The Annual 1978 World’s Best SF

November 14th, 2009

February 12, 2009

I went to work one morning, but I left my book at home. I reached into the back seat of the truck (piled high with junk) and found this book. I must have picked it up at a garage sale. It is ex Libras from the Ridgewood New Jersey High school and has a nice laminated cover so it is great for carrying around in your back pocket. I only wish the book was as good as its laminated cover.

Donald A. Wollheim (DAW Books) collected 10 short stories and Novellas from the 1978 crop of magazines. Most were from Mercury Press, who owned The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the rest were from Conde Nast, which I think was both Analog and Asimov’s. Wollheim published annual "best of" anthologies for almost 20 years.

This batch of stories are all decent enough, but can be categorized as clever rather than intriguing. I found them all disappointing and one of them I could not even finish. In the words of an F&SF rejection slip: they did not grab.

There was one exception. I thoroughly enjoyed Joan Vinge’s story Eyes of Amber. I only wish that it was longer. Eyes of Amber won the 1977 Hugo for best Novelette and totally deserved it. The story is about a aliens on Titan, one of Saturn’s Moons. The aliens are great characters. One of the aliens communicates with the human characters by using a probe that landed on Titan. The human protagonist is a linguist that uses a music synthesizer to talk with the alien protagonist. Similar in some ways to Clement’s A Mission of Gravity, Eyes of Amber has aliens that are more real than their human counterparts. I found myself drawn into the alien plot and wondering how the human was going to interact with it. It was a great read and stood out as the best in the bunch.

I wonder if the collection is so bad because 1978 was a bad year for stories or if Wollheim just had very different taste than my own. I really dislike it when a story is merely clever and you wind up not caring about the protagonist, but it seemed that this was the common fault in most of these stories. It might just be Wollheim’s taste. I would not like to think that 1978 was a bad year for stories.

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