • essay by Theodore L. Thomas

A fictionalized account of why Clarke could not patent the idea of communications satellites.

The Distortion • (1960) • interior artwork by Shel Silverstein

A dissatisfied viewer tries to turn off his TV, with grim results.

“Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface” • (1960) • short story by John Brunner

Astronauts accidentally turn the Moon to cheese.

“J.G.” (Excerpt from J.G. the Upright Ape) • (1960) • short fiction by Roger Price

An exceptionally intelligent gorilla has misadventures in America.

“Chief” • (1960) • short story by Henry Slesar

A small island’s cannibals are spared nuclear war’s radioactive doom … temporarily.

Psalm • (1960) • poem by Lester del Rey

Nuclear bombs and fallout = bad.

“The Large Ant” • (1960) • short story by Howard Fast

First contact reveals that humans cannot overcome their violently xenophobic natures.

“A Rose by Other Name ...” • (1960) • short story by Christopher Anvil

World War Three is forestalled by linguistic sabotage.

“Enchantment” • (1960) • short story by Elizabeth Emmett

Hired to catalogue a library, a librarian becomes enchanted by its late owner.

“Thiotimoline and the Space Age” • [Thiotimoline • 3] • (1960) • short story by Isaac Asimov

A substance so solvent that it dissolves before water is added proves to have Cold War applications.

“Beach Scene” • (1960) • short story by Marshall King

Humans are jerks but the alien they encounter is so good natured it saves them from doom anyway.

“Creature of the Snows” • (1960) • short story by William Sambrot

Faced with a living abominable snowman, a journalist must choose between fame and basic decency.

“Abominable” • (1960) • short story by Fredric Brown

Too quick to kill, a man finds his destiny amongst the Abominable Snowmen.

“The Man on Top” • (1951) • short story by Reginald Bretnor

A bigoted explorer gets his comeuppance from a wise fakir.

“David's Daddy” • (1960) • short story by Rosel George Brown

A teacher is forced to use an innocent boy’s psionic powers to save their school from a mad bomber.

The Thinkers • (1961) • interior artwork by Walt Kelly

All-too-effective visualization brings misfortune.

“Something Bright” • (1960) • short story by Zenna Henderson

A Depression-era girl helps a desperate neighbor to find her destiny.

“In the House, Another” • (1960) • short story by Joseph Whitehill

Two dissimilar entities share a domicile. Spoiler: it is a man and a woman.

A Serious Search for Weird Worlds • (1960) • essay by Ray Bradbury

A meandering essay on the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Ed Lear Wasn't So Crazy! • (1960) • poem by Hilbert Schenck

A whimsical piece about a space trip.

Instructor • interior artwork by Thelwell

Two figures approach a space ship. I didn’t understand this one.

The Brotherhood of Keepers • (1960) • novelette by Dean McLaughlin

Aliens’ bid at true intelligence may be doomed by a malicious xenophobe and an officious, ignorant do-gooder.

“Hemingway in Space” • [Authors in Space] • (1960) • short story by Kingsley Amis

Hard men hunt space whales with tragic but character-illuminating consequences.

“Mine Own Ways” • (1960) • short story by Richard McKenna

To save companions, a human scientist participates in a brutal alien rite.

“Old Hundredth” • (1960) • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

One of humanity’s heirs resolutely rejects violence despite extreme provocation.

Radiation Blues • (1960) • poem by Theodore R. Cogswell

Radiation = bad.

Blowup Blues • (1960) • poem by Theodore R. Cogswell

The right mindset can find upsides for everything, even doomsday.

Ballad of the Shoshonu • (1961) • poem by Gordon R. Dickson

True love is complicated by the fact the bride is man-eating monster.

How to Think a Science Fiction Story (excerpt) • (1961) • essay by G. Harry Stine

Simple extrapolation makes it clear that by 2000 AD, human lifespan will be unbounded, human population nearly uncountable, and individuals will control the output of whole suns so why is SF so conservative?

The Year in S-F (The 6th Annual of the Year's Best S-F) • (1961) • essay by Judith Merril

A brief essay on the past year

S-F Books: 1960 • (1961) • essay by Anthony Boucher

A brief essay on SF in 1960.

Honorable Mentions (The 6th Annual of the Year's Best S-F) • (1961) • essay by Judith Merril

What it says on the tin.