Book Review: World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 (variant title: World’s Best Science Fiction: Third Series), ed. Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1967)

(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1970 edition)

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Philip K. Dick. Roger Zelazny. Bob Shaw. Michael Moorcock. R. A. Lafferty. Seldom do I say that a “best of” anthology includes a large number of the best stories of the year. From PKD’s artificial memories to Bob Shaw’s slow glass,  World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 (1967) contains both fascinating technological marvels and serious character-centered storytelling. While not all the stories are successful, I highly recommend this collection for fans of 60s SF.

Note: I reviewed both Roger Zelazny stories elsewhere—I have linked and quoted my original reviews.

Brief Analysis/Plot Summary

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), novelette by Philip K. Dick, 4.5/5 (Very Good): Made First Ballot for the 1967 Nebula for Best Short Story. The vast majority of my PKD consumption—I own all his short fiction and a large number of his novels—occurred before I started my website in 2010. I’ve reviewed a few of his lesser known works—Dr. Futurity (1960), The Man Who Japed (1956), and The Penultimate Truth (1964)—since then. And “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” remained vivid in my memory. My recent reread reinforces both my youthful fascination with PKD’s surreal paranoia but also my continued frustration with his bad to vaguely average prose.

The plot will be familiar to fans of Total Recall (1990) as the story served as the source material. Douglas Quail dreams of Mars: “he could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world” (9). Taking drastic action, he signs up for the memory implementation services provided by Rekal, Incorporated who promise that he will believe he went on a trip to Mars (which is far beyond his means). The technicians at the facility discover that Douglas, under the influence of various truth serums, most likely has already gone to Mars! Levels of paranoia, confusion over the nature of reality, and PKD’s adept use of minor details create a compelling admixture that ultimately rises above the corny “truth” behind his experience.

First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966, ed. Edward L. Ferman.

“Light of Other Days” (1966), short story by Bob Shaw, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Nominated for the 1967 Nebula and Hugo for Best Short Story. My second favorite story in the anthology forces me to reassess my views on Bob Shaw’s SF.

Part of his Slow Glass sequence of stories gathered together six years later in the fix-up novel Other Days, Other Eyes (1972), “Light of Other Days” places a SF technology—glass that slows down the passage of light—into a richly moving story about the power of memory. The narrator and his wife arrive at a slow glass store in remote Scotland and decide to buy panes for their own house. The windows of the store, installed with the glass, suggest a bucolic and peaceful existence as they slowly play forth images from the store owner’s past. But they learn that behind the glass a different existence transpires, an existence shrouded with sadness and loss. And this glimpse allows the narrator and his wife, potentially, to navigate their own strife—or at the very least reinforce the possibility of rekindling their connection.

Affective without being saccharine and the imagery is beautiful….

First appeared in Analog Science Fiction, August 1966, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr.

(John Schoenherr’s cover for Analog Science Fiction, August 1966)

“The Keys of December” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good): Reviewed previously here. Nominated for the 1968 Nebula for best Novelette.  The death of a world parallels the creation of another.  Within this poetic cyclicality, Zelazny weaves a poignant love story between two individuals desperate to create a life for both themselves and their people with cataclysmic ramifications.  Jarry Dark was born of “man and woman” (23) but genetically modified (“Catform Y7” + “Coldworld Class”) for life on a cold planet that no longer exists after an encounter with a nova.  Wards of General Mining, Jarry grows up alone in a tank connected via interlink to others of his kind—and he falls in love with Sanza.  They decide to acquire and transform a new world… Terraforming devices are purchased, cold sleep pods deployed, and wake intervals decided upon.  As their new world slowly dies thus creating an environment the Catforms can live in, they trigger sentience in beings beyond the walls of their enclosure that holds their cold sleep pods.  Jarry, remembering his own suffering, proclaims their actions a crime!

Zelazny’s story is possessed by poeticism and beauty as the cat forms observe the death (transformation) of the world around them…  Their plight, trapped in their tanks, generates palpable emotion, as does the slow transformation of their new world.

“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966), short story by R.A. Lafferty 5/5 (Masterpiece): My favorite story in the collection—and the most resonate Lafferty SF work I’ve read yet.

Take a serious theme, the creation of the world, and reduce the vastness of the question (“How Did It All Begin?”) into a metaphoric  scenario to tease out some greater meaning…. Arthur C. Clarke did it to great effect in “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) and Lafferty does it here.

Ceran Swicegood, a “promising young Special Aspects Man” (65), arrives on the inhabited asteroid Proavitus (66). The people on the asteroid seem to be all rather young, the old nowhere in sight. Ceran discovers that no one seems to die but rather grow smaller and smaller, and sleepier and sleepier. And the ancestors are placed within the houses of the young. And the ancestors claim to know the answer to “How Did It All Begin” (67). Ceran, youthful and desperate for answers, journeys backward in time (metaphorically) waking the sleeping ancestors and asking each the question. But as with Borges and his library, this physical manifestation of eternity and infinity is no more forthcoming and transparent than our own.

First appeared in If, February 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl

“Bircher” (1966), novelette by A.A. Walde, 3/5 (Average): Walde’s only short story show promise but fails to deliver on its tantalizing murder investigation premise. A people-hating homicide investigator works in a far future metropolis (stretching across the Atlantic coast) where murder is almost non-existent due to technology that helps facilitate investigations: “Robots were handy: they could pick up a specimen without contaminating it with their own life processes” (83). And a murder transpires—“Violent murder. Abdominal stab wound, marks of beating. Precise cause of death undetermined. Found by robot in warehouse area” (82)—and advanced technology doesn’t seem to be able to figure out the culprit.

Fantastic premise. I won’t ruin the ending but the explanation pains and diminishes what could have been a  riveting SF take on the crime genre.

First appeared in If, July 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl

(Gray Morrow’s cover for If, July 1966)

“Behold the Man” (1966), novella by Michael Moorcock. Won the 1968 Nebula for Best Novella: 4.5/5 (Very Good): A mature and thought-provoking work by Moorcock that entwines flashbacks and SF time travel (to the era of Christ) with a focus on character. The novella was extended to novel length in 1969.

The theological underpinnings propelling Moorcock’s story center on the position that “the idea [of Christ] preceded actuality of Christ” as opposed to the more historicist proposition that “the actuality of Jesus preceded the idea of Christ” (128). Via time travel Moorcock’s creates a narrative fleshing out the former notion. Karl, a Jew and proponent of Jung, argues incessantly with his partner Monica. Karl, like Jung, attempts to rationalize his own mystical tendencies while Monica firmly touts science and “rationalism” over any suggestion of religion. For her, Jesus might have existed but Christianity was applied to him rather than embodied within the man.

At any moment Moorcock’s increasingly obvious parallels between Karl’s intellectual (and physical) suffering and Christ’s could have been overdone and preposterous. Rather, the intellectually rigorous (if simplified for storytelling reasons) questions tie everything together in a compelling manner. 

Count me pleasantly surprised!

How does it compare to the novel?

First appeared in New Worlds SF, September 1966, ed. Michael Moorcock

(Keith Roberts’ cover for New Worlds SF, September 1966)

“Bumberboom” (1966), novelette by Avram Davidson, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): Davidson subverts standard concepts of “dark ages” in far future “medieval” worlds where technology becomes an arcane and forgotten skill. At first glance nothing about the story suggested anything other than a young male discovers technology and transforms society tale à la Poul Anderson’s Vault of the Ages (1952). Mallian, son of the “High Man to the Hereditor of Land Qanaras” (164), discovers that operators of the large cannon  named Bumberboom have forgotten how the device—whose mere name strikes terror—even operates. After he subdues Bumberboom’s attendants with his superior intellect, Mallian, with the assistance of an apothecary, figures out how to create gunpowder. But will an arcane piece of technology really be able to resurrect the centralized state?

A twist ending suggests far more than what is laid out—a moment of potential that recedes as a historical footnote into the past? Or a society so decayed that “resurrection” is not possible?

First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1966, ed. Edward L. Ferman

(Howard Purcell’s cover for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1966)

“Day Million” (1966), short story by Frederik Pohl, 4/5 (Good): Here’s a story that would have shocked readers back in 1966—and although you won’t be shocked now it’s hard to escape Pohl’s fascinating intentions. Told with fabulist touches that place the reader as the narrator: “On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about ten thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story” (198). And the love story isn’t between a genetically male boy and a girl but a genetically male person (Dora) who undergoes a sex change and a boy (Don). It’s a far future awash with physical modifications. Dora decides to have the sex change because “sex had long been dissociated from reproduction” (200). And in Day Million people “did it often, on purpose, because they wanted to” (200).

I am not a scholar of gender in SF but “Day Million” should be included in any class on the topic. And Pohl’s views seem remarkably progressive (the story still feels like it was written in the 60s): “Wouldn’t we? If we find a child with an aptitude for music we give him a scholarship to Julliard. If they found a child whose attitudes were for being a woman, they made him one” (199-200). Pohl firmly argues that gender is fluid and socially constructed.

First appeared in Rogue, Feb/March 1966 and SF Impulse, October 1966

“The Wings of a Bat” (1966), novelette by Pauline Ashwell (as Paul Ash), 3/5 (Bad): I find it slightly confusing why Pauline Ashwell’s story made the 1967 Nebula First ballot for best Novelette—this collection certainly includes many examples of more deserving short fictions.

Time Displacement (time travel) allows companies like the Mining and Processing Branch of Cretaceous Minerals, Inc. to exist. Little people, to save energy, are sent into the distant past to harvest important minerals. The narrator, a doctor who spends most of their time putting together a weekly newspaper (The Chalk Age Gazette), tells the story of a co-worker who brings in a sick baby pterodactyl for treatment. And it’s up the doctor, who proclaims to hate them, to attempt to feed and treat it—lengthy scenes of often hilarious attempts to impersonate a pterodactyl mother follow.

For fans of dinosaur SF only.

First appeared in Analog Science Fiction, May 1966

(John Schoenherr’s cover for Analog Science Fiction, May 1966)

“The Man from When” (1966), short story by Dannie Plachta, 2/5 (Bad): Dannie Plachta published twelve stories in various SF magazine venues between 1965 and 1970. Unfortunately “The man from When” is two page flash story that fails to make any impression. Mr. Smith, about to mix a drink, is interrupted by a thunderous explosion. Engaging in conversation with the time traveler that appears, Mr. Smith learns the ramifications of the journey. There’s a simple brittleness to the story but there’s nothing remarkable or moving to grab onto.

First appeared in If, July 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl

“Amen and Out” (1966), short story by Brian W. Aldiss, 4/5 (Good): Aldiss’ satires are more often than not worthy reads. “Amen and Out” jabs, without malice (but lots of laughs), at religion and science and morality… In the far future everyone has access to the words of the Almighty Gods in the form of talking altars. Altars that are only too happy to point out humanity’s flaws: “But try to remember how you offered the same prayer yesterday, and then spent your day pleasing yourself” (232). In addition to the fabulous technology of the “Gods” the “Immortality Investigation Project” allows humans to survive, ensconced in the womb-like Wethouse, far beyond normal lifespans. The reason: keeping a handful of humans alive might result in their ability to generate technological ideas. But the ancient humans are more interested in sleeping. And one of the ancient humans confesses they did come of up with one good idea—the Almighty Gods. The immortal  are lazy too!

As with the PKD’s story, Aldiss puts an ingenious and witty spin on standard SF tropes (in this case immortality and religion).

Recommended.

First appeared in New Worlds, August 1966

“For a Breath I Tarry” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good): Nominated for the 1967 Hugo and Made First Ballot for the Nebula for Best Novelette. Reviewed previously here.

Zelazny’s ability to mythologize SF premises strikes gold again.  Mankind is gone, artifacts remain scattered across a globe controlled by two computers (Solcom in orbit and Divcom deep within).  The computers order their mechanical agents to create humankind’s cities (and destroy each other’s creations in a continuous contest over who is to “preserve” humankind).  Solcom’s agent Frost (created in a moment of abnormal solar flares), who controls the northern reaches, desires to become man.  He makes a deal to switch sides to “You-Who-Never-Should-Have-Been-Activated” (Divcom) if his circuits indicate “he” has lost hope in becoming man.  Zelazny weaves a poetic and archetype-heavy tale on what it means to be human.

First appeared in New Worlds, March 1966, ed. Michael Moorcock

(Uncredited cover for New Worlds, March 1966)

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

34 thoughts on “Book Review: World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 (variant title: World’s Best Science Fiction: Third Series), ed. Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1967)”

  1. I’ve read about half of these stories in other collections. The Keys to December is great. You’ve reminded me that I should read more of Zelazny’s shorts. And may I recommend Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts… (you may!)?

    1. Is Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts as reflective as “Light of Other Days” (1966). I’ve noticed in the other Shaw stories I’ve read an inability to step back and reflect seriously on a topic. And of course, “Light of Other Days” managed to do so — hence the 5/5!

      1. I’ve read Light of Other Days but it hasn’t stayed with me like The Ragged Astronauts. The latter is by no means a “great” sf work (however one measures such nebulous qualities) but it is certainly a solid piece of story telling. The world building is good, and the conceit of wooden spaceships is nice. I’ve read the two sequels but they are progressively less interesting than the first.
        I haven’t read a tonne of Shaw. Apart from a few short stories and Orbitsville and The Palace of Eternity. Orbitsville was less interesting than I hoped (exploring an alien Dyson sphere!) – in fact I recall it dribbling off into Dullsville. I enjoyed The Palace of Eternity more but remember little about it now more than a decade later.

      2. The only other wood spaceship story I’ve read is that miserable one we talked about recently by Barrington J. Bayley 😉 haha

        …speaking of which, I want to read more of Bayley’s short fictions!

        While I was wandering around Scotland this summer I nabbed a copy of The Palace of Eternity (which I featured in a recent post): https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/updates-recent-science-fiction-acquisitions-no-clxxx-the-scotland-edition-no-2-ballard-wyndham-shaw-aldiss/

      3. Bayley’s short fiction is where it’s at Bayleywise, but I’m still fond of his longer efforts. I look forward to any future discussion of yours re The Palace of Eternity.

      1. 5 of 12, so not quite half! The ones that have stuck with me are The Keys of December and Behold the Man, but I am fond of the PKD and the Pohl, even if I barely remember much about Day Million (time for a reread methinks).

    1. I’d love to know why you’re a firm believer in “best of books.” I not sure I am, but, in this particular collection the quality was high.

      And any favorite stories in the collection?

      1. Mostly because a lot of good fiction gets published in smaller magazines and people can’t subscribe to everything. I subscribe to three sci-fi mags but don’t always get a chance to read them. If a Best of book has a good editor you can see a variety of styles, most good and some bad, all new.

      2. I think there are three (probably more!) different issues at play — 1) the necessity to gather good short fiction as there’s so much 2) the need to point people towards good SF, especially those who are learning about the genre or reading a new era of SF, etc. 3) the claim that it’s the “best SF” of the year, etc. Obviously I agree with the first two! Anthologies are wonderful for this very reason — it’s time consuming and difficult to track down all the old magazines. That said, I have serious more meta (I guess?) concerns with claims of something being the “best” because it tends to reinforce very stringent ideas of what is canon, what is SF, and what is not.

        I explore the later point here: https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/updates-recent-science-fiction-acquisitions-no-gerrold-reed-lewin-anthology-of-european-non-english-language-sf/

  2. I philosophically don’t believe in “The Year’s Best” or “The Year’s Worst” lists, or awards of any kind. Well, at least for things like literature or music. It really does come down to preferences. But, I guess, an anthology call “My Favorite Science Fiction Stories Of The Year That I’ve Read, So Far” really wouldn’t sell well. I tend to treat these type of books as just another anthology, and just settle in for good read.

    Liked all of the covers this time around, well, except for the New Worlds one, which looked like something out of a kiddie illustrated book.

  3. I first read “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” in “The Preserving Machine”,which like most of those in there,made a very big impression on me at the time.I had only been reading his stuff for up to a year then.I think you’re right in grading it below a near masterpiece standard though,despite it’s merits.He has wrote noticably better short pieces.Considering the sheer volume of short stories he wrote though,he did well to produce so many even at that level.

    I read “Behold the Man” during my early SF reading days,and it made an enormous impression on me at the time,unlike the few I’d read of his more sundry fare.It opened my mind to the riches that science fiction could contain.I envy you a bit that you’ve read the short version.Very nice cover by Keith Roberts though.Like that blue and white background against the darkness of the foreground.Very moody and haunting.

    “The Keys to December” I read last year in the collection “The Doors of His Eyes,the Lamps of His Mouth”,but already don’t recall what it was about.I haven’t read “For a Breath I Tarry”.

      1. I wonder what the shorter version is like,if it’s better,ect.I think you might have benefited.The comment below seems to reinforce this.I didn’t know any different then and it was new to me.I’d be more critical now.

        I agree with your assessment of Keith Roberts’s art.

  4. Way back in the 70s when I was a teenager, I read the short version of “Behold the Man”. I was so impressed with it that I purchased the full length version – still not very long, only about 150 paperback pages. My memory is that I disliked the longer version – extra material added nothing to the premise and just bulked it out. There is a “sequel” entitled “Breakfast in the Ruins” in which Glogauer has a night in bed with a black man and, in between their conversations and love making, there are a number of stories covering significant moments in the 20th century – WW1, prohibition, WW2, Mau Mau rebellion, My Lai, etc. Glogauer appears as a character in each of these stories. There are also “What Would You Do?” sections, in which a situation is outlined and the reader is given a choice as to how to resolve the situation with three or four different options. I suspect Moorcock was trying to link Glogauer the Christ figure with his eternal champion stuff and with Jerry Cornelius but I am afraid it all rather passed me by!

    1. As I’ve been slowly working my way towards a “favorite SF novels of the 70s list” (perhaps it’ll only reside in my head) the novel version has been on my radar. But, and we are in agreement, I can’t see it padded out into a novel! Then again, I might have said the same thing about one of my favorite novels—Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station (1968). It was a fantastic novel based on what I surmise (haven’t read it) was a fantastic shorter work.

      As for the sequel, an intriguing premise—especially as one of my undergraduate history projects involved tracking the immediate reaction in the major newspapers of the day regarding the My Lai massacre.

  5. Hi

    Wow a great collection regardless of the title. Light of Other Days as you say is a masterpiece. Oddly I have yet to read the Dick even though I am a big fan, I will have to read that and the Lafferty. Day Million was quite a surprise the first time I read it more like a Cordwainer Smith than a story I would associate with Pohl. Zelzany has written some great short fiction and I quite liked The Keys of December. I tried the Moorcock as a novel but I was not loving it, I can no longer remember why, I may try the short story. Overall I was impressed with the quality of the titles it was a great year.

    1. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t enjoy the PKD story — especially if you’re already a fan of his surreal paranoia (in this case, laced with longing and nostalgia).

      What did you ultimately think of Pohl’s Day Million? The narrator, who can’t quit believe what he’s telling, stands in for the unbelieving reader — Sturgeon did this very effectively in Venus Plus X.

  6. Hi

    I have to say I liked Day Million but I now think I should reread it in light of current events. Even a few years ago when I read it, the issues of gender, sexuality and identity, were not projected onto the news, social consciousness and my personal consciousness as they are today. A lot of SF looks at societal, structures and identities which is why the use of aliens, clones or the inhabitants of the far future can provide such interesting metaphors or analogs for individuals or institutions today. Now I am starting to see a lot of the social battles I thought we had won
    are still being fought and since I view more and more of the world around me through the lens of science fiction I do like to see how other people approached these topics in their work. I agree with you that this story was ahead of its time and I suspect that I would get more out of it today than I did the first time.

    I have the Dick story here and will reread it today if all goes well.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

  7. Hi

    Finished the Dick and the Pohl. I liked the Dick, as always but the Pohl blew me away on rereading. I read it in Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction and in his introduction to the story Gunn said it was the best short story Pohl ever wrote. I would not be surprised it was really progressive but also crammed with ideas and had a great far future setting.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

    1. I’m glad the Pohl impressed you! I really should read more of his early short fictions — I have numerous collections of his. Do you have any other favorite short fictions of his?

      1. Have you read the novel version of Shaw’s story? I wish copies were cheaper online.

        I have a frustrated relationship (hah) with Simak. I enjoyed City as a kid (haven’t read it in more than a decade) but I’ve disliked some of his 70s novels.

        That said, if you haven’t read Simak’s Why Call them Back from Heaven? (1967), you must! https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/book-review-why-call-them-back-from-heaven-clifford-d-simak-1967/

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