Summary Review: The “First Voyages” anthology (1981, Avon, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Damon Knight, & Joseph D. Olander) is a very worthwhile and interesting anthology of first stories published by “Science Fiction’s Greatest Authors” which I am glad I have read. However, although I love some of the stories and I’m pleased to have read all of them, I am recommending this book as much for the author introductions that are substantially writer by the story authors. See “Dave’s Favorite First Stories of Science Fiction” for my favorite first science fiction stories.
Background: I started a discussion with my Facebook Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on my then favorite first published SF and Fantasy stories. These were all stories that could be defined as the first published SF or fantasy story by an author in some way. The stories I listed were:
- “Scanners Live In Vain” by Cordwainer Smith (Fantasy Book, 1950)
- “Shambleau” by C. L. Moore (Weird Tales, 11/1933)
- “Traveller’s Rest” by David I. Masson (New Worlds SF, 9/1965)
- “Bircher” by A. A. Walde (If, 7/1966)
- “Beyond Lies The Wub” by Philip K. Dick (Planet Stories, 7/1952)
- “Turn Off The Sky” by Ray Nelson (F&SF, 7/1963)
There was a lot of discussion and candidates submitted, as I had hoped. One of the suggestions submitted by Michael Main of the Internet Time Travel Database was “First Voyages”. I had never heard of this book, but I was intrigued.
“First Voyages” – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A version of “First Voyages” was originally published in 1963 as “First Flight” (edited by Damon Knight, Lancer Books). The subtitle was “Maiden Voyages In Space And Time by…” with the authors listed. “First Flight” included an introduction by Knight and these 10 stories between 1937 to 1956:
- “The Isolinguals“, a 1937 short story by L. Sprague de Camp
- “The Faithful“, a 1938 short story by Lester del Rey
- “Black Destroyer“, a 1939) novelette by A. E. van Vogt
- “Life-Line“, a 1939 short story by Robert A. Heinlein
- “Ether Breather“, a 1939 short story by Theodore Sturgeon
- “Loophole“, a 1946 short story by Arthur C. Clarke
- “Tomorrow’s Children“, a 1947 novelette by Poul Anderson and F. N. Waldrop
- “That Only a Mother“, a 1948 short story by Judith Merril
- “Walk to the World“, a 1952 short story by Algis Budrys
- “T“, a 1956 short story by Brian W. Aldiss
It was re-issued in 1966, and a 3rd edition issued in 1969 under the name “Now Begins Tomorrow”. I assume but cannot confirm that the these 3 editions all contained the same author introductions as those found in the 1981 book. P. Schuyler Miller reviewed “First Flight” for Analog Science Fact -> Science Fiction in the February 1964 issue. Paraphrasing his comments, he states that the stories are mostly typical of the fiction the authors would go on to write, and that he felt that “T” and “Loophole” are the “…poorest of the ten stories, and do little to suggest their authors’ real place in modern science fiction”. I don’t agree with him on which are the weakest stories, but I’ll save that for “First Voyages”.
“First Voyages” came out in 1981, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Damon Knight, & Joseph D. Olander on Avon. From the updated 1981 introduction, Greenberg and Olander had urged Knight to issue an updated, expanded version. In addition to an updated introduction, these ten stories and story introductions were added to the original version:
- “Proof“, a 1942 short story by Hal Clement
- “Scanners Live in Vain“, a 1950 The Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Cordwainer Smith
- “Time Trap“, a 1948 novelette by Charles L. Harness
- “Defense Mechanism“, a 1949 short story by Katherine MacLean
- “Angel’s Egg“, a 1951 novelette by Edgar Pangborn
- “Come On, Wagon!“, a 1951 short story by Zenna Henderson
- “Beyond Lies the Wub“, a 1952 short story by Philip K. Dick
- “My Boy Friend’s Name Is Jello“, a 1954 short story by Avram Davidson
- “Prima Belladonna“, a 1956 Vermilion Sands short story by J. G. Ballard
- “April in Paris“, a 1962 short story by Ursula K. Le Guin
I assume that the original story introductions from the 1963 version were not updated for this edition or not, but I don’t know.
Before we consider the stories and author introductions here, we need to consider the statement on the cover, “…Science Fiction’s Greatest Writers and the First Stories Each of Them Ever Published”. This is simultaneously part of a marketing statement hoping to sell books and a clear demarcation of what Knight (and Greenberg and Olander) were hoping to accomplish.
The strengths of the book are gathering first stories by a number of prominent science fiction authors, and presenting them with very insightful and interesting story introductions, mostly by the authors.
There are some great stories here, some good stories, and some not so good stories. I am not surprised by that, given the remit of the book. I am, however, disappointed by the updated table of contents. For a book issued in 1981, there are no stories later than 1962, and only one later than 1956. No Ray Bradbury, no Roger Zelazny, and none of the exciting writers of the 1970s. There are always reasons (availability, length, etc), but this is disappointing to me.
There are some great stories in here, both stories that I knew and also (happily) stories that were new to me. My top choices included “Scanners Live In Vain” by Cordwainer Smith, “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril, “Black Destroyer” by A. E. van Vogt, “Angel’s Egg” by Edgar Pangborn, and “T” by Brian W. Aldisss. On the other hand, there were three stories that I did not think were very good, “The Faithful” by Lester del Rey, “Time Trap” by Charles L. Harness, and “The Isolinguals” by L. Sprague de Camp.
My average rating for the original 10 stories was 3.52/5, or “good”. Not very good, not great. My average rating for the added 10 new stories was 3.72/5, or “very good”. The leads to a very middle-of-the-road overall rating of 3.62/5.
I did not rate them, but 17 out of 20 stories have author introductions by the author or a family member. These vary, but most of them are quite outstanding in discussing how they came to write and get the story published. I loved most of these author introductions.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed most of the stories, and loved some of them. There were none with a “Did Not Finish” rating. I’ll add my story reviews at the bottom. I am not sorry I read the stories, but I really loved and valued the author introductions. The story introductions were worth the price of admission, so to speak.
STORY REVIEWS (SPOILERS FOLLOW) (stories in Table of Contents order):
“The Isolinguals“, a 1937 short story by L. Sprague de Camp in Astounding Stories, September 1937. There is an adequate introduction by de Camp. A rather ordinary story of a plague of people that suddenly have the personality, thoughts, language and background of someone from the past. This ends up being part of a plot to take over the country by disrupting life and government. I rated this 2.7/5.
“The Faithful“, a 1938 short story by Lester del Rey in Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1938. A story of uplifted dogs after a plague has killed humans during war, one human survivor, and uplifted apes. Rather wooden, but ok. Good enough intro by the Editors. I rated this 2.8/5.
“Black Destroyer“, a novelette by A. E. van Vogt, Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1939. I think I first read this in “Adventures in Time and Space” by Healy & McComas. A classic story of scientists encountering a dangerous being they do not understand in far outer space. I really enjoyed the introduction by van Vogt outlining his approach to writing the story in “First Voyages”. Rated 4/5.
“Life-Line“, a 1939 Future History short story by Robert A. Heinlein, Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1939. “Dr.” Pinero develops a process of predicting life span precisely. The academic establishment blows him off, and the life insurance industry takes him to court. He offers to predict the life span of all of the academics and insurance people, with blind information filed with a 3rd party. His predictions continue to be accurate. He is murdered by an agent of the insurance industry, and his instruments destroyed. For me, this is a great early Heinlein story. Seems to have a very modest connection to his “Future History”. “First Voyages” has a nice intro by the Editors. Rated 3.8/5.
“Ether Breather“, a short story by Theodore Sturgeon, from Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1939 . I first read this in The Great Science Fiction Stories #1 (1939), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (DAW). A writer and a perfume tycoon/TV enthusiast discover a new form of life when a new color tv system goes wrong. A pretty good first story by Sturgeon, with some humor. The version in “First Voyages” comes with great introductory remarks by Sturgeon about how he broke into writing for John Campbell, Jr., and his first sales, and also a great Campbell quote about the difference between SF and fantasy. I rated this 3.5/5.
“Proof“, a 1942 short story by Hal Clement, Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1942. I love the story by Clement about how he wrote and sold his first story. Probably first read “Proof” recently in “The Ascent of Wonder” (1994, Cramer/Hartwell); I suspect I first read it in the 1971 “Where Do We Go From Here?” anthology (Asimov editor, Doubleday). This is a very good first story that makes sense, of sun-based intelligences and the loss of a ship to an inexplicable phenomenon of low temperatures and density. of course, that inexplicable phenomenon is the Earth, with a geologist witnessing the ship’s cataclysmic end. I rated this 3.8/5.
“Loophole“, a short story by Arthur C. Clarke from Astounding Science Fiction, April 1946. A fun little introduction from “First Voyages” by Clarke about the story, which he notes was the first to be published but not the first to be sold. This shows up in “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (1948, Conklin) and “Expedition to Earth” (1953); I own and have read both, so I have read this before. Still, I remember nothing. Mars is worried after the technological progress of Earth and the warlike behavior at the end of WW2, with the atomic bombs and nascent rocket programs. Mars broadcasts an ultimatum, stating that cities will be destroyed if rockets are launched. The Earth acquiesces, surprisingly. This is all recounted as memos to/from parties in the Mars government. At the end, we see that all of these memos were from captured material, after the Earth teleported bombs to Mars, which was pursued after the Martian ultimatum. A good story, but not as good as his “Rescue Party”, which was sold first but not published first. Rated 3.5/5.
“Tomorrow’s Children“, a 1947 novelette by Poul Anderson and F. N. Waldrop in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1947. A pretty good story of post-nuclear war in the us. The protagonist is a colonel in the US Air Force, in an atomic airplane. He returns from touring a bombed out world; the US is bad but it’s worse elsewhere. The de facto president then sends him out on a new census. He returns, and tells the president that they will survive but that the level of mutants will be very high. At the ending, he confirms that the president’s new baby is a mutant, and encourages the president to love the child and that the substantial mutation of the human racer is unavoidable. A nice intro by Anderson. Rated 3.2/5.
“That Only A Mother“, a short story by Judith Merril in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1948. It’s a very good story. There is definitely foreshadowing that Maggie is not “normal” (whatever the hell that is). I think you could write this story today, but it would have to be told in a very different way to hold up. Rated 4.1/5.
“Scanners Live in Vain“, a Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Cordwainer Smith from Fantasy Book, Vol. 1, No. 6, January 1951. Disclosure: I am a really big Cordwainer Smith fan. I have read this story more than a few times, but I still caught things this time through that surprised me. One of my all time favorites. Cordwainer Smith certainly had a vision which he attempted to articulate in his works. His worlds and what happen there are very unique in some ways, and he does not throw out a lot of helping hands – you really have to read them closely and think about them. In theory it could have shown up in Galaxy in 1950, but the Wikipedia article notes that it had been rejected a number of times since being written in 1945. Rated 4.9/5.
“Time Trap“, a 1948 novelette by Charles L. Harness in Astounding Science Fiction, August 1948. A circular time loop while a mutant both sustains a monster of the ages while trying to end it. The plot reminded me a bit of van Vogt. This story dragged a bit for me. Reprinted in Silverberg’s “Alpha One”. The intro by Harness is better than the story. Rated 2.8/5.
“Defense Mechanism“, a 1949 short story by Katherine MacLean in Astounding Science Fiction, October 1949. A very good story of what might happen, with the stipulation that many people are telepathic as babies but lose or are trained out of the ability. A good intro by MacLean. Rated 3.6/5.
“Angel’s Egg“, a novelette by Edgar Pangborn, in Galaxy June 1951. Wow. Another amazing first published story, in a variation of the epistolary story in letters as a case file with the FBI, featuring correspondence and a journal of Dr. Bannerman. The doctor has been found dead by a friend. The doctor’s journal recounts his experiences with an “angel”, a member of a very advanced alien race. He sacrifices his self/memories to help the aliens learn how to help humans. It appears the story is filed and forgotten. In “First Voyages”, this come with a nice introduction by Pangborn’s sister, writer Mary Pangborn. This and other sources mention his long (21 years) career writing mystery stories under pseudonyms, when he was “learning to write by writing” before releasing his first story under his own name here for this story. Rated 3.9/5.
“Come On, Wagon!“, a 1951 short story by Zenna Henderson in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1951. A nice intro by Henderson in “First Voyages”. A great story about what kids can do before they learn it is impossible. I rated this 3.7/5.
“Walk to the World”, a short story by Algis Budrys, in Space Science Fiction, November 1952 . A very good story about walking to the world, that Home is not the world, and duty, and perhaps a different outcome. The father is an ex-space navy officer, who feels that home is where you are going to. Good intro by Budrys in “First Voyages”. I rated this 3.7/5.
“Beyond Lies the Wub”, a Philip K. Dick short story, in the July 1952 Planet Stories. This is a very impressive first published story. A spaceman buys a creature that looks like a large pig, a wub. The wub turns out to be intelligent. The captain kills and eats it anyway. The wub personality/intelligence ends up in the captain, by empathy. There is a great intro by Dick in “First Voyages”. I rated this 3.7/5.
“My Boy Friend’s Name Is Jello“, a short story by Avram Davidson, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1954. I rather like this story involving a man who is ill and a hand clapping game, but I struggle with what it is about. However, I think the inspired, crazy chaos of many future Davidson stories is in the air. Great intro by Davidson in “First Voyages”. Rated 3.7/5.
“T” by Brian W. Aldiss. A 1956 short story by Brian W. Aldiss, Nebula Science Fiction, Number 18. This is a very interesting story with a definitive voice for a first written story by Aldiss. An ancient alien race is menaced by warlike Man. They send custom sentient beings in a fleet of 10 ships across time and space to eliminate the Earth and Man before Man emerges. They succeed in eliminating the planet, but fail due to a reality issue- to wit, they eliminate the wrong planet from the Solar system. Good intro by Aldiss in “First Voyages”; this was his first story sold, but did not appear for 3 years, so not first published. I rated this 3.9/5.
“Prima Belladonna”, a 1956 Vermilion Sands short story by J. G. Ballard, Science Fantasy, v 7 #20. Judith Merril notes this as the first published SF story by Ballard. It appears that he had two stories published in December 1956, so this could be the first. A great first story that kept me interested and yet off balance. A man in a very different Earth runs a music shop with plants that produce music. He meets and has an affair with a half-alien woman who sings as an entertainer, and sings with the plants in his shop. She cheats at i-Go, and she disappears. “First Voyages” has a very interesting and insightful intro by Ballard, who notes that this is both his first short story and also in some ways his best. I rated this 3.9/5.
“April in Paris”, a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin in Fantastic Stories of Imagination, September 1962. Le Guin notes that this is the first story she got paid for, and her second one published. She also noted that this was the 2nd genre piece she had written; John Campbell had rejected a piece of SF she submitted to Astounding a long time before this. She notes she never did synch with John Campbell, which does not sound at all surprising. In the story, an unhappy academic is whisked through time from a small garret room in Paris to the same small garret room in the time of Louise 11 in 1482. His host is a scientist/alchemist who is chanting an incantation with some other preparations. He is also a disappointed academic. They become friends. After a trip back to the present, he returns to the past. They continue to fetch beings from other times, including a Celtic slave of a Roman and an archeologist from the future. They end up happy together in Paris in the past. Not an amazing story, but amusing. Rated 3.2/5.