Anthopology 101: Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

By Bud Webster

You've all seen it, even if you've never actually owned a copy and I'd be willing to bet you probably have owned it at one time or another. For years it was a staple of the Science Fiction Book Club, along with the Foundation Trilogy and that book with three Van Vogt novels that nobody can remember the title of.

It was ubiquitous in the used bookshops once, too. Hell, you'd trip over copies on your way to the counter. It was on library shelves, both public and school, and if you were lucky, you bought it or checked it out and read it instead of just noticing it was there.

I'm talking about Anthony Boucher's landmark two-volume anthology, A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (Doubleday 1959). As if you didn't know.

William Anthony Parker White was born in 1911 and died 57 years later, leaving behind a literary legacy that had, in its own quiet way, as strong an influence on the sf/fantasy field as that of any other writer/editor in the genre. He was a stfnal Renaissance Man, willing and capable of writing anything and everything, and doing it well. His first story, "Ye Goode Olde Ghost Story" (in the January 1927 Weird Tales, at the age of 16!) was published under his real name, but with "Snulbug" for Unknown Worlds in 1941, he used Anthony Boucher (rhymes with "voucher," by the way).1

He was many things over the years: editor, critic, reviewer for such newspapers as the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times, and writer. He was a Sherlockian and a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and he edited several mystery anthologies as well as writing mystery stories and novels, including the classic recursive novel Rocket to the Morgue, in which a murder is committed among a group of thinly disguised sf writers.

Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, he was one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the second issue on) in 1949 along with J. Frank McComas. When McComas left in 1954, Boucher continued as sole editor until health forced him to retire in 1958. Not only did he assemble the magazine, but he also edited the yearly Best From F&SF from 1952 until his retirement. He brought a strong literary bent to the magazine, a sensibility that had been sporadic at best in the field prior to this. F&SF, along with H. L. Gold's Galaxy a year later, not only challenged Astounding/Analog for supremacy of the field but managed in quick order to transform it from a benevolent monarchy into a triumvirate, from which John W. Campbell never quite recovered.

Boucher didn't write much fiction after co-founding F&SF, although perhaps his best story, the highly regarded "The Quest for Saint Aquin," was written for Raymond J. Healy's 1951 New Tales of Space and Time (about which more later, perhaps).

But before we go any further, let's consider 1959 anthopologically. UK educator G. D. Doherty gave us Aspects of Science Fiction, intended for young students. The indefatigable Groff Conklin edited both B-r-r-r-r! for Avon and Four For the Future for Pyramid. The Futurians were active, too, as Donald Wollheim uncovered The Hidden Planet; Mary Kornbluth (amongst others) saluted her late husband Cyril with a memorial volume, A Science Fiction Showcase; Judith Merril continued her wide-ranging annual search for the cream of the crop with SF: 59 The Year's Greatest SF and Fantasy; and editor/agent Fred Pohl ended his ground-breaking series of original anthologies for Ballantine with a double bang, Star Science Fiction Stories Five and Six. Leo Margulies, late of Satellite Science Fiction, did Three From Out There with no help from anyone else, and fellow editor Horace Gold presented readers with a dandy roster of yarns taken from the pages of his magazine, The World That Couldn't Be and Eight Other Novelettes From Galaxy. Not all of these are first-tier, of course, but I'll leave that particular judgement to others.

In the Real World, Fidel Castro moved into a bigger house, the Dalai Lama moved out of his, and our flag went from 48 to 50 stars. Explorer I was behind us, and Francis Gary Powers's unlucky flight over Russia was yet to come.

All things being equal, not a bad year. Certainly interesting.

I'd like to say that A Treasury of Great Science Fiction's double-volume format was unique, but there have been other two-volume sf anthologies issued simultaneously: Brian Aldiss's 1976 Galactic Empires Volume One and Volume Two, and Ben Bova's 1973 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2A and 2B, just to name two. Plus, there were a handful of multi-volume anthologies published in earlier centuries. But for our purposes here, the Boucher was the first modern example, and a rousing example it is, too.

Come on, I know you've seen it; everybody over the age of 30 has, and I'd venture to say that most of you under 30 have seen it somewhere or another. It is probably the most distinctive major-house book package of the latter half of the 20th Century, with its bold, black and white spines spanned by a red rocket. For all its simplicity and lack of gaudiness, you can still spot it from across the room2.

The covers are bolder still: three crimson rockets blast across the sky (black for the first volume, white for the second), the title proudly displayed in their fiery wake, and the straightforward boast at the bottom edge "4 Full-Length Novels, 12 Novelettes, 8 Short Stories." Who could resist that? Few, it would seem. Thousands sent in their dimes (and later, dollars) to the SFBC and got mired in their labyrinthine club plan, forgetting to mail in their little cards and ending up with stacks of books they didn't really want. This one, though, they wanted. For years it was by far the most popular of the premiums offered to get you to join the club.

As a premium for the club, in fact, it was so successful that I suspect that the ratio of club editions to trade is on the order of 100 to 1 and that might be conservative.

There are plenty of good reasons for the popularity of this anthology, too, and here they are, Volume One first:

Before the Curtain... - Anthony Boucher (introduction)
Re-Birth - John Wyndham
The Shape of Things That Came - Richard Deming
Pillar of Fire - Ray Bradbury
Waldo - Robert A. Heinlein
The Father-Thing - Philip K. Dick
The Children's Hour - Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore
Gomez - C. M. Kornbluth
The (Widget), the (Wadget), and Boff - Theodore Sturgeon
Sandra - George P. Elliott
Beyond Space and Time - Joel Townsley Rogers
The Martian Crown Jewels - Poul Anderson
The Weapon Shops of Isher - A. E. van Vogt

This volume contains both the earliest and the latest of the stories: Joel Townsley Rogers's novelette first appeared in the February 1938 All American Fiction, and Anderson's wonderfully twisted Sherlockian pastiche ran in the February 1958 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Hardly the usual hunting grounds for a science fiction anthologist, but Boucher was more a "Merrilist" than a "Wollheimian," and looked far afield for material. No surprise here, considering his position as editor of the most literary of the sf magazines.

Not that he ignore the pulps and digests, mind you. Planet Stories, Astounding, and, of course The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction are all represented here, as well as in Volume Two:

Brain Wave - Poul Anderson
Bullard Reflects - Malcolm Jameson
The Lost Years - Oscar Lewis
Dead Center - Judith Merril
Lost Art - George O. Smith
The Other Side of the Sky - Arthur C. Clarke
The Man Who Sold the Moon - Robert A. Heinlein
Magic City - Nelson S. Bond
The Morning of the Day They Did It - E. B. White
Piggy Bank - Henry Kuttner
Letters from Laura - Mildred Clingerman
The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester

Here again, Boucher didn't stop with genre sources, but went to The New Yorker for the E. B. White story. Both of the novels in this volume are classics in the field, as are the Heinlein novella and Mildred Clingerman's delightfully epistolary yarn.

(A word about the Clarke: it's made up of six vignettes, published three at a time in the September and October, 1957 issues of Larry Shaw's Infinity Science Fiction, a magazine that never really reached the heights of which it was capable, and which was the inspiration for the Robert Hoskins original anthology series of the same name, and I'll try and get to them, too.)

But Boucher makes it clear from the outset in his introduction that he is not trying to present this collection as being the cream of the crop, and indeed, by 1959 it would have been terribly hard to do that without producing a book filled with stories that had already been anthologized over and over. His purpose, rather, was to assemble "...a very large collection of stories which are (I think) of high quality and (I hope) unfamiliar to many readers."

A consummation devoutly to be wish'd, and a goal Boucher attained easily. Of the shorter works, fully fourteen of the twenty are reprinted here for the first time (one, Kuttner and Moore's "The Children's Hour," appeared later the same year in Conklin's Four for the Future), not a bad ratio indeed for 1959. It's worth noting, by the way, that five of the stories are part of various series, or include ongoing characters.

The Heinlein double-whammy is nice, being two stories not often offered except as parts of his own collections. "Waldo" dates a bit, and frankly, I've always had trouble picturing the main character tap-dancing, but that probably says more about me than it does about RAH. And by the way, does anyone still call mechanical hands "waldos?" "The Man Who Sold the Moon" was one of my favorites (after all, it's the one they called the book after), and I wish he'd done more with the Harriman character, but perhaps he was best left as a éminence grise, referred to but unseen.

As a kid, I read Nelson Bond's "Magic City" utterly unprepared for what he was doing with words3.

This is also where I first read Bester's The Stars My Destination, arguably one of the ten most important science fiction novels by one of the five most important writers. It was a powerful story of betrayal and revenge, certainly far too sophisticated (but at the same time, raw) for a pre-adolescent with little frame of reference besides a few nasty experiences with playground bullies. And yet, it haunted me, especially that rhyme:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The Stars my destination.

I won't get into the graphic elements of the story here; if you've read the novel, you know about them and have been affected one way or another, and if you haven't read it....Well, I envy you. You still have some Sense of Wonder in front of you.

"The (Widget), the (Wadget), and Boff," "Pillar of Fire," "The Children's Hour," The Weapon Shops of Isher. I read them all here first, lying hour after hour on my stomach on the living room rug or sitting on the bench in the breakfast nook after my homework was done, poring over the stories in wonder. Later, I'd re-read them all in other collections, or as stand-alone novels, some of them over and over until I could almost quote them from memory. But I read them in Anthony Boucher's A Treasury of Great Science Fiction first.

Taken as a whole, and especially considering what they cost at the time, this set repays the reader at least two dozen times over in solid story-telling and well-written science fiction. And the treasure is, in fact, there to be found today: you'd have to look far and wide to turn up a copy of "Magic City" if not here, and the same goes for at least nine of the others. Lack of current availability does not equal a lack of literary (or just plain entertainment) value; it just means that finding a publisher willing to take a chance on an unthemed reprint anthology is harder now than it was 45 years ago. The 1970s burnt out the anthology as a viable publishing entity, both with the publishers and with the readers, and although the original anthology has made a comeback in the past decade or so, the reprint book is, with the exception of the various Year's Best books, still struggling for air.

Track this pair down, you won't regret it. For that matter, track down any or all of the books I write about here. If I didn't think they were worth looking at, I wouldn't mention them, and you could be missing something wonderful and magical. None of you (except perhaps my esteemed colleague, Mr. D'Amassa) has read anywhere near everything in the field, and unless you're hopelessly mired in present-day sf/fantasy, you could do little better than to dust off that old copy of the Treasury and fall in love with science fiction again.

1He also wrote mysteries under the pseudonym "H. H. Holmes" and poetry as "Herman W. Mudgett;" Mudgett was America's first serial killer, and operated under the Holmes alias. Of such gleefully dark thread was much of Boucher's work woven.

2When Mary (my Significant Other) and I visited Nelson Bond together for the first time, she did, indeed, spot the books from across the room, and was immediately thrilled to realize that she'd read his story there when she was thirteen, and that it was one of her favorites in the anthology. It was this, more than anything, that caused Mary and Nelson to, er, bond.

3 In later years, I came to recognize the influence of James Branch Cabell on much of Bond's work. Hardly surprising, as the two men were friends, and Bond was Cabell's chosen literary executor.. I recall the thrill of realization that came when I understood, all of a sudden, that Jinnia was...Virginia! I lived in Virginia! My best friend and I sat down and read it together then, trying to figure out all the various elisions and corruptions: "Lextun" was Lexington, "Uray Caver" was Luray Caverns, "Veémi" was VMI; Tizathy, the Goddess Salibbidy, the Nikvars of Lankstr whose farewell is "Veedzain! O Veedzain!" This is pretty heady stuff for a naïve 10 year-old. And then to find out much later on, after I'd left Roanoke, that Bond lived in my home town! How cool is that?