More of The Best of the Best of Ballantine’s The Best of…
Compiled by Jeff Baker
From about 1974 through at least the late 80s, Ballantine Books published a series of over 22 (paperback and hardcover) “Best of” collections of the work of science-fiction writers, many from the “Golden Age” in the 30s and 40s, with a representative sampling of the work of some masters of the craft. Many of the authors were around to contribute an afterward to their books and the forwards were written by a friend or someone who had intimate knowledge of the author in question.
A while back I speculated about a “Best Of” collection of stories, one each, from these books that I collected in used stores in the 90s when I was studying short stories and hoping to write my own. This list counts as a sequel or second volume.
I am happily a retro writer, influenced by stories like the ones I read here.
“The Day is Done” by Lester del Rey. One of three very good Golden Age stories about an immortal Neanderthal I know of. Del Rey also collected some of his earlier stories in a Doubleday book (reissued as two Ballantine paperbacks) “The Early del Rey” where he provides a lot of background commentary about his career. Very encouraging to writers. (Del Rey later co-founded Del Rey books an important publisher of sci-fi and fantasy.)
“The Days of Perky Pat” by Phillip K. Dick. Another post-apocalyptic story by a somewhat apocalyptic writer. Dick’s stories and novels have been reissued all over. This one involves a game, rivalry and children who are more forward-looking than their elders.
“A Gun for Dinosaur” by L. Sprague de Camp. A time travel story written to poke a few holes in another author’s historically inaccurate vision of dinosaurs. De Camp was known for his meticulous research and fact-checking. And while his wit is dry it is there in almost all his fiction. De Camp wound up writing a whole book of stories based on time traveler Reggie Rivers; “Rivers of Time.”
“Surface Tension” by James Blish. Like a lot of younger readers I first heard of Blish from his books of authorized adaptions of Star trek scripts. He was one of the serious hard science writers of the genre who led a double life as a critic under a pen name.
“Old Faithful” by Raymond Z. Gallun about a very alien but nonetheless sympathetic extraterrestrial reminds me just a bit of the Weinbaum story I picked in the previous installment of this column. Gallun is one of the writers I had never heard of before I stumbled across his “Best of” collection in the short-story section of a used bookstore.
“The Taste of the Dish and the Savor of the Day” by John Brunner is one of the stories he wrote intending to break from the less-challenging science fiction he felt was being written at the time. A fine example from a master whose career was derailed by a stroke.
“Uncommon Sense” by Hal Clement. Clement is one of the other writers I had never heard of before I saw his name listed in another “Best Of” collection and I apparently was not alone in that. He was described in a review as one of the least-known of the authors in the series. He also specialized in hard science fiction and the story I selected was awarded a Retro Hugo Award in 1996.
“The Color out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft. Yes, there was a “Best of H. P. Lovecraft” published by Del Rey/Ballantine and I’ve seen it listed with the others I’ve mentioned here. This story was originally published in Amazing Stories and Lovecraft considered it one of his best. The full title of the 1982 collection is “The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.” And it’s great fun!
“Star Mouse” by Frederic Brown closes out my second imagined collection with a writer known for both mystery and science fiction as well as his quirky plot twists. The latter earned him comparisons to O. Henry. The title character of this story, a mutated mouse, is named Mitkey. Yes. I could have picked Brown’s story “Arena,” which was adapted (without pay!) for the original “Star Trek.” Brown’s work appeared in the pulps including the legendary magazine “Unknown.”
So that’s it! I think this would make a great anthology. The original series was drawn from writers Ballantine had in their catalog and was also self-promotional but very good. They may be phasing out paperbacks but an e-book could be wonderful!