(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1970 Ace edition)
I must confess, I generally skip the introductions to anthologies—even if they are written by my favorite authors who happen to be notable anthologists (Judith Merril, Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, etc.). While paging through various collections hunting for stories, I encountered Judith Merril’s micro-introduction to her famous New Wave anthology England Swings SF (1968). Here’s a list of the contents.
Although it is spread across three pages, it is only a few lines of text–a poetic beckoning, itself a condensed version of what the New Wave embodied. Merril’s intro as poem demonstrates literary invention, the blend of old (“scout ship”) and new (“heading out of sight into the multiplex mystery of inner/outer space”) images, and references to both high (“surrealism) and pop culture (“Beatles”).
It’s a terrible shame she wrote no science fiction in the late 60s. I would have devoured them. I’ll have to track down her introductions and essays instead.
How do you interact with introductions? Let me know in the comments!
25 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Interior Art: The Power of a Good Introduction (Judith Merril’s 1968 New Wave Anthology England Swings SF)”
I’ve been buying Merril’s anthologies when I can find them. I’ve gotten 9, 10, 11, 12, and SF: The Best of the Best. I’ve been keeping an eye out for England Swings SF. I had it back when it came out, but I’ve gotten rid of my books many times since then. I’m buying all the annual anthologies I can find because I’m reading them year by year. I’m only up to 1946, so I have time. I also bought her collection of book reviews on the Kindle and that biography on her. But haven’t read them yet.
And her introductions? Do you enjoy them? Do you read them before you read the stories?
But yeah, definitely a worthwhile anthologists…. and only slightly makes up for the fact that she wrote absolutely no SF in the late 60s — which drives me mad… I would have loved her take on the New Wave movement in its most formative moment.
Yes, I read her introductions, as well as introductions in general. Yesterday I bought Tales From Planet Earth, a collection of Arthur C. Clarke stories even though I already have them in The Collected Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke because I liked the introductions.
anthologies, single author collections, i don’t read the stories in the order they are presented in. If i read 3-4 stories and decide to read more, usually at that point i’ll read the introduction.
I rarely read in the exact order as well — I usually leave the most difficult or my least favorite authors for last… Depends!
For example, in New Dimensions 3 (which I recently reviewed and is an absolute must read — other than two stories) I left Lafferty for last — as I feel like he should be an author I adore but never really sync with…. I loved his story in this case! hah.
I usually start with the introduction all by itself one day, and let it percolate. I rarely find myself thinking of specific expectations from the introduction, but I try to let it get me in a frame of mind when I approach the stories. The one above would have me itching with anticipation, but also expecting that my immediate reaction to many of the stories wouldn’t be particularly strong. I’d read the anthology more slowly, expecting to do a story every day or two and sit with it for a while afterwards.
What do you do then if the introduction is a piece of crud? In this case, yeah, I have done the same thing — read the introduction and let it percolate… but so often, it would be easy to be put off by the introduction, when the real meat of the reading experience are the stories!
Every time I discover a used Judith Merril anthology, I always snap it up. Her editorial taste and breadth of selection amaze me, whenever I open one of her Year’s Best S-F books or England Swings SF. Her introduction to the latter is just about perfect for the New Wave, is it not?
Absolutely perfect — a distillation its the movement’s goals and characteristics…. the real reason why I created this post. Do you have any favorite stories from the anthology? I’ve read a few — but, when I encountered them in other collections, magazines, etc.
My hazy recollection (45 years on) points to Kyril Bonfiglioli’s “Blastoff” and Ballard’s “The Assassination of JFK Considered as a Downhill Motor Race.” But Pam Zoline’s “Heat Death of the Universe” is the story that I will be re-reading for the rest of my life.
Zoline’s Heat Death is one of my favorites… I reviewed it a while back in Best SF Stories in New Worlds 3 (1968) — https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2015/02/24/book-review-best-sf-stories-from-new-worlds-3-1968/
That appears to Bonfiglioli’s ONLY published short story — definitely decided to concentrate on editing SF….
I find reading introductions and forewords and afterwords and all that ancillary matter irresistible, even though it can be risky—sometimes they are full of spoilers or, in trying to sell you on a story actually do the opposite, or give you a distorted view of what a story is about or promote only one of several alternative readings and thus discourage you from constructing your own relationship with the story and the author. But reading intros and other front matter, good or bad, can be like getting a peek at the man behind the curtain (or the making of the sausage), providing you an idea of why and how an anthology or collection or magazine was put together. Some editors and foreword writers present clues about the nuts and bolts of SF history–what it takes to assemble stories and convince publishers and authors to provide the stories the editor wants–others offer insight into the intellectual history of SF, as detached historians discussing past developments or as partisans in the trenches of current controversies, praising their faves and denouncing their foes, making an impassioned case for what is good and what is bad in SF and why and how the field should change. The intro to Gerrold and Goldin’s Generation is a good example of a polemical intro, while the acknowledgments page to that volume enigmatically informs us that the stories were assembled in 1969, two or three years before the book was finally published in 1972, a testimony to the sort of obstacles that stand between SF writers and readers.
Some of my favorite intros and forewords are very personal, painting a picture of the writer’s own life and career and relationships with other writers. Malzberg loves to talk about his own career, and in his foreword to The Best of A. E. van Vogt he not only provides literary criticism of van Vogt, but, by directly comparing himself to our favorite Canadian scribbler, tells us how he thinks of his own career. I actually found Heinlein’s introduction to Godbody, the last novel by his recently deceased friend Ted Sturgeon, moving. And then there is Ellison’s intro to The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, in which he paints us a picture of himself “grooving” to a Jimi Hendrix recording at a party and maligns the unnamed wife of a SF “great” who dismissed Hendrix’s work as “noise.” Just like SF stories themselves, these intros are full of mysteries, questionable theories and opinions, and unreliable narrators who are pushing an agenda, and they can be just as challenging, surprising and fun.
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this particular Merril introduction so much — she didn’t introduce each story by giving away all their secrets or attempting an interpretation but rather conveyed the zeitgeist (lame word, but whatever) of the movement the collection embodied….
I should point out, that she has additional material introducing each story — but she tends to focus on who the author is rather than the contents of what they’re writing.
All of what you said, peering at the person behind the collection, makes me what to go back and read some of the introductions of my favorite previous collections — for examples Moorcock’s various intros in the Best SF Stories from New Worlds series I love so much (I don’t think I ever read more than his intros to the authors before each story).
Thanks for your comments! It’s great hearing your insight.
Moorcock’s intro to 2002’s Martian Quest, a collection of Leigh Brackett stories, is very good, full of thought-provoking and controversial opinions of authors, including but not limited to Brackett. A big reason I started reading E. C. Tubb was because Moorcock praised him in that essay.
Have you found that praise misguided? I’ve encountered a few Tubb short stories and they’ve been rather bland….
Moorcock was specifically praising the Dumarest novels, which, like the Brackett stories in that collection and Brackett’s famous Stark stories, are adventure stories starring a he-man who has to fight hand-to-hand on alien planets. Moorcock is right that the Dumarest tales are above average tales of that type. (I haven’t read many Tubb short stories, though I expect to some day.)
One of the things Moorock says in the essay that struck me as thought-provoking but questionable is claiming that Brackett had a significant influence on the New Wave.
The essay is actually available online at
I recommend it to pulp fans, sword and planet aficionados, and New Wave enthusiasts–basically anybody into 20th century SF or even 20th century pop culture, as Moorcock also talks about Westerns and detective fiction.
I’ll give it a read…. but yes, as with you I am somewhat suspicious of the claim that Brackett was a primary influence on the New Wave.
I’m keen to read the Moorcock, and intrigued by his suggestion that Brackett influenced the new wave.
As already mentioned, intros can be a mixed bag. But always, ALWAYS, read em last! What I’m perhaps more interested in, is what you think of sf poetry? Yes, no, NEVER!? (he says, having churned out the odd s-f-nal verse or three).
I’m not sure about SF poetry — but that’s generally how I feel about poetry…. I often skip them for the sake of reviewing purposes when I’ve encountered poems in New Worlds Anthologies. There are a few in Merril’s England Swings SF — perhaps I’ll give them more thought when I read it.
Do you have a favorite SF poem?
To be honest, I’m not sure either! A few years back I quite liked some of D.M. Thomas’ sf poetry. But on re-reading them later I was less impressed. I like hunting out sf like imagery and themes in other poems, particularly surrealist poetry. For instance, I think Rene Char’s Les Inventeurs has an sf vibe to it. Ballard for one picks up on the resonance between sf and surrealism. I’ll have a bit more of a think on this and get back to you. In the meantime, you can check out some of my sf poetry if you want… or not!
Thanks for the link!
I just reviewed a SF poem you might be interested in! I was not a huge fan but it relates to our discussion.
I’d also be willing to ship it to you (if you cover shipping).