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The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty

The Short: I recently read “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949” Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty editors, 1949 Frederick Fell. This is the first “Best of the Year” or “Year’s Best” science fiction anthology. My overall average rating is 3.8/5, or “Great”. I am glad I read it, with some caveats below.

The Full Story: I’ve been reading “Year’s Best” or “Best of the Year” or whatever anthologies of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction for many decades.

The oldest “Year’s Best” anthology I own is the Dell paperback “SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume“, 1957, Judith Merril editor, which mostly covers 1956, from her “The Year’s Best S-F” series.

I own an assortment of similar volumes from Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr or Arthur W. Saha (“World’s Best SF“), Harry Harrison & Brian Aldiss (“Best SF“), Terry Carr (“Best SF of the Year“), Gardner Dozois (“Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year” and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction“), David G. Hartwell (“Year’s Best SF“), Rich Horton (“Science Fiction: The Best of the Year” and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy“), Allan Kaster (“The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories“, among others), Jonathan Strahan (“Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year” and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction (Strahan)“), John Joseph Adams & various editors (“The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy“), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (“The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021): Volume 1“), Lavie Tidhar (“The Best of World SF“), and Donna Scott (“Best of British Science Fiction“).

I have read many more “Year’s Best” volumes by these and other editors that I don’t own, from the library or online scanned sources.

Updated after input from Piet Nel: it appears that the Edmund Crispin “Best SF (Crispin)” series (1955 to 1970) was really more like a reprint precursor to Robert Silverberg’s “Alpha” series. The range of years covered in each volume could be very large, as much as from 1946 to 1965. I have been unable to locate a copy of the 1955 first volume by Crispin, “Best SF”, to see what the Introduction says. At 8 pages, I am very sure that Crispin laid out his goals and philosophy for the series, and I would have liked to get that information. Regardless, this is not a “Year’s Best” series, although it was seminal for gaining some respect for SF in the UK. My thanks to Piet Nel for helping me on this.

Joining the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook has lead me to read even more “Year’s Best” volumes.

I was aware that Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, and then Dikty alone, had edited what I believe to be the first “Year’s Best” anthologies in speculative fiction, “Best SF Stories“. I had never seriously taken any steps to read any of them.

In early February, John O’Neill shared a Tor blog post by James Davis Nicoll on “Five Out-of-Print Books Every SFF Reader Should Try to Find” (February 13, 2023). I had noticed that these five out of print books were all novels, and I commented that I would be more excited about anthologies. In response, James Davis Nicoll generously shared a list of six of his Tor blog posts about science fiction/speculative fiction anthologies:

  1. A Brief History of Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder Anthologies
  2. Science Fiction’s Very First “Year’s Best” Anthology
  3. Four SFF “Best Of…” Anthologies You Might Have Missed
  4. A Look Back at All 21 Volumes of Damon Knight’s Orbit Anthology Series
  5. Five of the Best SFF Anthologies Featuring Reprinted Stories

  6. Five Vintage SF Anthologies That Are Too Good to Be Forgotten

After thanking James, I started by looking briefly as his post on “Science Fiction’s Very First ‘Year’s Best’ Anthology”. I thought to myself, I need to read one of these Bleiler/Dikty “Year’s Best” volumes, why not start with the first one? I’m sure I’ll look at these other posts and come up with some anthologies I want to read, but this was a good start.

I took a look at the usual resources online for scanned speculative fiction for “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949”, but did not find it. I checked my library and regional library consortium, and I drew a blank. I did see it for purchase online, but I don’t need more books (I already have a “stuff” problem) and I was not sure I wanted to own this one.

My last resource was a request to Interlibrary Loan, via my local library. I checked, and there definitely were copies that should be available on Interlibrary Loan. I submitted a request online; a few weeks later, I was notified that it would be at my branch library soon.

A few days later, a nicely rebound copy from the Stevenson Library at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania showed up. See photo below:

According to the copyright page in this edition, there were three 1949 printings (August, September and October), so there was some definite demand – this did not sink without a trace. According to ISFDB (an essential speculative fiction database), there were 9 different titles in this series, first by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, and then by Dikty alone, between 1949 and 1958. This also showed real interest in the series by those buying books.

ISFDB shows seven genre reviews in 1949-50, so genre people were definitely paying attention. Looking at, I found many, many reviews there in newspapers, notably a very favorable one by Fritz Leiber, Jr. in the Chicago Tribune, so those outside of the genre “ghetto” that read might have heard of it also.

This volume was comprised of stories from the prior year, 1948. Most but not all of the other books in the series included stories from the prior year. This is an interesting and in my opinion helpful choice. Many but not all later “Year’s Best” editors chose to do this as well, and today it’s generally pretty common if not standard. Among the editors I have looked at, Judith Merril was and Edmund Crispin were the outliers that really did not think this was important for “Year’s Best” volumes.

The editors were clearly taking volume pretty seriously. It starts with an introductory essay by fan Melvin Korshak, “Introduction: Trends in Modern Science-Fiction”. Bleiler and Dikty follow with an 11 page Preface that tells us what they were thinking about. The Preface includes both general thoughts and story introductions. Although I have come to like story introductions next to the stories, their inclusion in the volume is another very positive facet here for me. There are story blurbs of a sentence or two with the each story titles, as is common in the magazines. These are uncredited; I assume they are are by the editors.

Bleiler and Dikty give us a clear statement of their selection philosophy and process in the Preface:

It is very clear in this Preface that they would go beyond only material from the genre magazines, and they do. Astounding Science Fiction (Astounding) is by far the biggest source; this is not a surprise, as neither The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Galaxy Science Fiction were being published yet. From the Copyright page, I see Astounding with six stories; Thrilling Wonder Stories with three stories; and one story each from Planet Stories, Blue Book Magazine, and Comment (a University of Chicago publication). I give them props for trying the non-genre magazine material, but I was not impressed by the choices.

According to ISFDB, these are all short stories or novelettes, with one short short, “Thang” by Martin Gardner. There are 12 stories, at 285 pages of fiction. This is all pretty typical of “Year’s Best” anthologies into the sixties or seventies, although the heft in some series has definitely increased substantially since then.

My two favorites were, unsurprisingly, two classics, “Mars Is Heaven!“, a Martian Chronicles short story by Ray Bradbury, Planet Stories Fall 1948, and “In Hiding“, a novelette by Wilmar H. Shiras, Astounding November 1948.

My “hidden gem” here was the Isaac Asimov short story from the June 1948 Astounding, “No Connection“. I was very surprised to read such a great Asimov story for the first time here. However, looking at ISFDB, it was primarily reprinted in “The Early Asimov or, Eleven Years of Trying“, 1972 Doubleday, and after, and I have never read that. Maybe I’m an outlier here, but I think this is a great story. Getting to discover this story was worth the effort to get the book from Interlibrary Loan.

Other great stories that I had read before included:

  1. Ex Machina“, a Gallagher novelette by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner), Astounding April 1948.
  2. Knock“, a short story by Fredric Brown, Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1948.
  3. And the Moon Be Still As Bright“, a Martian Chronicles novelette by Ray Bradbury, Thrilling Wonder Stories June 1948.

There were several stories that were in the “Very good” range for me but that were new to me. I was happy to discover these stories.

  1. The Strange Case of John Kingman“, a short story by Murray Leinster, Astounding May 1948.
  2. Period Piece“, a short story by John R. Pierce (as J. J. Coupling), Astounding, November 1948.
  3. Happy Ending“, a novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (published as by Henry Kuttner), Thrilling Wonder Stories August 1948.

There were several stories that I really was disappointed about their inclusion after I read them. I’m not prepared to say they were bad, but I just felt they did not belong in a “Year’s Best” anthology.

  1. Doughnut Jockey” a short story by Eric Fennel, Blue Book May 1948.
  2. Thang” by Martin Gardner, Comment Fall 1948, a short story which is not even SF.
  3. Genius“, a novelette by Poul Anderson, Astounding December 1948.

My overall average rating for these twelve stories was 3.8/5, or “Great”. However, this includes very high ratings for “In Hiding” (4.8/5″, or “A Classic”) and “Mars Is Heaven!” (4.5/5, or “A Classic”), which is balanced by “Doughnut Jockey” (3.5/5, or “Good”), “Thang” (2.9/5, or “Okay”), and “Genius” (3.5/5, or “Good”).

I am glad I read “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949”, both because it is a significant historical SF anthology, and because I discovered a number of stories new to me that I really liked. That is definitely success on my terms. At the same time, my recommendation to read it is tempered by the fact that I believe you will have to slog through a few stories that I really make me wonder what Bleiler and Dikty were thinking about.

Could the editors have done better? I think so. Without worrying about real world factors like page count, availability of stories, balance, etc., I asked myself what I would have included that Bleiler and Dikty did not? I have not read exhaustively in 1948, so I could be missing good choices. However, for me the obvious alternate choices would have been:

  1. That Only A Mother“, a short story by Judith Merril, Astounding June 1948 (the same issue as “No Connection”).
  2. He Walked Around the Horses“, a novelette by H. Beam Piper, Astounding April 1948 (the same issue as “Ex Machina”).

These are both from Astounding, and perhaps that would have been too many Astounding stories for Bleiler and Dikty.

Other possible choices for me would include stories such as:

  1. The Lottery“, a short story by Shirley Jackson, The New Yorker, June 26, 1948. A bona fide classic, I think this is a horror story. However, given that Bleiler and Dikty were comfortable including the fantasy “Thang” by Martin Gardner, it seems like an obvious choice to me.
  2. Dreams Are Sacred“, a novelette by Peter Phillips, Astounding September 1948, his third story published and a very good one.
  3. Brooklyn Project“, a short story by William Tenn, Planet Stories Fall 1948, a great time travel story that anticipates the short story “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” (Galaxy, February 1957) by R. A. Lafferty.

I do have to wonder if “That Only A Mother” and “The Lottery” were not included to some extent because their authors were women. Additionally, the editors would not have known that C. L. Moore was a co-author on “Happy Ending.” They might not have known that the author of “In Hiding”, Wilmar H. Shiras, was a woman. Conscious or unconscious bias, I do wonder about this issue.

Now that I’ve finished writing this, I will take a full look at the piece by James Davis Nicoll and see if it triggers any thoughts. Reading his thoughtful post encouraged me to expand on one point. My thanks again to him for his excellent post that drove me to read this, and to John O’Neill for tipping the applecart first.

Reviews/Comments: A Lot of Spoilers:

Mars Is Heaven!“, a Martian Chronicles short story by Ray Bradbury, Planet Stories Fall 1948. An exciting and feel good story that turns horrific, with shape shifting Martians as beloved family members of the crew. I thought the story was a lot better at my (older) re-read than when I was a young man. I do love the words, but I am really kind of undecided if it is SF or fantasy. Regardless, an outstanding story. This has been reprinted innumerable times, in consequential and more ordinary books. Rated 4.5/5, or “A Classic”.

Ex Machina“, a Gallagher novelette by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner), Astounding April 1948. It’s fun to reread an old favorite; I may have first read this in the 1973 Lancer edition of Kuttner’s “Robots Have No Tails”. Reading this one, it had been a long time, so the details were gone. I remembered that Gallagher is an inventor, with a brilliant and amoral subconscious that emerges when he is very drunk and that is when he gets results. Of course, he can never remember any details when sober. In “Ex Machina”, he has taken a lot of money to solve a problem, two people (Grandpa and a client) are missing, and someone keeps stealing his liquor when he tries to take a drink. He finally gets things figured out with the help of his reluctant, Narcissist, robot Joe. This one is very definitely rather zany and gonzo SF, but Kuttner did that well. This story has been reprinted periodically in new editions of “Robots Have No Tails” and other books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

The Strange Case of John Kingman“, a short story by Murray Leinster, Astounding May 1948. A doctor at a mental institution discovers that a patient has been there for over 150 years, and that he is not human. The patient displays astoundingly advanced knowledge of nuclear reactions, although he is also very paranoid. The US government decides there must be an attempt to “cure” him to gain his knowledge; it does not work. This has had more than a few reprints anthologies and Murray Leinster collections. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Doughnut Jockey” a short story by Eric Fennel, Blue Book May 1948. A good story of romance, rocket jockeys, and a very interesting system to get rockets launched and back from Mars. I loved that it was from Blue Book. I admire Bleiler and Dikty for recognizing the need for SF from non-genre sources; at the same time, I don’t think it’s a great choice for inclusion. The story has been reprinted only once since the Bleiler/Dikty volume, which does not surprise me. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

Thang“, a short short by Martin Gardner, Comment (a University of Chicago publication) Fall 1948. An amusing but very slight fantasy short short with no depth, of a god eating a planet who is eaten by another god. Maybe Bleiler and Dikty liked this because it was a) a short short, and b) from a non-genre source. Looking at ISFDB, the reprints were mostly in Asimov/Greenberg anthologies, so clearly they liked it as well. Aside from the fact that it is not SF, I just felt it was not very good and would not have included it. I give Martin Gardner a lot of credit as a mathematics and science writer whose oeuvre includes a long-running column in the Scientific American, but this story written while he was in graduate school is not him at his best. Rated 2.9/5, or “Okay”.

Period Piece“, a short story by John R. Pierce (as J. J. Coupling), Astounding, November 1948 (the same as “In Hiding”). A man from the 20th century is on display to people in the 33rd century, where he goes to social events and talks about the 20th century. At the same time, he has heard that they don’t know much about the 20th century and that time travel is impossible. He finally discovers he is a robotic recreation of a man from the 20th century. This is a very good story, well executed and interesting. This story feels like an earlier attempt on a very similar subject to Robert Silverberg’s classic “Sailing to Byzantium“. It has been reprinted a few times, mostly by Asimov/Greenberg. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Knock“, a short story by Fredric Brown, Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1948. Another great “last man in the world” SF story, and one of the first I ever read, probably in “The Best of Frederic Brown” (1977 Del Rey/Ballantine). The last man in the world is sitting in a room. There is a knock on the door. As we go on, we find out an alien race has killed all humans but him and a woman. They and the surviving pairs of animals are in a zoo. Immortal, the aliens are not used to death. The man uses a rattlesnake to kill a few aliens and convince them to leave Earth. “Knock” continues to be reprinted fairly often, a sign of being remembered. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Genius“, a novelette by Poul Anderson, Astounding December 1948. I probably read first in the 1965 anthology, “Giants Unleashed” (Groff Conklin, Grossett & Dunlap), in the early 1970s. A pretty good story of a set of 1,500 planets of the Solarian Empire which are psychohistoric study stations, with specific variables addressed on each planet. Those running this study are hoping to develop improved means of operating the Empire, which is struggling. One planet has been stocked with a genius level population. At the end, it turns out the genius stock is taking over the empire. This is not a bad story, but rather slow and too much info-dumping. John W. Campbell, Jr. must have liked it, as it was the Astounding cover story. I love Poul Anderson, but this was early in his career and I am not much impressed. I question it’s inclusion here. It has not been reprinted since 1970 other than in the NESFA 2009 collection “The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson Volume 1: Call Me Joe“, so not one of his more popular or remembered stories. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

And the Moon Be Still As Bright“, a Martian Chronicles novelette by Ray Bradbury, Thrilling Wonder Stories June 1948. A great story of men coming to Mars. One decides he is a Martian in spirit, and that Mars must be saved. He does not, but still a lovely, melancholy story. I’m sure I have read this before, as it’s part of The Martian Chronicles, but I don’t remember it. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

No Connection“, a short story by Isaac Asimov, June 1948 Astounding. It’s interesting to encounter an Asimov story from 1948 that I don’t think I have read before, and which I think is a great story. This story was reprinted often in “The Early Asimov or, Eleven Years of Trying” (1972 Doubleday), which I have not read. It’s a great story of sapient being on the Earth, who are of a race with a very different social structure. The protagonist is an archeologist, who specializes in “Primate Primeval”. He hears of intelligent beings from another world. He wonders if they might be connected to his Primate Primeval in some way. As the story moves on, we find his species is a member of the bear family and these other intelligent beings are chimpanzee descendants from another continent. These chimpanzees are individually less intelligent than the bears, but in the aggregate are more aggressive and can accomplish more. Information emerges that suggests that the Primate Primeval the protagonist is interested in all lived and died in areas of very high radioactivity, i.e., due to nuclear war. They also find out the chimpanzees are advancing quickly on the science of the atom, and that they might want their continent. Unfortunately, he does not make the connection. For me, the characters are above average for Asimov, and it’s a great story. So far, this is my “hidden gem” of this book for stories new to me. Others may not agree, or it may be forgotten, as the last printing I find of this story in any anthology in English is from 1991. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

In Hiding“, a novelette by Wilmar H. Shiras, Astounding November 1948. This is a superlative story, of a doctor who very slowly becomes a friend to a young man who is clearly homo superior. Very matter of fact and unrolls slowly, with good characterization. This has held up very well. It is true that most of the action here is conversation, with some showing, etc., but it’s still an amazing story, made even more impressive by being the author’s first story published. Regardless, I think it’s a classic. It’s been reprinted very often since it was first published. Rated 4.8/5, or “A Classic”.

Happy Ending“, a novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Thrilling Wonder Stories August 1948. A rather recursive story of time travel, a robot on the run, an android named Tharn, and a man who is the robot’s victim, who is really from the future but does not know it. I’m not prepared to say this is a great story, especially for Kuttner and Moore, but it’s very good. It has been reprinted occasionally, but it’s not treated as top tier Kuttner and Moore. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.


2 responses to “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty”

  1. […] and Fantasy Short Fiction group read on SF from 1976, and c) reading the Bleiler/Dikty “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949” (1949, Frederick Fell) and trying to decide what stories I felt should have been included […]


  2. “I do have to wonder if “That Only A Mother” and “The Lottery” were not included to some extent because their authors were women.”

    Maybe they thought the first wasn’t very good (I don’t), and the second wasn’t a fit for an SF volume. I’m also not sure why you think they wouldn’t have known that Shiras was a woman given the field was very small and tight knit at the time (there was another story by her in the second volume).
    In any event, the third volume had work by Katherine MacLean, the fourth by Betsy Curtis and Idris Seabright (Margaret St. Clair), the fifth by Zenna Henderson, the sixth by Ruth M. Goldsmith, the seventh by Andre Norton, and the ninth by Kate Wilhelm, Leigh Brackett and Carol Emshwiller.


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