FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #480: THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES: 1953 Edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty

The 1953 anthology of The Year’s Best Science Fiction Stories demonstrates the increasing diversity of science fiction from that era. Zenna Henderson makes her first appearance with “Ararat.” John Jakes, who would later find fame writing the historical Kent Family Chronicles, explores the drama of “Machine.” John D. MacDonald, who would be best remembered for the Travis McGee series, plays a “Game for Blondes.” Of course, veteran SF writers like Murray Leinster, Erie Frank Russell, Fritz Leiber, and Alfred Bester are represented. But Brits like John Wyndham and William F. Temple make their presence known with strong stories. I continue to be impressed by these Bleiler & Dikty anthologies. GRADE: A
Trematode, a Critique of Modern Science-Fiction, by Alfred Bester
“The Fly”, by Arthur Porges
“Ararat”, by Zenna Henderson
“Counter-Transference”, by William F. Temple
“The Conqueror”, by Mark Clifton
“Machine”, by John W. Jakes
“The Middle of the Week After Next”, by Murray Leinster
“The Dreamer”, by Alfred Coppel
“The Moon Is Green”, by Fritz Leiber
“I Am Nothing”, by Eric Frank Russell
“Command Performance”, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
“Survival”, by John Wyndham
“Game for Blondes”, by John D. MacDonald
“The Girls from Earth”, by Frank M. Robinson
“Lover, When You’re Near Me”, by Richard Matheson
“Fast Falls the Eventide”, by Eric Frank Russell
About the Authors

31 thoughts on “FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #480: THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES: 1953 Edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    I have all the People stories by Zenna Henderson ( 3 books worth) , but haven’t read any since the early seventies. I know I have read the Matheson, Leiber and Miller but don’t remember much about them. Porges (much like Henry Slesar) turned out a lot of good stories in the 50’s and sixties for Sf and crime magazines but is largely forgotten. They sure like Eric Frank Russell. I have a large collection of his short fiction. I should dig it out.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, Eric Frank Russell was one of the few SF writers who used humor in many of his short stories (Robert Sheckley was another). Zenna Henderson’s PEOPLE stories are under-appreciated.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    I just read the Matheson recently. These really do have a good group of authors and stories. Never read Henderson, that I recall, though I probably have read a story or two.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, the quality of the stories in these YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES anthologies continue to improve year by year. Bleiler and Dikty did an excellent job in their selection process. After I finish the Bleiler and Dikty series, I plan to go back and reread the Asimov/Greenberg THE GREAT SF STORIES (25 volumes).

      1. george Post author

        Jeff, I bought THE GREAT SF STORIES series as DAW published them. Now, many of those volumes are pricey on the Internet. They used to be easy to find a decade ago, but with the vanishing of used bookstores, it’s hard to find some of the early volumes.

  3. Jim Harris

    What’s interesting about the 1953 volume is I don’t think any of these stories became famous. I don’t remember any of them off hand, although I might have read them in the past and forgot. I have heard of all their authors.

    You gave the overall volume a grade of A, but would you say any of the stories are classics?

      1. Jim Harris

        What a treasure trove of short story commentary. What a shame they stopped writing for their blog and twitter account. Do you know how this person was?

        That’s one thing I’ve noticed about writing projects centered around reviewing short stories — people give up after a while. I suppose someday I’ll give up on my current project too.

        I also admire the People stories by Zenna Henderson, but they are mostly forgotten and seldom anthologized. We need to pick one for our project to promote. But which one?

      2. george Post author

        Jim, I stumbled across the DOOMSDAYER website and, like you, enjoyed the analysis of the short stories. You’re right about it being a Treasure Trove!

      3. Todd Mason

        People give on all sorts of blogging. Then there are the few Gardner Dozois, Martha Foley, Damon Knight sorts who keep at engagement with short fiction throughout their lives…

        “Ararat” is the first “People” story…it, or “No Different Flesh” might be good items to single out, if you don’t want to do the collections…my memory of them has them much of a piece…”That Boy” was probably the first I read, several tears after first seeing the tv movie.

      4. george Post author

        Todd, the PEOPLE stories always moved me when I read them back in the Sixties. I need to dig out my Zenna Henderson books.

      5. Todd Mason

        My worst tendency, as with today’s entry, is that I’ll dig up something I haven’t reread for thirty years and will Mean to give it/them a good, even if quick, reread but Things get in the way…so I find myself revising the entry throughout the day…or week…or longer…or, worse yet, not getting back to them. Today’s is getting the incremental revisions.

      6. george Post author

        Todd, I know what you mean. I try to work a week or two ahead on this blog. That allows for some “tweaking” of posts–if Life doesn’t intrude.

      7. george Post author

        Todd, the more short fiction I read of Miller, the more I appreciate his talent. But, as you say, many of Miller’s stories are on the grim side.

  4. Todd Mason

    Alfred Coppel was another writer who gained a higher profile in the ’70s with such near-future suspense crossover novels as THIRTY-FOUR EAST.

    There were a number of sf humorists, though relatively few were consistently humorists (and Sheckley and Russell definitely wrote utterly serious stories)…consider Ron Goulart, albeit he was just getting going, likewise David Bunch, and by the late ’50s R. A. Lafferty), Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, Richard Wilson, Asimov–hard to cite an ex-Futurian who didn’t write some humorous work, however black/ultraviolet the comedy–Fredric Brown, Mack Reynolds (together and solo), Henry Kuttner, and so on…

    Earl Kemp became an uncredited third editor on the series, but perhaps not as early as these earliest volumes.

  5. Todd Mason

    How’s the Bester essay?

    Contento index entry for sources:
    The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1953 ed. Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty (Fredrick Fell, 1953, $3.50, 279pp, hc)
    In England as The Best Science Fiction Stories: Fourth Series.
    Trematode, a Critique of Modern Science-Fiction · Alfred Bester · br
    The Fly · Arthur Porges · ss F&SF Sep 1952
    Ararat [People] · Zenna Henderson · nv F&SF Oct 1952
    Counter-Transference · William F. Temple · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr 1952
    The Conqueror · Mark Clifton · ss Astounding Aug 1952
    Machine · John W. Jakes · vi F&SF Apr 1952
    The Middle of the Week After Next · Murray Leinster · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Aug 1952
    The Dreamer · Alfred Coppel · vi F&SF Apr 1952
    The Moon Is Green · Fritz Leiber · ss Galaxy Apr 1952
    I Am Nothing · Eric Frank Russell · ss Astounding Jul 1952
    Command Performance · Walter M. Miller, Jr. · ss Galaxy Nov 1952
    Survival · John Wyndham · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Feb 1952
    Game for Blondes · John D. MacDonald · ss Galaxy Oct 1952
    The Girls from Earth · Frank M. Robinson · nv Galaxy Jan 1952
    Lover, When You’re Near Me · Richard Matheson · nv Galaxy May 1952
    Fast Falls the Eventide · Eric Frank Russell · ss Astounding May 1952
    About the Authors · [Misc.] · bg

    1. george Post author

      Todd, thanks for supplying the original publications for these stories! Earl Kemp might be writing the “About the Authors” feature. As always, Bester’s essay is insightful.

  6. Rich Horton

    I read all the Bleiler/Dikty anthologies back in the ’70s. Good stuff! Don’t forget that Eric Frank Russell was also British. And, as noted above, not only MacDonald but Matheson, Jakes, and Coppel became bestsellers in the wider world in later years. Frank Robinson, too, I guess. I’d agree that none of these stories are quite “classics”, though “Game For Blondes”, “Ararat”, “The Moon is Green”, “I Am Nothing”, and even “The Fly” retain a certain “near-classic” reputation, I think.

    1. george Post author

      Rich, I was delighted by the high level of quality in the stories Bleiler & Dikty selected for their 1953 volume. I agree with you that some of the stories border on “near-classic.” I plan to read and review the rest of the Bleiler & Dikty YEAR’S BEST SF STORIES anthologies this Summer.

      1. Richard Moore

        I don’t have the 1953 volume but enjoy the Bleiler & Dikty anthologies I do have. I am familiar with many of the stories having many of the magazines and others in author collections. I agree on Games for Blondes, The Moon Is Green, The Fly and I am Nothing. I don’t recall the Henderson story. I need to reread the People stories. I would add Command Performance. I have really liked most of Miller’s work.

        On retirement, I don’t get to read as much as I anticipated. The days get crowded somehow.

      2. george Post author

        Richard, I’m enjoying reading and rereading the Bleiler & Dikty YEAR’S BEST volumes. Just a few more and I’ll have read them all. There are some great stories in these books. I think most of us found out Retirement is a busy place!

      1. wolf

        The same here – I can’t read any book/story/article more than once and I can’t read all the books that I’ve bought – so I’ve given up buying more books,unless it’s something really important!

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, I’m trying to exercise restraint in book buying. I use the Library more now that I’m retired (it helps that the Librarians will buy just about anything I request).

      1. wolf

        We have a saying/joke in German:
        Rentner haben nie Zeit!
        Pensioners never have time …
        And it has some truth in it -you’ll also feel it, many things just take longer, your performance ain’t what it used to be …

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, I’ll be going to my internist for my Yearly Physical on Monday (I went to Quest Diagnostics last week for routine blood work). When you’re retired, there always seems to be a doctor’s appointment or some diagnostic test that fills our days.

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