I picked up a copy of The 8th Annual of the Year's Best SF in a used bookstore a couple of years ago, and recently re-read it. It was published in 1963, so the stories represent the best of 1962 — at least in the opinion of Judith Merril, the editor. It contains twenty-eight stories, plus a "Summation" essay by Merril and a roundup of the year's books by Anthony Boucher.
Let's look inside and see what 1962 has to offer. As with earlier efforts, I will use a four-star rating scheme.
The first story is "The Unsafe Deposit Box" by Gerald Kersh, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. That's an important detail right there: the Post was a national general-interest magazine, a very well-paying market. About the only equivalent today is The New Yorker, and they seldom publish science fiction. I suspect that's why Merril put this one right at the front, to show off how respectable and mainstream science fiction had become, at the height of the Space Race era.
The story itself is . . . of its time. It's a Wacky Inventor story, which I've already mentioned as a deservedly extinct sub-genre of science fiction. This Wacky Inventor is a British alumnus of the Manhattan Project, and his invention is a packet of something called "Fluorine 80+" which under the right conditions could have enough explosive power to destroy the Earth. Being Wacky, he accidentally leaves it in his safe-deposit box at the bank in the French Riviera resort town where he's staying — and of course being sealed up in an armored vault turns out to be exactly the conditions requires to turn Fluorine 80+ into a doomsday weapon. So the Wacky Inventor must work with a Russian friend (GET THE MESSAGE YET?) to get into the locked vault before the Earth is destroyed.
It's smoothly written, but the science is nonsensical, almost offensively so. Gerald Kersh doesn't seem to have even bothered to crack open the encyclopedia when writing it. It's the same kind of earnest fable writers have been cranking out since 1945, if not earlier. Two stars, and that's generous.
Next up is "Seven-Day Terror" by R.A. Lafferty. If everyone writing Wacky Inventor stories could do it as well as Lafferty, I wouldn't be so cranky about them. This particular Wacky Inventor is a nine-year-old boy, who has built a Disappearer out of a beer can with the ends cut off and two pieces of cardboard stuck inside. Look through it, blink, and make whatever you're looking at disappear!
This is sheer fantasy — although honor demands that I point out it's almost exactly like the superweapon AKKA from Jack Williamson's Legion of Space series, and nobody calls those stories fantasy.
What makes the story work is that Lafferty doesn't flinch from the implications of a precocious nine-year-old (and his swarm of equally precocious siblings) equipped with a Disappearer. Hence the title. It's funny, but there's a wicked undercurrent worthy of Saki or Shirley Jackson. Three stars.
The third story is Harry Harrison's "The Toy Shop." This one is very short: a toy salesman demonstrates a magnetic-levitation toy, but reveals it's a trick worked by a thread when he sells it to a skeptical Air Force officer. The Air Force man takes it home as a joke . . . but then he and his friends discover the thread isn't really strong enough to lift the toy. It actually is levitating. We cut away to the salesman and his partner discussing their plan: nobody would listen when they tried to sell their levitation invention, so they have to get people in positions of influence interested by subterfuge.
This one was from Analog Magazine (formerly Astounding), and reflects one of Analog editor John W. Campbell's enduring hobby-horses: technology advances which are suppressed or ignored by the stodgy "establishment." It's a favorite trope among people who want a particular invention to be real — like antigravity machines, perpetual-motion devices, fuelless power supplies, and so on. I only know of one actual example: the steam turbine. Charles Parsons had great success building turbine generators, but couldn't talk the Royal Navy into trying steam turbines for warship propulsion. He finally decided to crash the Navy's Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review in 1897 aboard a turbine-powered yacht, zooming through the fleet faster than any ship trying to catch him. The Navy got the message and in 1906 the revolutionary battleship Dreadnought was launched with steam turbine engines.
Anyway. Harrison's story is very slight, almost a story proposal or a TV episode pitch. Three stars.
Fourth is "The Face in the Photo" by Jack Finney — another Saturday Evening Post story. If you know anything about Jack Finney's work, you're probably guessing that this is a story involving time travel, probably back to the 1890s or thereabouts. Finney wrote at least four stories or books on this theme. In this particular story, an obsessed San Francisco police detective realizes that criminals he's searching for have escaped into the past, and tries to force the inventor of the time machine to help him bring them to justice.
Finney's a skilled pro writer, so you don't really mind that you know exactly where this story's going after about two pages. Three stars.
Number five is "The Circuit Riders" by R.C. FitzPatrick. This is the first really great story in the anthology, and I'm surprised it hasn't been reprinted more often. It's a nice gritty police procedural, in a near future (well, near future as seen from 1962) where the police use "DeAngelis Circuits" to sense anger and violent emotions in order to intervene before violent crimes can happen. The sensors are big and immobile, requiring skilled operators, and this story follows a couple of shifts of DeAngelis operators as they keep watch on one Pittsburgh precinct — and stop a serial murderer. The psychology is old-fashioned, the technology seems quaint, but the picture of men at work in a job that's both tedious and essential is great. According to the editor's note, this was FitzPatrick's first story. He had some other stories published during the Sixties but then seems to have faded from view. I can't find any more information about him. Four stars.
Sixth is "Such Stuff" by John Brunner, an odd almost-horror story about a scientist doing dream research and his reaction to a very odd patient. Brunner leaves the question open of whether there's something paranormal going on, or if the researcher is going bonkers. But for that very reason, the story doesn't have much "punch." I don't need a Spanish Moss Monster running amok through the hospital, but as it is the story just kind of dies down rather than ending. Three stars.
And then we get Number Seven: "The Man Who Made Friends With Electricity," by Fritz Leiber. It's an excellent story about a lonely old man who becomes aware that the electricity in the power grid is alive and intelligent — with plans and goals of its own. I'm almost inclined to deduct a star for Leiber's irritating post-McCarthyite sniggering at anti-Communism (what's a hundred or so million dead people among friends, amirite?), but really, he couldn't write a bad story if he tried. Four stars.
That puts us a quarter of the way through the book. To be continued . . .