by Gideon Marcus
What a tumultuous year this has been. War scares, pitched congressional fights, escalating civil rights conflicts, celebrity deaths…yes, I definitely can’t wait to see the back-side of 1962. It is easy to get caught up in the unceasing drone of bad news. That’s why, at times like these, it’s helpful to look back on the bright points of the year. For instance, segregation was dealt several blows in the South with schools across Dixie admitting their first Black students. The balloon did not go up over Laos, Berlin, or Cuba, thanks in part to the expert manuevering of our President. John Glenn showed that the pioneering spirit of America still soars high, and it is likely that humanity will have touched another world before the decade is out.
Science fiction, too, had some setbacks. Some of my favorite magazines suffered a distinct drop in quality this year. If you are a regular reader, you’ve experienced what must seem an unmitigated litany of complaint — after all, there were a lot of one and two-star stories.
But looking back on the last twelve months and cataloging just the good stuff, it is reassuring just how much of it there truly was. And so, I end 1962 on a bright note with the Galactic Stars — a summary of the very best this year had to offer scientifiction fans:
Vintage Wine, Doris Pitkin Buck (F&SF)
Buck’s vampiric poem was a shoo-in. There just wasn’t a lot of competition in this category this year. Perhaps fanzines are a better place to mine for material.
Best Vignette (1-9 pages):
Sword of Flowers, by Laurence P. Janifer (Fantastic)
This time, the serpent in the garden is a man.
Wonder as I Wander, Manly Wade Wellman (F&SF)
A set of tiny-tinies featuring the magical John the Balladeer.
Prelude to a Long Walk, Nils Peterson (F&SF)
And it was Good, A. Earley (Amazing)
The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass, Fred Pohl (Galaxy)
The Long Silvery Day, Magnus Ludens (Galaxy)
Best Short Story (10-19 pages):
April in Paris, Ursula K. Le Guin (Fantastic)
A story of time travel, love, and friendship.
Hawk in the Dusk, William Bankier (F&SF)
Karmic horror reaches…and redeems a bitter old man.
Snowbank Orbit, Fritz Leiber (IF)
Science and sacrifice ’round the Seventh Planet.
A City near Centaurus, Bill Doede (Galaxy)
A teleport to the nearest star leads to philosophical conflict between species.
To Lift a Ship, Kit Reed (F&SF)
A lovely piece on confinement and freedom.
The Garden of Time, J.G. Ballard (F&SF)
Victoria Silverwolf’s choice.
Best Novelette (20-45 pages)
The Ballad of Lost C’Mell, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)
The second time an Instrumentality tale has gotten a Star… and this one is better.
The 64-Square Madhouse, Fritz Leiber (IF)
One of the most plausible futures I’ve ever read — a must for chess-lovers… and everyone else.
Unholy Grail, Fritz Leiber (Fantastic)
The origin of the Grey Mouser, and a fantastic fantasy in Fantastic.
I note with interest that Fritz Leiber wrote some of my most and least favorite fiction of this year. But, to be fair, his misses may have been with me — others liked them.
Two closely related stories of a post-apocalyptic future.
Jonathan and the Space Whale, Robert F. Young (F&SF)
The Star Fisherman, Robert F. Young (Fantastic) [Victoria Silverwolf’s choice]
Plane Jane, Robert F. Young (Fantastic)
Note the common element?
Best Novella (46+ pages)
This category is normally populated by second-rate pieces, but this year, competition was stiff!
Listen! The Stars…, John Brunner (Analog)
Really excellent stuff. I understand Ace may novelize it; I’m interested to see what gets added.
The Dragon Masters, Jack Vance (Galaxy)
A close second, with some excellent art by Gaughan.
Mercenary, Mack Reynolds (Analog)
An interesting vision of a caste-based future where fighting is the only way to get ahead.
This one was tough. There were a lot of good books, but none that all of us agreed were the best. So, I will let several writers each submit favorites.
The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard: (Berkeley)
The twilight of humanity and the world after the sun heats up. Rose, Mark, and John all gave it highest marks.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux )
A life for the Stars, James Blish (Analog)
Secret Agent of Terra, John Brunner (Ace Books)
The Star Dwellers, James Blish (Analog)
A Plague of Pythons, Fred Pohl (Galaxy)
By Jove, Isaac Asimov (F&SF)
Theodore Sturgeon, Judith Merril (F&SF)
IF (3.03 stars; best story of the month, 0 times)
Fantastic (2.99 stars; best story of the month, twice)
Fantasy and Science Fiction (2.92 stars; best story of the month, four times)
Galaxy (2.85 stars; best story of the month, thrice)
Analog (2.73 stars; best story of the month, once (not counting serials))
Amazing (2.68 stars; best story of the month, once)
There was a general drop in quality for the magazines in 1962, though there was still plenty of stories worth reading. F&SF had the most woman authors, but since October, women have tended to be more represented elsewhere. This reflects both a drop in numbers in F&SF and an increase in other mags.
Leiber is hit and miss. But when he hits (and he hit twice this year), wow!
A prolific new author from Great Britain, Brunner has definitely already made his mark.
Best Dramatic Presentation
This wasn’t a great year for sf on screen. Even including the fantasy films, some of which we covered, some of which will be rounded up next month by Victoria Silverwolf, it was slim pickings. Still, there was some worthy stuff:
Excellence where one might have expected schlock.
A surprisingly effective super-low budget movie.
This lackluster third season nevertheless had two of our favorite episodes.
Aside from Galactic Journey (which was a nominee-runner up last year!) my favorite amateur mags were:
Kudos go to Al haLevy for (briefly) restarting Rhodomagnetic Digest. Sadly, it is unlikely that the revival will continue.
And that’s that! What a wonderful trip down memory lane. 1962 may have been a slog at times, but when you compile all the worthy works, all of a sudden, it don’t look so bad. Why not enjoy some of these lovelies as an early holiday gift?