FORGOTTEN BOOKS #588: THE GREAT SF STORIES #21 (1959) Edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg

Look carefully at the Table of Contents and you’ll notice that for the first time in 21 volumes of The Great SF Stories, no stories came from Astounding Science Fiction. By 1959, John W. Campbell and Astounding were in decline. And, you’ll also notice, Science Fiction began being published in “Men’s Magazines” like Playboy and Gent that paid a lot better than most SF magazines.

My favorite story in The Great SF Stories #21 (1959) is “What Rough Beast” by Damon Knight. Most SF readers regard Damon Knight as a great SF critic and a formidable SF editor. But, from 1955-1965, Knight published high quality stories. And “What Rough Beast” might be the best of them.

Also notable is Clifford D. Simak’s “A Death in the House” about a peculiar First Contact in the wilds of Wisconsin. I remember that when I read “A Death in the House” as a kid, I was very moved. You will be, too.

I suspect that many SF writers in 1959 started to shift their output from SF short stories to SF paperback novels. Markets were opening up and the payments for books dwarfed the payments for short stories. GRADE: B+


Introduction by Martin H. Greenberg 9

“Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (ORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION STORIES, January 1959) 15

“The Wind People” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (IF, February 1959) 21

“No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (IF, February 1959) 45

What Rough Beast?” by Damon Knight (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, February 1959) 69

The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, June 1959) 101

“Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, August 1959) 159

“The Malted Milk Monster” by William Tenn (GALAXY, August 1959) 173

“The World of Heart’s Desire” by Robert Sheckley (PLAYBOY, September 1959) 199

The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, October 1959) 209

“A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (GALAXY, October 1959) 225

The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, October 1959) 251

“Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (GENT, December 1959) 273

“What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, December 1959) 279

“Adrift on the Policy Level” by Chandler Davis (STAR SCIENCE FICTION 5, 1959) 323

29 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #588: THE GREAT SF STORIES #21 (1959) Edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    I know a lot of these. My favorites are A Death in the House by Simak, The Pi Man by Bester, What Rough Beast by Knight and The Man Who Lost the Sea by Sturgeon. The Sturgeon was actually included in a Best Short Fiction of the Year Anthology. A rarity for a story from a SF writer. I don’t know Chandler Davis. Jack Sharkey is a surprise. He wrote a lot of short fiction through the 60’s. Most of it pretty bad. Tenn , Farmer and Smith are also among my favorite writers. Smith would come into his prime in the 60’s. I always preferred Farmer’s short work over his novels.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, I’m with you on Philip Jose Farmer. Brilliant idea guy, but his novels are mostly a slog for me. Farmer is much better in shorter length stories.

      1. wolf

        I disagree there – Farmer’s novels were so “different” from the standard SF fodder then that I really was fascinated, the Riverworld series e g and World of Tiers – something totally new!
        That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Bester, Simak, Sturgeon etc of course.
        What I’m missing from the series are stories from the British authors.

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, in the early volumes of THE GREAT SF STORIES, Arthur C. Clarke, Erie Frank Russell, and Brian W. Aldiss represented the UK. In future volumes, J. G. Ballard makes an appearance.

    2. Todd Mason

      Martha Foley was open to sf and fantasy to a greater extent than most of the editors of BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, much less THE O. HENRY AWARDS and THE PUSHCART PRIZES, have been over the decades, though the only 1950s stories she included were the Sturgeon and Judith Merril’s “Dead Center”–not even such a non-SF-reader-friendly story as Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon”…her son was a speculative fiction fan, and took on more and more responsibility for the anthology volumes by the end of her tenure. They also, amusingly, kept a listing for WEIRD TALES among the “Magazines Consulted” in the ’60s, when Leo Margulies was trying to decide whether he could relaunch it.

      1. george Post author

        Todd, I read BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES throughout the 1960s and early into the 1970s. I’d read an occasional O. HENRY AWARDS volume. I read the first dozen or so PUSHCART PRIZE tomes until they grew to unwieldy sizes.

  2. Michael Padgett

    What stands out here as much as the absence of Astounding is the dominance of F & SF, with nearly half the stories. And the fact that I remember most of them makes me certain I was reading it in 1959. At that point I’d dropped Astounding, and maybe Galaxy. And I don’t remember ever reading If. But I was still enough of a kid at that point that I was still reading Amazing and Fantastic. Sturgeon’s story is my favorite.

      1. Todd Mason

        And FANTASTIC and AMAZING were improving notably now that the green but game young editor Cele Goldsmith, who would marry and eventually bill herself as Cele Godlsmith-Lalli by the time she became the Biggest Deal in bridal magazines, after Ziff-Davis sold her fiction magazines out from under her, and she stuck around working in a new metier.

        IF wasn’t as well-distributed as ASF, GALAXY or the ZD magazines in the ’50s after the ANC collapse.

        Robert P. Mills had done a Wonderful job on VENTURE SCIENE FICTION before coming over to succeed Anthony Boucher at F&SF…and his work therewasn’t too shabby.

      2. george Post author

        Todd, you’re right about the changes in SF magazines around 1959. I’m a big fan of Cele Goldsmith-Lalli. Brilliant editor!

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Just checked my shelf. The last ones I have are #s 19-20-21. Now I need to read them. Even in the few years since I picked up a bunch of these, they have gotten harder to find and a lot more expensive.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, some people think that my reviewing of this series once a month for the past couple of years contributed to both the scarcity of THE GREAT SF STORIES volumes…and they’re inflating prices!

  4. Patti Abbott

    I am amazed at how you guys can remember these stories so vividly. And I am also amazed at the price going up.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, I can remember plenty of books, stories, and songs from my youth vividly. But, sometimes I can’t remember what I had for breakfast!

  5. Rick Robinson

    Boy, lots of empty paragraphs and different fonts/font sizes.

    I remember most of these, though I wasn’t an F&SF reader, having stayed with Astounding / Analog through the Sixties. The Bradley is very well known, and I like that Clifton.

  6. Scott Cupp

    George – The Man Who Lost the Sea by Sturgeon is one of my very favorite stories (sf or otherwise).

    1. george Post author

      Scott, “The Man Who Lost the Sea” is one of Sturgeon’s best stories. He was at the top of his game when he wrote that story!

  7. Todd Mason

    I’ll still plump for “The Country of the Kind” as the best of Knight’s short stories, but there are All Kinds of his stories that come close. Best little-known one might well be “You’re Another”…

    Sadly, the prices on this paperback started going up even before you started to review it…I think scalpers in the second-hand trade got excited by the Asimov name and the writers in the contents…and one can still find copies for sale at acceptable prices, particularly for reading copies.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I met a gentleman in a local used bookstore who collects Asimov books. In fact, that day he spent nearly $1,000 on a stack of Asimov First Editions and paperbacks. Clearly, Asimov is a collectable writer!

  8. Todd Mason

    And it was a Big step down in pay from PLAYBOY, which was a runaway success and could soon pay rates comparable to, say, ESQUIRE, and the pay rates at most of the other skin magazines, even the more successful ones such as ROGUE. But they did indeed pay better than the fiction magazines…the basic rate at ASTOUNDING was probably still about 3c/word in 1959, and GALAXY had had to cut its rates.

    Nobody was paying like THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, but Patti can tell you about the slipshod accounting going on at Curtis Publications.

    And it’s notable that the current quarterly issue of PLAYBOY is likely to be its last, and the US edition of ESQUIRE is also a quarterly these days…both magazines ghosts of what they once were, in at least two senses. F&SF, ANALOG and in a little-magazine fashion AMAZING (having been revived several times) press on.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I fear the era of SF magazines looks a lot like Jack Vance’s DYING EARTH. The Sun is about to go out on them. The coronavirus pandemic may be fatal to them.

      1. Todd Mason

        The closure of Barnes & Nobles, not the smallest section of the current newsstand magazines circulation, isn’t helpful. Nor for the CF magazines and the eclectic little magazines…or any, save the most supermarket-friendly.

      2. george Post author

        Todd, our grocery stores don’t carry SF magazines any more. You’re right about Barnes & Noble and their large magazine section. But that’s about the only option around here for SF magazines (other than subscriptions).

      3. Todd Mason

        Did any but ANALOG (when it was still owned by Conde Nast) get into grocery stores since the ’60s? I never saw them there in the ’70s…but at least some titles might show up in drugstores as well as bookstores. Now…mostly B&Ns and the few remaining good newsstands outside of B&Ns…BOOKS A MILLION had excellent newsstands in the 80s, but I don’t have any to check around here, and that one of several reasons I miss Borders. And good large indy stories. And the good specialty stores I could frequent, such as the long-vanished Moonstone Bookcellars in DC, and the still-active/COVID-19’d Hole in the Wall Books in Falls Church (I haven’t lived in the DC area since 1996, however.

      4. george Post author

        Todd, I used to pick up an occasional copy of ANALOG in my grocery store. My drug store also carried it into the 1970s. Then, it became harder to find.

  9. Todd Mason

    By 1959, the paperback market for sf and fantasy so-labelled had damned near bottomed out…the active programs were at Ace, which never paid well, a hardcover line at Doubleday, which rarely paid well, and Ballantine, which was also offering much smaller advances than they had started with.

    So, while the magazines mostly didn’t pay handsomely, and the vast majority of the titles that had launched in the 1950s (or had relaunched, such as SCIENCE FICTION STORIES and SUPER-SCIENCE) had folded, leaving only a large handful by 1959, you took what markets you could get. Those who also could write crime fiction, westerns, erotica, and other forms doing better certainly did so.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, you’re right about SF writers having to diversify in order to pay the rent. Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, and others wrote detective fiction in addition to SF and Fantasy.

      1. Todd Mason

        Of course, for all of them, it was a keen personal interest that had them writing in those fields. That Bloch and Clifford Simak wrote a little western fiction, or James Blish some sports fiction, was more a matter of paying the bills, I think.

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