Anthopology 101: Time, and Time Again

The years 1952-3 were eventful. England sang out "The King is dead! Long live the queen;" Ralph Ellison wrote about invisibility; Eisenhower was in, Stalin was out way out; Watson and Crick figured out that human genetics were really twisted; the Odd Couple of Nepal, Hillary and Norgay, found themselves at the top with nowhere to go but down; the Soviets said "tanks" to the East Berliners, who did not say "you're welcome;" the Rosenbergs went the way of Sacco and Vanzetti and others who pissed off the wrong people; the Korean War ended, the Cold War got a kick in the ass from a Soviet H-bomb test, and Hemingway copped a Pulitzer for a book about a fish. Oh yeah, I was born exactly a year before the Korean Armistice was signed, if anyone's interested.

Anthopologically, John Kendall Crossen gave us both Adventures in Tomorrow and Future Tense; William Tenn produced his only anthology, Children of Wonder; Bleiler & Dikty did Imagination Unlimited; noted juvenile sf author Milton Lesser gave us Looking Forward; in addition to the one we'll look at this time, the indefatigable Groff Conklin managed to produce four other books; John Carnell told us there was No Place Like Earth; no less a writer than Fletcher Pratt showed us The Petrified Planet; Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds celebrated with A Science Fiction Carnival; and the usual magazine suspects produced collections, including Astounding, Galaxy, F&SF, and Startling. In addition, Fred Pohl inaugurated his respected original anthology series, Star Science Fiction.

In fact, these two years saw a plethora of anthologies, more than 45 of them by divers hands. It's a rich vein, indeed. But this time around, we'll only look at two of them, both from the same publisher.

Doubleday wanted very much to have their own paperback imprint rather than letting those potentially lucrative rights go to another publisher, so in 1948 they created Perma Books (it was sold to Pocket six years later).

Originally, they intended to produce not only paperbacks, but paperback-sized hard covers bound in laminated boards. Nothing as elaborate as Ballantine's little hard covers, or the Viking Portable Library series, just something that could sell for a few cents more than the average paperback and stand up to heavier use. They mostly used this for non-potboiler work, such as collections of famous quotes and the like, but they did do the occasional popular title as well, including Groff Conklin's 1950 anthology, The Science Fiction Galaxy. They also published the first paperback edition of Clifford Simak's City, Ace Books notwithstanding.

This eases us into the two books we'll be looking at this time around, Conklin's Crossroads in Time and Fred Pohl's Beyond the End of Time. (Get it? Time, and Time again? HAH! And Mary insists my jokes aren't funny.) Bookwise, it was fairly early on for both editors; although Conklin had begun anthologizing sf in 1946, this was only his second mass market title, and BtEoT would be Pohl's first anthology under his own name1, and the first of two he would do for Perma Books.2

Between the two hefty paperbacks, there are 37 stories, 719 pages of prime rib sf, all for a mere 70¢. Beat that with a stick. All the masters are there: Asimov, Heinlein, Leinster (twice), Simak, Bradbury. All the best magazines are represented: Astounding , Galaxy, Planet Stories, even Colliers.

You don't have to take my word for it, though. Here's the contents of the Pohl, since it came first:

Introduction - Frederik Pohl
"The Embassy" - Martin Pearson
"The Hunted" - John D. MacDonald
"Heredity" - Isaac Asimov
"The Little Black Bag" - C. M. Kornbluth
"The Lonely Planet" - Murray Leinster
"Operation Peep" - John Wyndham
"Let the Ants Try" - James MacCreigh
"There Will Come Soft Rains" - Ray Bradbury
"Scanners Live in Vain" - Cordwainer Smith
"Such Interesting Neighbors" - Jack Finney
"Bridge Crossing" - Dave Dryfoos
"Letter from the Stars" ["Dear Pen Pal"] - A. E. van Vogt
"Love in the Dark" ["Love Ethereal"] - Horace L. Gold
"Obviously Suicide" - S. Fowler Wright
"Beyond Doubt" - Robert A. Heinlein (as by Lyle Monroe) & Elma Wentz
"Death Is the Penalty" - Judith Merril
"Rock Diver" - Harry Harrison
"Stepson of Space" - Raymond Z. Gallun
"Rescue Party" - Arthur C. Clarke

I count at least six classics there, and several more that come close. Certainly the Bradbury, the Smith and the Kornbluth have been collected over and over. This was the first time the Smith and Kornbluth had appeared in book form, although they'd be reprinted dozens of times later. In point of fact, with the exceptions of the Bradbury and the Clarke, BtEoT represents the first time any of these stories were reprinted. Of the nineteen, four came from Campbell's Astounding , three from the short-lived Suspense, and another three from Pohl's own tenure at Astonishing. Add a smattering of Colliers, a touch of Galaxy, and a soupçon of Thrilling Wonder and The Arkham Sampler and you've got a tasty little pot of stew, indeed. Note that the earliest story, the Gallun, dates from 1940, and the most recent from the year before the book was published.

So, could Pohl pick 'em, or could he pick 'em? I say he could pick 'em. He also somehow managed to convince Heinlein to allow him to reprint one of his famed "three stinkeroos," this one written in collaboration with one Elma Wentz, whom RAH had almost certainly met while he was involved with Upton Sinclair's EPIC (she was Sinclair's secretary), and whose husband, Roby, ran Heinlein's 1938 political campaign.

Of course, to begin with, Pohl had bought the story for Astonishing after it was rejected by Campbell, and that certainly may have been the reason he included it. After all, if you think it's good enough to go in your magazine, why balk at adding it to your first anthology? And, tell the truth and shame the Devil, it hardly rates as anyone's "stinkeroo;" it just wasn't to Campbell's taste, and at this early stage in Heinlein's career, he was relying perhaps too much on the Astounding editor's taste instead of his own, as researcher Bill Patterson speculates:

"Beyond Doubt" was one of the three unsold stories ([with] "My Object All Sublime," and "Pied Piper"), written in Spring and Summer of 1939 that he referred to as "stinkeroos" in correspondence with Fred Pohl in early 1941; although the three stories do vary somewhat in quality, I think that judgment was based purely on the fact that he had not been able to sell them....As late as 1941, Heinlein doesn't really have a good idea why some stories sell and others don't....At the time he wrote the letter [to Pohl] that refers to the three "stinkeroos," all he had to go on was that they must be bad because they had not sold. Heinlein's conscious grasp of story technique was very spotty until after WWII.

Pohl certainly didn't agree with Heinlein about this story. He bought it not just once, but twice: "I picked the Heinlein-Wentz story because I'd been the original magazine editor to publish it, and also because I thought the recently arrived members of the legion of Heinlein fans might like to see what he was like when he was learning his trade."

As to why this is RAH's only collaboration, and why it's only been reprinted twice after its initial appearance, Patterson goes on to say, "...keeping track of any paying out funds from collaborative efforts got to be more trouble than it was worth -- particularly after Elma divorced Roby Wentz and remarried..." (This is, of course, the kind of utterly useless trivia we bibliographers live for.)

It should be noted that, although Pohl did use a number of his clients' stories, he waived his commission on them as he would with the Star series.

Now, the Conklin:

Introduction - Groff Conklin
"Assumption Unjustified" - Hal Clement
"The Eagles Gather" - Joseph E. Kelleam
"The Queen's Astrologer" - Murray Leinster
"'Derm Fool'" - Theodore Sturgeon
"Courtesy" - Clifford D. Simak
"Secret" - Lee Cahn
"Thirsty God" - Margaret St. Clair
"The Mutant's Brother" - Fritz Leiber
"Student Body" - F. L. Wallace
"Made in U.S.A." - J. T. McIntosh
"Technical Advisor" - Chad Oliver
"Feedback" - Katherine MacLean
"The Cave" - P. Schuyler Miller
"Vocation" - George O. Smith
"The Time Decelerator" - A. MacFadyen, Jr.
"Zen" - Jerome Bixby
"Let There Be Light" - H. B. Fyfe
"The Brain" - W. Norbert (pesud. Of Norbert Weiner)

Note that five of the eighteen stories in this book came out the same year the book was released; this is quick publishing, indeed. Conklin must have tossed those stories to the editors at Perma on the fly, as it were.

Here we have Conklin acting against type: as a rule, he looked pretty far field for his stories, combing the non-genre sources as well as the pulps. But in CiT, he sticks close to home, with more than half the contents coming from the Campbell magazines, three from Galaxy, two from F&SF, and one each from Thrilling Wonder, If, and the lone outsider, Technical Engineering News (this last the Norbert Weiner story).

But this is also fairly typical Conklin, too, as he manages to choose perfectly good stories by good authors that are nevertheless a bit more obscure, especially today: of the eighteen stories, only four (Sturgeon, Wallace, McIntosh and Miller) have been anthologized with any frequency, and many are reprinted here for the first and only time.

If his net wasn't cast as widely as Pohl's, it was certainly cast more deeply, with the earliest story here from 1936 and the book covering sixteen years to Pohl's ten. Interestingly enough, while we're comparing the two books, only one author Murray Leinster appears in both.

The introductions to these two books are pretty generic and non-committal where the stories themselves are concerned. Pohl refers to the stories, albeit obliquely in the process of defining science fiction, and the only story Conklin mentions in his intro is not even in the book.

(Of course, there's no real reason why the intros have to address the contents. In fact, many don't, opting instead to present the editor's overview of the field as a whole and, with perfect justification, allowing the stories to speak for themselves. It would just make my job easier if they included a page or so about the process, that's all.)

Neither of these two books is ground-breaking (except in the sense that Beyond the End of Time broke new ground for Pohl's career as an anthologist) or cutting-edge, and as I said above, they were only two of dozens of anthologies of varying quality that were published in that 24-month period. Nor were either of these editors exactly new to the business; Conklin had been reading sf since the '30s, and Pohl had been one of the original Futurians.

But a book doesn't need to break new ground or define an edge in order to be a good read, and although both Conklin and Pohl had done much prior to these anthologies (and would do far much more afterwards), they would not often top the level of enjoyment and pleasure that they gave us in these two unfairly obscure titles. Published at a time when it was still possible to find good, solid stories (some of which would go on to be considered classics) from almost twenty years before that had never been reprinted, Crossroads in Time and Beyond the End of Time are not only interesting as artifacts (with terrific cover art!) but are absolutely delightful ways to while away a few hours as well.

As I write this, there are several dozen copies of both available on-line for as little as a few dollars. Go ahead and buy them instead of a six-pack of that cheap beer that's always on sale at the Quikee-Mart. You'll have a better time, a smaller waistline, and no hangover.

1A year earlier he'd ghosted Heinlein's Tomorrow the Stars with then-wife Judith Merril for Walter Bradbury at Doubleday. That book led directly to his two Perma titles.

2I should point out that this was Conklin's third of four books for Perma, the others being The Science Fiction Galaxy (1950), In the Grip of Terror (1951), and Operation Future (1955).