The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction, Second Series presents an array of stories. One of my favorite Manly Wade Wellman stories, “The Desrick on Yando,” features Silver John  (aka, John the Balladeer) in a classic story of greed. I also enjoyed Sprague de Caamp and Fletcher Pratt’s clever “The Black Ball” is another of the Gavagan’s Bar series of wild stories.

As a Ron Goulart fan, “Letters to the Editor” made me laugh. These early The Best From Fantasy and SF anthologies included unlikely “genre” authors like Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Graves. I also found Boucher and McComas’s introductions to the stories in this volume informative. All in all, a satisfying group of stories. GRADE: B


Introduction / [Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas] — vii
Budding explorer / Ralph Robin — 3
The shout / Robert Graves — 17
The tooth / G. Gordon Dewey — 44
Ugly sister / Jan Struther — 69
The black ball / L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt — 80
The hole in the moon / Idris Seabright — 93
The third level / Jack Finney — 101
The cheery soul / Elizabeth Bowen — 108
Ransom / H.B. Fyfe — 123
The earlier service / Margaret Irwin — 134
The hyperspherical basketball / H. Nearing, Jr. — 155
The desrick on Yandro / Manly Wade Wellman — 179
Come on, Wagon! / Zenna Henderson — 197
Jizzle / John Wyndham — 210
Stair trick / Mildred Clingerman — 227
The soothsayer / Kem Bennett — 235
Hobson’s choice / Alfred Bester — 246
Letters to the editor / Ron Goulart — 268

28 thoughts on “FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #629: THE BEST FROM FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, SECOND SERIES Edited by Anthony Boucher & j. Francis McComas

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    Better selection than the first volume. I remember a lot of these stories like the Jack Finney, Alfred Bester. Idris Seabright/Mildred Clingerman ( same person), Zenna Henderson, John Wyndham and Manly Wade Wellman. Clingerman, Henderson and Bester would publish frequently in F&SF. Always liked Robert Graves The Shout, made into an interesting movie with John Hurt and Alan Bates.

    1. Todd Mason

      “Idris Seabright” was a pseudonym of Margaret St. Clair. I’m not sure why she used it, except perhaps initially when she had two stories scheduled for the same issue of some magazine issue or another when that was frowned upon for no good reason.

      I like Clingerman’s work and St. Clair’s even better.

  2. Jerry House

    F&SF has changed over the years yet has consistantly produced good stories. Nonetheless, I find that the early years with Boucher and McComas to be something special.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I think SF magazines like GALAXY and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION were just figuring things out in the early 1950s. They really hit their stride (in terms of quality) about five years later.

      1. Todd Mason

        I’d disagree with you about GALAXY, particularly, George…editor H. L. Gold was picking excellent stories (and sometimes fiddling with them awkwardly) from jump, and by the md ’50s, had not only alienated some of his best writers but was publishing more bland stories than GALAXY had burst out of the gate with, in part by intent, but also because the financial backing was less robust (World Editions having sold GALAXY to Robert Guinn, its printer, rather too hastily after a financial reverse back home in Italy). But F&SF managed to publish rather less notional material as Boucher, solo editor about halfway through his run, got a firmer grip on what he wanted, as well…

      2. george Post author

        Todd, as a kid reading GALAXY, I liked the mix of stories from those 1950s issues. And, the artwork on the covers! Yes, looking back, F&SF was publishing better stories, but my critical tastes were undeveloped back then.

  3. Michael Padgett

    I didn’t start reading F & SF until the sixties, and I’m curious as to what years this anthology covers. The only two stories I’m fairly certain I’ve read are the ones by Graves and Bester, and don’t believe I read either of them in a magazine. Plus the fact that 6-7 of the contributors are completely unfamiliar to me. But given the reputation of the editors in the magazine’s early days I’d bet it’s a solid collection.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, you’re right about THE BEST FROM FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, SECOND SERIES being a solid collection. It was published in 1953 so the stories came from the years preceding that.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, THE BEST FROM FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTON series produced 25 volumes over 25 years. A lot of great stories found their way into THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION during those years.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    I’ve read a few – Finney (always a favorite), Henderson, Bester, probably the Goulart. I got that MY FAVORITE FANTASY STORY anthology that you reviewed recently from the library.

  5. wolf

    My biggest problem with Covid:
    We’re kind of imprisoned in Hungary right now – but almost all of my books are in Germany …
    Normally I would jus go in my library and look for this, but now.
    I got F&SF (almost complete …) starting with 1953 November and I remember reading but of course forgot the stories – would be wonderful to reread some right now.
    We count ourselves lucky having internet access so there’s enough to read – but I’d like to hold a book again …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, our Interlibrary Loan system works well for books of this vintage. Perhaps your local Library can deliver some of the books you’d like to hold again!

      1. wolf

        George, the problem for me is:
        Our library in my hometown Tübingen (actually there are three! The city library, the university library and the German-American society’s) don’t have those vintage books that I might be interested in, especially not in English.
        And I would just like to hold one of these (pulp?) paperbacks in my hand again and browse until I find a story which I really like to read immediately).
        That’s also one of the problems of ebooks – seems I’m just too old for them.
        My wife however is really fascinated by them because they aren’t as heavy, difficult to hold – and she can adjust the size of the letters, her eyes aren’t too good and she gets tired from reading too small print.
        To each his own!

      2. Todd Mason

        Not pulp, Wolf…F&SF was one of harbingers of the shift toward “digest-sized” fiction magazines, pretty much across the board, as nearly all the pulps vanished after 1960 (in the US at very least).

  6. Jeff Smith

    My current read is the December 1950 issue of F&SF. I’m not reading as much since the holidays as I was before — been at this one for days and only halfway through. Got to pick up the pace! (Too much sudoku and just random internet surfing.)

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I try to do most of my reading in the morning when I mind is sharp and well-rested. I do my writing in the afternoon. Diane and I usually watch some TV programs in the evening.

  7. Todd Mason

    And the Ron Goulart piece was actually a reprint (as was the Graves, and probably some others…too lazy to doublecheck right now)…the Goulart parody had appeared in the UC Berkeley PELICAN, their answer to the HARVARD LAMPOON. Goulart was one of the youngest of the members of the semi-formal writers workshops Boucher would conduct in his house at the turn of the 1950s and for some years….

  8. Todd Mason

    Overcoming laziness to check the Contento index:

    The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 2 ed. Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas (Little Brown, 1953, hc)
    Introduction · Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas · in
    Budding Explorer · Ralph Robin · ss F&SF Sep 1952
    The Shout · Robert Graves · ss The Woburn Books #16 1929; F&SF Apr 1952
    The Tooth · G. Gordon Dewey · ss F&SF Aug 1952
    Ugly Sister · Jan Struther · ss The London Mercury Dec 1935; F&SF Feb 1952
    The Black Ball [Gavagan’s Bar] · L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt · ss F&SF Oct 1952
    The Hole in the Moon · Idris Seabright · ss F&SF Feb 1952
    The Third Level · Jack Finney · ss Collier’s Oct 7 1950; F&SF Oct 1952
    The Cheery Soul · Elizabeth Bowen · ss The Listener Dec 24 1942; F&SF Apr 1952
    Ransom · H. B. Fyfe · ss F&SF Feb 1952
    The Earlier Service · Margaret Irwin · ss Madame Fears the Dark, A.D. Peters 1935; F&SF Dec 1951
    The Hyperspherical Basketball [C.P. Ransom] · H. Nearing, Jr. · ss F&SF Dec 1951
    The Desrick on Yandro [Silver John] · Manly Wade Wellman · ss F&SF Jun 1952
    Come On, Wagon! · Zenna Henderson · ss F&SF Dec 1951
    Jizzle [revised from Collier’s Jan 8 ’49, as by John Beynon] · John Wyndham · ss F&SF Feb 1952
    Stair Trick · Mildred Clingerman · ss F&SF Aug 1952
    The Soothsayer · Kem Bennett · ss Magpie Aug 1951; F&SF Aug 1952
    Hobson’s Choice · Alfred Bester · ss F&SF Aug 1952
    Letters to the Editor · Ron Goulart · ss Pelican Oct 1950; F&SF Apr 1952

      1. Todd Mason

        You’re quite welcome…as this demonstrates, early F&SF took its DNA as an offshoot from ELLERY QUEEN’S MM very seriously, with a lot of reprints mixed in (mostly reprints which would be relatively difficult for US magazine readers to find, such as the Goulart story, or even the Elizabeth Bowen, Patti might note.

        My point was that GALAXY was even better, I’d say, from 1950 to 1955 than it would be after ’55 till the latter ’60s, when Frederik Pohl and his assistant Judy-Lynn eventually Del Rey were doing their best work on the magazine. While F&SF, I agree with you, kept improving as they went along in the ’50s and the reprints took up less space. But, then, Avram Davidson is still my favorite of the impressive set of F&SF editors, an assessment that a lot of current web reviewers strenuously disagree with. But they’re wrong.

      2. george Post author

        Todd, as I progress through THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION series, Avram Davidson will become the editor of several volumes. I think those volumes coincide with Davidson’s being editor of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION.

      3. Todd Mason

        And looking at the indices reminded me that the first two BEST FROMs were published by Little, Brown…as such things go, a more prestigious publisher than Doubleday at the time…wonder why that fell apart (and Doubleday happy to have the series for a couple of decades).

      4. george Post author

        Todd, I suspect the sales of the first two volumes of THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION didn’t meet Little, Brown’s expectations. As far as I know, those two volumes never appeared in paperback form. I had to go the Interlibrary route to get copies to review. I kick myself because over the years, I have seen copies of Series One and Series Two available for a reasonable amount of money. Now, they’re priced in the $125 range.

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