Reading Around in Astounding's Jan. 1953 Basic Science Fiction Library


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Aug 21, 2010
Reading Around in Astounding’s Jan. 1953 Basic Science Fiction Library

In the Jan. 1953 issue of Astounding, P. Schuyler Miller presented a “basic” library of SF that included input from the magazine’s readers during 1952.

“These are the books you would keep if your science-fiction collection were to be pared to twenty-five volumes. To get agreement on that much of a list we had to go to twenty-eight titles.”

The list follows below. The suggestion is that this thread be dedicated to discussion of these books. In the case of books with multiple stories, readers might want to discuss just one story at a given time. A thread for Groff Conklin’s anthologies already exists, and some of the other books have undoubtedly been discussed in threads here at Chrons. Readers interested in specific books or stories here may find much worth reading in those threads.

(Miller also presented a second list, showing readers’ suggestions for tracing the development of sf. A separate thread on that list might be started.)

As well as commenting on books and stories listed below, Chronsfolk might want to discuss works that could have been on it – I suppose we should assume publication no later than mid-1952 – but weren’t. How well does this list hold up, 70 years later?

Contents of anthologies may be looked up at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. For example: Publication: Adventures in Time and Space (

1.Healy and McComas, eds. Adventures in Time and Space.

2.van Vogt, Slan.

3.Wells, Seven Famous Science Fiction Novels.

4.Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon.

5.Campbell, Who Goes There?

6.Conklin, ed. The Best of Science Fiction.

7.Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.

8.Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth.

9.Bleiler and Dikty, The Science-Fiction Omnibus.

10.Bradbury, The Illustrated Man. Camp, Lest Darkness Fall.

12.Wollheim, ed. The Portable Novels of Science.

13.Smith, Grey Lensman.

14.van Vogt, The World of Ā.

15.Asimov, Foundation.

16.Campbell, ed. The Astounding Science-Fiction Anthology.

17.Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

18.Russell, Sinister Barrier.

19.Wells, Short Stories of H. G. Wells.

20.Conklin, ed. A Treasury of Science-Fiction.

21.del Rey, And Some Were Human.

22.Huxley, Brave New World.

23.Asimov, I, Robot.

24.Campbell, The Moon Is Hell.

25.Heinlein, Beyond This Horizon.

26.van Vogt, The Weapon Makers.

27.Williamson, The Humanoids.

28.Wright, The World Below.
Nice idea. Might as well start with the contents of the first anthology, one story at a time, as suggested. In general, it's a good introduction to Golden Age SF, with some earlier stuff. At a guess, I'd say many of the stories, maybe most, come from the pages of Astounding.

The first story on the table of contents which I know I have read (I may forget some) is "Nerves" by Lester del Rey. A tense thriller, which has hardly dated at all. Nuclear power plants are not the same as predicted here, of course, but there's no doubt that political debates about the proper uses of technology are still very relevant.
I have read most of the novels, and they are good. Many of them are still feature on classic sf lists. The thing that strikes me is that they come from such a restricted list. Multiple Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt.
Next from the anthology:

I think I read "The Proud Robot" by Henry Kuttner*. If not, I know I read one (at least) of the Gallagher series. Didn't think much of it, frankly. Science fiction farce isn't my thing.

*I'm now pretty sure I did, because a little research reveals:

It's the one in which the robot was created to be a can opener.
Then I have to skip quite a few, and wind up at "Adam and No Eve" by Alfred Bester. A solid story, if not up to the groundbreaking stuff the would do later. Next, of course, is "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov. One of those cases where an author has a great concept. Asimov's usual no frills style fits the idea nicely. Skip several, then "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, a great SF horror story.

That'll do for now.
No. 9 in the list above is a reprinting in one volume of the stories from The Best Science Fiction Stories for 1949 and 1950. The Omnibus evidently reprints the stories with the same page numbering as the earlier two books, omitting a preface of some sort in the second volume, so that we have 314 pages + pp. 29-344.

I got a copy on interlibrary loan, read three stories in a row, and liked each one.

Kuttner, "Happy Ending" -- This story starts with the ending and works backward. Gimmicky but clever enough to sustain the gimmick.
Frederic Brown, "Knock" -- The aplomb with which the two survivors of the extermination of the human race confront their situation as zoo specimens sort of raised my inner eyebrows, but I thought the ending was cute. Efficiently told.
John D. MacDonald, "Flaw" -- The surprise idea here is probably absurd, but the story is told with sympathy and you don't guess what's going to happen.

Two more from the Bleiler and Dikty Omnibus, both by Ray Bradbury, one, I suppose, an acknowledged classic and very familiar ("Mars Is Heaven!"), the other seeming to be new to me ("And the Moon Be Still as Bright"), grim, sad, and impressive. I don't remember it from The Martian Chronicles.

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