The Splendid Things
The Best Science Fiction of the Year (The Best Science Fiction of the Year, volume 1)
Edited by Terry Carr
1972’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year is the first volume in Terry Carr’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year anthology series. It collects stories that were (in Carr’s estimation) the best science fiction stories of 1971.
Later volumes were numbered. The 1976 reprint of this anthology was retitled The Best Science Fiction of the Year #1 and given new cover art in keeping with the current series aesthetic.
Carr is billed on the front page as “the distinguished editor.” It’s interesting to dwell for a moment on the fact that Carr, born in 1937, had only had eight years of experience as an editor by the time this anthology hit the stands. Of course, as things turned out Carr needed to cram as much work as he could into the time he had, because he didn’t get a lot of it.
There is some overlap between this collection and the del Rey collection reviewed last week … but only a little (two of the weakest stories in the book). Good news for readers snapping up every best-of anthology they could! For the most part this is a far better outing than del Rey’s effort. Even better news!
As was the case for the del Rey, there is only one woman’s name to be found in the table of contents. The del Rey contained a story by James Tiptree, Jr., who wasn’t known to be a woman at that time. Ursula K. Le Guin, featured in the Carr collection, was known to be a woman.
I was moved to calculate the ratio of women/total stories (F/T) in each of Carr’s Best SF annuals.
Year F/T Note
1973 0.18 Tiptree not yet outed
1974 0.27 Tiptree not yet outed
1977 0.09 Tiptree not yet outed?
I remember becoming convinced, when still a young tad in the 1970s, that women authors were the people to watch. Odd that my tastes should have been so different from those of the anthology editors. However it leaves me with the question of where I was encountering women authors. Not best-of anthologies, that’s for sure.
Unlike del Rey (and later Dozois) Carr does not provide a year-end assessment and his introductions are fairly short.
Sources include five anthologies and four magazines, reflecting even more dramatically the rise of original fiction anthologies in the short fiction market.
Four Futures: 1
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: 2
New Dimensions: 2
New Worlds Quarterly: 1
Carr’s taste seems to have aligned with voters’ taste to a greater degree than did del Rey’s. Of the eleven stories included, four were Hugo finalists (one a winner), two won Nebulas, and five won spots in the Locus list (one the top spot in its category). Of the eleven stories, only one (the Biggle) had no English-language reprints beyond this volume.
“Introduction (The Best Science Fiction of the Year)” • essay by Terry Carr
Occam’s Scalpel • (1971) • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
How lazy am I? Here, have the comments from last week, re the same story.
Determined to steer an implacable billionaire onto the path of world salvation, two brothers spin a convincing hoax. There is, of course, a catch.
The catch being “what if our lie is actually true,” which would be a total mind-bender if the twist had not been used roughly a million zillion times before.
The Queen of Air and Darkness • [The Queen of Air and Darkness] • (1971) • novella by Poul Anderson
The authorities prove no help when Barbro Cullen’s son vanishes on an alien world. Luckily, among the million people living on the frontier world, is Sherlock Holmes Eric Sherringford, detective par excellence. Sherringford wastes no time unravelling the culprits behind the kidnapping.
At the risk of spoiling the stories, the alien world is inhabited by secretive natives who, aware they could not match human technology, decided to cosplay figures from folklore. That would encourage superstition and ultimately doom human civilization on Roland. Well, it was a plan. And how does Barbro react to the revelation that her people have appropriated an inhabited planet?
I suppose we can give them a reservation.
That’s mighty white of her. Sherringford for his part is much less dismissive of the issue, but he is one voice and an off-world immigrant at that.
I may have mentioned that I collected Anderson obsessively for a few years in the 1970s. The essay that drew my attention to certain off-putting authorial quirks was Patrick L. McGuire’s 1974 “Her Strong Enchantments Failing,” which was not entirely complimentary about this story (which is quite implausible if you stop and think a minute).
In Entropy’s Jaws • (1971) • novelette by Robert Silverberg
This is a Robert Silverberg story.
“The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World” • [Dayworld] • (1971) • short story by Philip José Farmer
Still lazy. Here are the comments from the del Rey review.
In a world where overpopulation has forced time rationing — each person is allowed to wake from cold sleep one day in seven — one man’s infatuation with a slumbering beauty he has never met leads him to consider the unthinkable: emigrating from Tuesday to Wednesday!
This is an example of that time-honored SF genre, extremely stupid solutions to global issues. Only a pure knucklehead would not see where the protagonist’s quest would lead him (aside from Wednesday, I mean). This story was later expanded into not just one but three novels: Dayworld, Dayworld Rebel, and Dayworld Breakup.
I don’t understand what people saw in Farmer’s fiction.
A Meeting with Medusa • [A Meeting with Medusa • 1] • (1971) • novelette by Arthur C. Clarke
Despite a significant career setback in the form of an airship crash, Howard Falcon manages to secure funding for the Kon-Tiki, a lighter-than-air (in this case, mainly H‑2 and He) crewed vessel intended for use on Jupiter. An exciting foray into Jupiter’s depths ensues.
This was not the first SF I encountered via Playboy. That would be Niven’s 1970 “Leviathan!”
Younger people may not remember the Kon-Tiki, a raft constructed by noted crank hyper diffusionist Thor Heyerdahl, intended to prove that Rapa Nui was settled from South America.
This story shares with the novel Rendezvous with Rama an imagined population of simps, genetically engineered apes used as workers. I don’t know why the idea of a caste of hominids designed to be obedient slaves appealed to Clarke, a white man living in a former British colony, but it’s off-putting.
“The Frayed String on the Stretched Forefinger of Time” • (1971) • short story by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
Can even futuristic police procedure prevent a determined killer from committing murder?
As it turns out, no, but it’s OK because nobody likes the victim. This was a pretty terrible piece, not typical of Biggle’s work, and I don’t understand why Carr picked it.
How Can We Sink When We Can Fly? • (1971) • novelette by Alexei Panshin
Mostly about the author’s struggle to write a story based on a premise by Asimov that Panshin finds hard to believe. It turns into a short piece about a not particularly bright kid baffled by how awful human decisions used to be.
Tweak a few details (replace Asimov with some more modern figure) and this could be published today.
“No Direction Home” • (1971) • short story by Norman Spinrad
Better living through much better drugs!
The drug designers are true believers in just say yes to drugs. However, Spinrad probably is not, as he carefully shows that a good part of his characters’ income comes from creating yet more drugs that address unforeseen side effects of their earlier inventions. For example, the drug that cures lunar claustrophobia also turns users into sex-obsessed homosexuals. America’s space army was not keen on this at all1.
Vaster Than Empires and More Slow • [Hainish] • (1971) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin
Determined to establish Earth as a space power worthy of respect, Earth sends explorers far beyond the borders of Hainish-settled space. They discover two things: there are genuinely alien aliens out there, and humans don’t have the experience needed to safely deal with them.
“All the Last Wars at Once” • (1971) • short story by George Alec Effinger
Violent conflict between every possible faction, carried out to its logical end.
With a few vocabulary updates, this too might be sellable today. There were a number of contemporary stories ringing much the same changes: inexorably spiraling violence driven by various forms of positive feedback.
The Fourth Profession • (1971) • novelette by Larry Niven
An alien tourist drunkenly provides an unwitting bartender with knowledge Man Was Not Supposed to Know… at least, not for free. Among the unwanted revelations, the aliens are bigoted dicks who, if trade goes poorly, will blow up the Sun.
A detail I got wrong the last time I read this: while love-interest Louise is slipped a pill by the alien, one that turns her into a love slave for the protagonist, the protagonist later takes the time to slip the cure into her drink. I noticed the love slave bit, but not the cure. It would have been better if the protagonist had explained the situation to his girlfriend, of course.
1: Hey, if it was good enough for the Greeks, it should be good enough for the US army. See Sacred Band of Thebes.