Anthopology 101 — Preface

by Bud Webster


Well, here we are. The book, still being assembled as I write this, is finished and in your hands. You’ve already passed some level of judgment on the contents to have gotten this far, so it’s up to me to give you rhyme and/or reason why you should ante up the price of this behemoth.

I’ve always been interested in anthologies, as far back as I can recall in my reading life (which began early). In the days of my youth before I actually, y’know, bought any books, it was exciting to stand in whichever library I happened to be in – school or public – and scan the shelves for the biggest books I could find. In those days, in that place , those happened to be science fiction anthologies (and encyclopediae, but that’s not germane here), and I loved that I could find so many different worlds, so many different characters within their covers. Heck, one of those big ol’ hardbacks could last me up to a week before I finished it, leaving me anxious to take it back before I owed the dime fine and greedy for the next volume’s wonders.

I began noticing names somewhere in there. Not titles, I didn’t bother with them until I actually had something called a “friend” to discuss them with. I mean the authors’ names. After the heady exhilaration that came with the awareness that all these impossible worlds were mine to explore merely by opening a book wore off, I began to notice that some of those worlds were created by the same Names: Heinlein, Asimov, Padgett, Simak, Leinster, Sturgeon, dozens of others. I despaired; how would I ever remember all those Names?

Heh. I think it took me about two weeks, give or take, and when I finally found somebody to talk to about them, it went really fast. Names, titles; characters, plots, twists, and Things all became second nature to me.

Eventually, after reading all the sf and fantasy anthologies I could find, I went on to the novels and collections written by those same Names and worked my way through them almost systematically. That would lead, unbeknownst to me then, almost directly to this.

As I became aware of the used book market (by that I mean the three-for-a-dime drugstore tables of my youth as much as I do the antiquarian catalogs) I began to accumulate more and more books, not all of them anthologies, but certainly more than my friends ever had. I had my favorite editors: Conklin, of course; Merril, Bleiler & Dikty, Knight, Gold, Wollheim. When I joined the SF Book Club, I grabbed for every one they offered, including the marvelous two-volume A Treasury of Great Science Fiction edited by Anthony Boucher and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame books assembled by Robert Silverberg and Ben Bova. Those await you in these pages later on, by the way.

As the years rolled by, I got more and more serious about these wonder-filled books, seeing them not just as compendia of classic sf, but as artifacts that exemplified the times in which they were created. It occurred to me that no one had actually addressed them as a phenomenon, and I felt that this was an unfortunate omission on the part of those who take the history of our beloved genre seriously. So, I worked even harder to track down and buy those titles I didn’t already have, upgrading condition as I could, and finally assembling a library of several hundred of them, hardcover and paperback. I’ve concentrated my efforts on pre-1975 books, but I haven’t ignored those which came later.

In compiling this collection , I’ve been very lucky, not only in finding nice copies of fairly scarce books, but by the fact that, with a few exceptions, anthologies are just not terribly valuable money-wise, no matter how important they may be literarily. Thus, first editions in complete jackets (always my preference as an unrepentant bibliophile, and as an archivist I make no apologies for that) are available for much less than a comparably rare and important novel or collection .

Along the way, as I attended more and more sf conventions and was able to talk to writers and editors, I began to accumulate information about the method of putting an anthology together. When I began to sell my own stories, I appeared in a few of them myself, and was able to view the process from within.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there must be some way to share that information with others who were every bit as passionate about book-geekery as I am, and the idea of a regular column examining those books looked more and more feasible. Only where? I was no longer doing my own fanzine, and the prozines at the time weren’t likely markets for such a thing.

At some point, I made the acquaintance of Peter Enfantino, then co-editor of a small but well-regarded sercon fanzine called bare*bones. This sort of thing was his bread-and-butter, and he quickly agreed that such a column would fit right in. The first installment of Anthopology 101 covering the Star SF series by Frederik Pohl and appeared in Volume 3, #1 in 2001. That was to be, however, the last issue of bare*bones . The idea languished for a while longer, until I was advised by two friends – both pros, one a writer and the other an editor – to consider the New York Review of SF, edited by David Hartwell. Although they don’t have regular columns, Hartwell did think the idea was a good one, and they reprinted the “Pohl Star” article in their #161. The next issue carried a pared-down extract of the book I was writing on anthologist Groff Conklin, but then I realized that, as nice as the money might be (bare*bones was a non-paying market), it wasn’t enough for all the work involved.

While this was going on, I was approached by Warren Lapine, then publisher of DNA Publications and editor of Absolute Magnitude (formerly Harsh Mistress). He had just purchased publication rights to Andrew Porter’s long-running, prize-winning news-zine, Science Fiction Chronicle, and was looking for new material. I proposed that he carry the column, and he agreed. The money, although still not great, was certainly better than at NYRoSF, and the readership was significantly larger. My first article for Warren was “The Best of Time and Space” in the February 2004 Chronicle, #244.

I did five installments for him, including one of my favorites, reprinted here as “Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun” , and which I still consider one of the absolute necessities for anyone serious about classic sf/fantasy. Then it became clear that Warren and I could be friends, or we could work together, but not both. We chose to stay friends, and I’ve never regretted that decision.

Once again I started hunting around for somewhere to ply my trade. Someone (to this day I still don’t know who) saw my public queries about possible markets and suggested to Mark Kreighbaum, editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, that this was a column he might like to add to his current line-up. He contacted me, we exchanged e-mails, and the deal was struck. That began one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had with an editor. Not only does he really enjoy the column, not only does he pay well and on time, but he gets it. He understands why I do what I do, and he’s always enthusiastic to see more. I flatter myself that the column is read by more than just a few other book-geeks, and Mark agrees, although I was quite surprised (not to mention pleased) that when I initially contacted Harry Harrison about an interview, he keenly indicated that he knew the column and had enjoyed it in the past. How cool is that?

The first installment for the Bulletin was “Eureka!”, about one of the most exceptional, if least-known, books in my library: The Eureka Years, edited by Annette Pelz McComas, widow of F&SF editor J. Francis “Mac” McComas. How is it exceptional? Read on and see.

My clear favorite of all the columns so far – and in the not-so-humble opinion of more than a few, my best work – is “The (Non)Final Stage”, the story of which I was much, much aided by Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison and the two co-editors in telling. Harlan, after several phone calls, simply packed up his files on the book (about three inches of papers and letters) and Fed-Exed them to me, trusting me to get them back in the same condition in which I received them. Those files made it possible for me to tell the full story of that remarkable book, as well as debunking many of the misconceptions surrounding it. Without that, and the willing cooperation of co-editors Ed Ferman and Barry Malzberg, that article would be shorter and far less interesting. Again, read on; you’ll see what I mean.

Thus, here we be, you and I. With any luck you’ll buy this hefty sucker, read it, and gain some enlightenment (or just have a good time reading; I’m good either way), and the research and interviews I’ve put into Anthopology 101 will be of more use than just earning me the price of a loaf of bread and a six-pack of root beer. If you enjoy what you read here, or if you learn something, or just want to argue some arcane point of book-tweakery, feel free to contact me care of this publisher. Just write your comments on the back of a twenty-dollar bill, and we’ll be jolly friends for ever more.

The columns are presented here in chronological order by date of publication; there really isn’t a better way of doing it. In some cases where I’ve compared two or more books, they might have been published a decade or more apart, so that a strict chronology would be impossible in any case. I apologize for the seeming chaos, but one of my criteria was that whichever book(s) I addressed had to be in my own library, which only makes sense – after all, it’s not just a matter of what stories are in which book, there are editors’ introductions and headnotes, as well as occasional authors’ notes, to be considered. In spite of this, I think the reader will still get a fair and balanced overview of the history of the anthology in our field. Or so I hope, anyway.

Now, this is the place where it’s customary for the author to thank those who helped him with his book. I’m no different from those who came before me, but in my case it’s difficult. Where do I begin? Where do I stop?

In many of the individual chapters, I do thank the authors and editors who helped with that particular article, but there are plenty who stand out: Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, Frederik Pohl, Barry Malzberg, Ben Bova, Ed Ferman, and Pamela Sargent answered each and every one of the questions I asked about their anthology work, even the dumb ones.

In the frequent instances in which I didn’t personally own peripheral material concerning some of the books I’ve covered – magazine reviews and letter columns, fanzine articles, etc. – my fellow Chums in the mailing list FictionMags have been of enormous help. Phil Stephensen-Payne, William Contento, Ted White, Bruce Gillespie, Michael Ashley, and others were quick to respond when my pleas for a specific bit of data went out, and I’m both grateful and honored to be a FM Chum. Huzzah!

There are those authors who were more than happy to correspond with me about their appearances in the books I’ve addressed over the years, far too many to list here; nevertheless, my gratitude goes out to them for their help.

I would also like to thank my good friend Bob Snare for his willingness to scan a good number of the covers included herein after my own scanner went to that Great Computer Peripheral Farm in the Sky. (The covers scanned, if I may boast a little, come from my own collection. It’s only right.)

Extra thanks go to the above-mentioned Michael Ashley, editor and historian extraordinaire, for his willingness to provide me with a much-appreciated introduction for this book. You make me look good, Mike.

Finally, but of course not least, my thanks to Mary for her patience in reading every word of these installments, over and over again, to help me be the best writer-about-anthologies that I can be. For that, and for so much else, I am indebted beyond words.

Oh, yeah, I should mention the three damn cats, I suppose, or they’ll predate me some night while I doze in front of the TV: Puck, Ariel, and Gus. Ungrateful little bastards that they are, they light up my life.

— Richmond, Virginia June 2010