We're on the final stretch now in our read-through of Judith Merril's 8th Annual of the Year's Best SF, covering stories published in 1962.
The 26th story in the collection is Zenna Henderson's "Subcommittee," about the budding friendship between a human child and a young alien while the adults are conducting a tense peace conference. Yes, a mutually genocidal war ends because of the Power of Friendship. But it's well-told — and bonus points for actually taking place beyond the Solar System. Three stars.
Next is "The Piebald Hippogriff," by Karen Anderson, a very slight fantasy — really more sketch than story — but it's very charming and sweet. The best comparison I can think of is if Ray Bradbury wrote a story set in a Lord Dunsany world. Four stars.
"Home From the Shore," by Gordon Dickson, is a fitting capstone for the fiction content of the book. It's part of Dickson's novel The Space Swimmers. The story focuses on a conflict between the ocean-dwelling Sea People and the suspicious government of the land-dwelling humans. Even after re-reading I can't quite tell if Dickson's ocean-dwellers are genetically engineered for their environment or if he thinks they would evolve new traits in only three or four generations, but that's a minor quibble. The story itself is melancholy, with strong echoes of Kipling. Four stars.
We're not quite done. The book also has a wrapup of short science fiction in 1962 by Judith Merril which is mostly taken up with her score-settling with Time Magazine's critic over a review of the previous Year's Best collection. The Time critic had the same problem with the 7th Annual that I have with the 8th, apparently: not enough actual science fiction in it.
And finally there's an essay by Anthony Boucher about science fiction novels of 1962 — and it certainly was a good year, if only because it saw the publication of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, and Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.
The average score for the stories is just over three stars, so that will suffice for the whole book.
As I mentioned above, my own opinion of The 8th Annual of the Year's Best SF is rather like that of the Time reviewer Ms. Merril spends so much time taking to task. There are 28 stories in this book. Eleven of them are explicitly fantasies, and another three borderline cases (they wear science fiction hats, but are fantasies or parables). That's half the book.
There's also the fact that these stories were written in a year after Kennedy set the goal of landing a man on the Moon, the year of the first communication satellite, two Vostok and three Mercury missions, with Soyuz and Gemini space craft under construction. And yet in this book only seven stories actually involve space travel — and three of those are the allegedly whimsical Martian essays by Reynold, Pohl, and Russell. The rest are resolutely Earthbound.
I can't escape the suspicion that Ms. Merril was trying to show that science fiction wasn't "gee whiz outer space kid stuff" anymore. Hence the focus on stories from slick markets (The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, the New York Times) instead of the grubby confines of the genre magazines. That also explains the emphasis on political parables and fantasies; college English teachers love that stuff.
Here are some stories from 1962 which didn't make it into the Year's Best:
"The Dragon Masters," by Jack Vance (Hugo winner)
"When You Care, When You Love," by Theodore Sturgeon (Hugo nominee)
"The Ballad of Lost C'Mell," by Cordwainer Smith
"The Shining Ones," by Arthur C. Clarke
"Passion Play," by Roger Zelazny
All of them are science fiction, and all of them are better than anything in this collection.