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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 17 February 2018

"The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction" (third series) edited by Anthony Boucher and J Francis McComas

When I was a kid (in the 1960s) I used to go to the library in Sunbury-on-Thames and read. They had these SciFi collections. I loved them. Now they seem quaint. They beautifully reflect the culture and concerns of 1950s America. The Bomb. A world post-apocalypse (still a concern of Sci Fi today). And interstellar travel meeting strange new creatures. This collection, dating from 1954, is a classic of its kind.

In Attitudes by Phillip Jose Farmer a gambler on a strange world observes aliens in an activity that he believes is a kind of gambling game. He joins in. But has he understood the signs rightly? The priest doesn't think so. A brilliant central scene; the obsession of gamblers is clearly shown. But the first scene seems misleading; it has overtones of Pascal's wager and Faust but it seems redundant. And the twist at the end was easy to spot.

In Maybe Just a Little One by R Bretnor a schoolteacher invents a nuclear reactor in his basement. Fuelled on beans. His community think he's mad. A very off-beat tale.

The Star Gypsies travels from town to town helping the destroyed communities with primitive technology, showing them how to make a sickle and a bicycle.

In The Untimely Toper by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt Mr Pearce is cursed by a newcomer to the bar so that each time he gets drunk he goes to the rest room and when he comes out finds that a day, or a week, has passed by; the time seems to be proportionate to how drunk he gets. This story contained some great lines:
  • "If he had ten times as much brains as he has and cheated on the entrance examination, he might be able to get into a home for the feeble-minded.
  • "A look on his face that I'd not be wanting to take to bed with me at night"
Vandy, Vandy by Manly Wade Wellman is the  story of a musician finding an old hillbilly family who were celebrated in song; the devil who is bothering their daughter is the same man as the one who bothered their great-great grandmother; he has magically been enabled to live for 300 years ...

Experiment by Kay Rogers is a very short story about a Venusian falling in love with his slave girl (an earthling) even though Venusians don't love.

  • "A faint, slanting shadow lay along either cheek subtly pointing to her lips." (p 98)

Ward Moore's Lot was the best story of them all. A man is driving his fractious family along a grid-locked road away from his Los Angeles suburb after the Bomb has dropped. He has had the foresight to pack the station wagon with all the things necessary for survival (fish hooks, needles ...) But his wife is in complete denial. She wants to phone her friends although the phones are out. She wants to stop at a gas station with clean rest rooms and at a motel for a decent bath and a nice meal. The two boys (the sixteen year old fast turning into a juvenile delinquent and a younger lad) whinge away from the back. Only his daughter understands the gravity of the situation. And all the time the radio utters reassuring messages. This story about a family on the road was brilliant; Lot, fleeing from the destruction of the Cities of the Plain.

P M Hubbard's Manuscript found in a vacuum was a very short take off of A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille.

In The Maladjusted Classroom by H Nearing Jr a teacher in a military school solves a timetabling problem using the fourth dimension and a Klein bottle he has invented.

In Child by Chronos by Charles L Harness a woman, born after her father has disappeared, presumed dead, tells of her difficult relationship with a mother who makes a firtune by foretelling the future. A clever twist on time travel.

New Ritual by Idris Seabright is the story of a chest freezer with the power to grant wishes.

W B Ready's Devlin was almost unreadable. In fact I skipped lots. I think it was about the devil who arrived at a town without a piping band and helped the menfolk form such a band and then did a pied piper act.

Captive Audience by Ann Warren Griffith was the story that has (almost) come true! Little discs are placed in products by advertisers so that, after being triggered by radio, the products themselves advertise to you. Most people are hooked on this cacophony of inescapable advertising; it has actually been made illegal to possess earplugs.

In Snulbug by Anthony Boucher a wizard conjures up a time-travelling demon so that he can find out what is going to happen tomorrow and make a fortune, only to discover that time travel isn't that easy. A delightful characterisation of a surprisingly Yiddish salamander:

  • "The demon ... dived into the flame, rubbing himself with the brisk vigor of a man under a needle shower." (p 214)


Shepherd's Boy by Richard Middleton is a very short ghost story.

  • "Above me in the blue pastures of the sky the cloud-sheep were grazing, with the sun on their snowy backs, and all about me the gray sheep of earth were cropping the wild pansies" (p 230)


Alfred Bester's Star Light, Star Bright is a rather poorly written story with some extraordinarily unconvincing characters which was nevertheless nominated for a Hugo Award.

The stories are interspersed with poems, many by Winona McClintic. None of the poems floated my boat.

It was fascinating what the obsessions were in the science fiction community of those days (and also how much tolerance where was for alternatives such as ghost stories). There is a clear interest in plot rather than character which makes a strong contrast with short stories being written today. I bathed in nostalgia but I was rather disappointed by the quality. This collection is not as good as the Sixth collection which is reviewed here.

February 2018; 252 pages









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