The 9th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F, edited by Judith Merril

So I was on jury duty this week, apoplectic and the way they do it in my county is to pen up 300 people in a room for seven hours a day for a week straight, just in case some of them might be needed. Needless to say, I ran out of books the first day, and a copy of this (it’s from 1964, by the way) was sitting on a random end table. Judith Merril is apparently referred to as the mother of science fiction, and I assume that’s because of her anthology-editing. She wrote three books, two of which were under the pen name Cyril Judd, and numerous short stories, in addition to editing a few dozen anthologies. She was also instrumental in founding one of the first s-f cons, this one intended for the writers as a sort of business convention, and she was married to Frederik Pohl for many years.

The stories in this collection are all fairly hard science fiction; they generally deal with aliens, alien technology, space exploration, and the military applications of the above. The authors include many I’ve heard of and many that I hadn’t. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the table of contents before I left the book on the table, and I can only find a few of them mentioned on the internet: Bernard Malamud, Fred Saberhagen, Andre Maurois, Walt & Leigh Richmond, Cordwainder Smith, Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, and Hal Clement.

My favorite stories in the collection — indeed, the two I remember the most clearly — were the one by Bernard Malamud (I believe it was entitled “The Jew Bird”) and one whose author I can’t remember at all but which was about hermaphroditic slug-like aliens competing for food and territory. That one stood out in my mind because of the introduction, in which Ms. Merril explains that the author had gotten his idea for the aliens by reading a paper on microorganisms who did roughly the same thing — compete for food and turf as they moved along the banks of a river — and the scientists who put something in their way to see how they reacted. Somehow the author managed to make these nonhumans and their struggle really quite appealing, and I’m generally not a fan of anthromorphized creatures.

“The Jew Bird” — well, I’ve read other stories by Mr. Malamud, and this does include his traditional dose of humor regarding his religion (he’s, as one might assume, Jewish). It’s about a talking (Jewish) corvid of some sort (crow, raven, jackdaw, etc.) who invades a (also Jewish) family; the wife and son quite enjoy his presence, and he’s helpful regarding the son’s homework, but he drives the father/husband entirely insane. The father/husband tries to kick him out many of a time, but he just keeps coming back and requesting herring. I believe it was published originally in a ‘straight’ magazine (like The New Yorker), but it certainly fit in the collection, giving a much-needed moment of lightness.

This collection was an interesting peer back in time; it wasn’t just reading the stories, which weren’t so different from those published today, but a look at the expectations and other bits of social history. All of the stories were written by men, except one that was co-written by a husband-and-wife team. The editor, of course, was female, and they’d even scoured magazines such as Mademoiselle, Seventeen, and Ladies’ Home Journal for short stories for the anthology. (Tales from all those magazines made the honorable-mention list.) Rarely were any of the main characters female, and few of the stories involved love. In short, this was a collection mostly for the stereotypical male SF reader of the mid-60s, and while I did enjoy reading it, the biases in publishing were a bit obvious. 4/5 stars.

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