How did Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year paperback anthology series last an incredible sixteen years, from 1972 until his death in 1987?
It’s not that hard to figure out. When early volumes were as amazing as #3, released in July 1974, it didn’t take long for these books to establish a stellar reputation — and a staunchly loyal readership.
How incredible was The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3?
It contains some of the finest science fiction stories of all time, packed into one slender volume. Like “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr… perhaps her most famous story, and that’s saying something. And Vonda N. McIntyre’s Nebula Award-winning “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,” which became the basis of her 1978 novel Dreamsnake (which swept the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards the following year.) And Harlan Ellison’s classic “The Deathbird,” the Hugo and Locus Award-winning title story of his celebrated 1975 collection Deathbird Stories. Plus Gene Wolfe’s famous “The Death of Dr. Island,” winner of the Locus and Nebula awards for Best Novella.
And an unassuming little story by a young writer named Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and is considered by many (me included) to be one of the finest short stories ever written. And lots more — including a Jack Vance novella, plus stories by Philip José Farmer, Alfred Bester, R. A. Lafferty, Robert Silverberg, and F. M. Busby. All for $1.50!
[Click the images for bigger versions.]
Now, I don’t mean to go off on a rant about how fabulous old SF anthologies used to be. I want to state for the record that I find the work being done by Jonathan Strahan, Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois and others in the current crop of Year’s Best anthologies to be top notch.
In fact, I spent some time back in June reading a bunch of old SF digests from the early 70s — while doing research for a piece on the next volume in this series, Carr’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, oddly enough — and in general I was underwhelmed. There were bright spots here and there, sure, but overall the sexism was appalling, the writing not much better, and the writers seemed concerned with all the wrong things. Give me a modern issue of Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, or Asimov’s SF any day.
It did make me curious about a few things, though. For one, how did Terry Carr manage to wring such gems out of those same digests, year after year? Yeah, even 40 years later Carr still has a reputation for editorial wizardry, but even he couldn’t conjure up a whole book of SF masterpieces out of nothing.
A quick glance over the table of contents (below) reveals that Carr wasn’t really drawing from the digests at all, however. Of the 11 tales in The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, only three came from magazines: Ellison’s “The Deathbird” from F&SF, McIntyre’s “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,” which appeared in Analog, and Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See,” also from F&SF. The rest came from original anthologies like Universe, New Dimensions, and Nova, which were clearly the premiere short fiction markets of the day.
Not that much different from today, I suppose. The original anthology series is just about dead, but one that soldiers on, Jonathan Strahan’s terrific Infinity series from Solaris Books, has proven to be a rich resource for Year’s Best volumes. In fact the most recent installment, Meeting Infinity, was clearly the most successful anthology of 2015, just based on the amazing number of stories it had reprinted.
But the thing I’m really curious about is this: is Terry Carr’s anthology impressive because it gathers together so many stories we still celebrate today? Or are the stories still celebrated today because they appeared in Terry Carr’s anthology?
It’s not really that far-fetched a suggestion. In the days before the internet, you didn’t have every award nominee instantly at your fingertips. When nomination season rolled around, last year’s magazines were long gone. Where did you look for suggestions and ideas? Why, the Year’s Best anthologies, of course. And there was simply no more widely read and influential editor than Terry Carr.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that so very many Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards went to Terry Carr’s choices. Rather, I see it as evidence of the strength of his influence on the SF short fiction field, both as editor of The Best Science Fiction of the Year and Universe — and other fine anthologies.
So when I picked up this anthology yesterday, shaking my head in amazement at just how prescient Terry Carr was in picking out the stories that I still find incredible 42 years later, I think maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe I find these stories incredible because Terry picked them out 42 years ago… and if he hadn’t, I might not know about them at all.
And that’s even more impressive.
Here’s the complete TOC for The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3.
Introduction by Terry Carr
“Something Up There Likes Me” by Alfred Bester (Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, November 1973)
“The World as Will and Wallpaper” by R. A. Lafferty (Future City, July 1973)
“Breckenridge and the Continuum” by Robert Silverberg (Showcase, June 1973)
“Rumfuddle” by Jack Vance (Three Trips in Time and Space: Original Novellas of Science Fiction, 1973)
“Tell Me All About Yourself” by F. M. Busby (New Dimensions 3, October 1973)
“The Deathbird” by Harlan Ellison (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1973)
“Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” by Vonda N. McIntyre (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, October 1973)
“The Death of Dr. Island” by Gene Wolfe (Universe 3, October 1973)
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin (New Dimensions 3, October 1973)
“Sketches Among the Ruins of My Mind” by Philip José Farmer (Nova 3, 1973)
“The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1973)
Our recent coverage of Terry Carr includes:
Decadent Alien Races and Electricity Creatures: Rich Horton on Warlord of Kor/The Star Wasps (1963)
World’s Best Science Fiction 1965 – 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1965-1970)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr (1974)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, edited by Terry Carr (1975)
The Best Science Fiction 1974, edited by Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim
A Return to Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year
Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr (1975)
Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr (1978)
The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year 1, edited by Terry Carr (1979)
Thomas M. Disch on the Best Science Fiction of 1979
Universe 13 edited by Terry Carr (1983)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3 was published by Ballantine Books in July 1974. It is 368 pages, priced at $1.50 in paperback. The cover is by Larry Sutton.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.