My life in outer space

The Year’s Best Science Fiction 1 – Harry Harrison / Brian Aldiss (Eds) (1968)

The Year's Best Science Fiction 1

This is the first volume in what was a very important and influential series of Year’s Best SF collections. Edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison these annuals pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine not only what could be classed as SF, but what format it should adopt. Later volumes include poetry and other more experimental writing. The series was also known for its opinionated articles, the first issue’s dealing with the definition of SF.
Kit Reed’s story ‘The Vine’ is included in this volume. Is it SF? I would label it as allegorical fantasy personally, and as James Blish has written a part introduction to this book in which he questions what is labelled as SF, it needs to be pointed out. Aldiss, however, in his afterword, has a more liberal point of view.
Some forty years plus after this volume was written we can see that Aldiss’ argument holds more water than Blish’s. Blish seems to be implying that SF is only SF if it works within the rules he has set out. Within this volume, perhaps as a perverse response to Blish we have ‘The Vine’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’. Within Blish’s rules we would not have included these pieces or evolved such writers as M John Harrison, China Mieville, Ballard himself and countless others.

This volume comprises of:-

Hawksbill Station – Robert Silverberg

An excellent concept, predating Julian May’s Exiles Saga in which political dissidents and misfits are sent back to the Palaeozoic Era. This is, however, more of a character study of what might happen to men under such circumstances, and one man in particular. Novelised subsequently under the same title.

1937 A.D.! – John T Sladek (New Worlds 1967)

John Sladek shows early promise with this tale of how the future could influence the present, when a young inventor, from Kiowa in the United States of Columbia, creates a time engine powered by a bicycle and travels to 1937, where Julius Doppler explains his ‘Doppler Effect’ to him.

Fifteen Miles – Ben Bova

Bova chooses the moon for this story, where a priest (one of three astronauts on the moon during the current mission) gets himself trapped in a crater while looking for water and has to be rescued. It is not clear why a priest was on the moon in the first place, although it is a rather cumbersomely inserted device to explore the story’s theme of redemption

The Vine – Kit Reed (F & SF 1967)

This could be seen as a metaphor for any business whose survival comes to mean more than the lives of the individuals who toil for it. A family has spent generations tending a vast grapevine, during which time other dependent industries have evolved around it, catering to the tourists who come to visit The Vine. Some of the family are having second thoughts about their hereditary roles as tenders of The Vine, but the Vine is not prepared to let them leave.

Interview With a Lemming – James Thurber (My World and Welcome To It – 1942)

A satirical short from humourist Thurber, which transcribes a philosophical discussion between human and lemming.

The Left Hand Way – A Bertram Chandler (Australian Science Fiction Review 1967)

A colonist ship crashlands, and the only survivor is a Buddhist priest who, when finding a cargo full of trainable humanoid robots, activates them and begins training them as Buddhist monks.

The Wreck of The Ship John B – Frank M Robinson (Playboy 1967)

In one of the better stories in this volume, Robinson looks at the effects of space travel on humans. Several young men on a three year flight to a colony world find a series of space-suited corpses in space, and then their abandoned ship.
The Captain, studying records from the ship, realises that his own crew is showing early signs of the same psychoses which led to the deaths of the other astronauts, and determines to find a solution before it is too late.

The Forest of Zil – Kris Neville

Earth has sent spaceborne arcologies out to try and find habitable worlds. One world, discovered after countless lifeless stars, is covered by a forest, the trees of which seem to be the only life-form, and seem to whisper the word ‘Zil’ when wind blows through their leaves.

The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race – JG Ballard (Ambit 1967)

One of Ballard’s more memorable and controversial creations, heralding an obsession with the President, and indeed with other media icons, who turn up in later stories and novels.

Answering Service – Fritz Leiber (Galaxy 1967)

An interesting piece here about a rich hypochondriac who rings and abuses what she supposes to be an answering service comprised of automated tapes.
Character driven and compelling.

The Last Command – Keith Laumer (Analog Jan 1967)

During construction of a new shopping mall on a colony planet a supposedly decommissioned automated warfare unit is awakened. A retired soldier is the only one who recognises the unit and remembers how to shut it down.

Mirror of Ice – Gary Wright (Galaxy 1967)

Interesting in that it explores a potential future sport, indeed presages the current fascination with dangerous sports. Here, a sled has to be specially designed to to ride the course which has been constructed to wind around a mountain and which has brought glory to some and death to others.

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes – Harlan Ellison (Knight Magazine 1967)

Harlan Ellison, in a suitably Chandler-esque mode, tells the tale of the femme-fatale Maggie, whose man Nuncio, done her wrong. Now Maggie’s spirit possesses a Las Vegas fruit machine, looking for a man who can be true to her. Again, this is not SF. I am not sure what it is. It somehow deserves its place here though.


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