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The Original Anthology Series in Science Fiction
by Rich Horton

Click on any of the covers below for a larger image.

Famously it is said that short fiction is central to SF. Short fiction is a convenient form for presenting a single idea, and as such is natural for a "literature of ideas". Many's the clever notion that won't carry a whole novel, but nicely drives 5000 words.

Thus the SF magazines, as a source of short fiction, have always been central to the genre. Indeed, the existence of a definable, separate, SF genre is usually linked to the appearance of the first magazine. Early genre SF was almost exclusively published in magazines, including most of the early novels (as serials). In the United States, SF books began appearing with some frequency after the Second World War. These included novels (usually reprints of magazine serials), collections of stories by popular authors, and anthologies of popular stories. Thus, the genre was clearly still magazine driven: almost everything published as a book had first appeared in a magazine. This soon began to change, of course. Many novels soon came out first in book form. But the magazines remained, and remain to this day, the primary original source of short genre SF.

That said, it soon occurred to some people that if readers would buy a collection of old stories, or a magazine with new stories, they might buy a collection of new stories as well. Now such a collection might be built on a theme, or it might be planned as a one-shot. But one thing a magazine trades on is a consistent identity, a brand name. Why not a brand name for an anthology? Thus, the original anthology series.


Frederik Pohl edited the earliest original anthology series, Star Science Fiction, for Ballantine. Six numbers were published between 1953 and 1959, with a special seventh collection of novellas, called Star Short Novels (1954). The very first issue of Star published stories by such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, Clifford Simak and Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. This book also featured at least one all-time SF classic short story: Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God". From the beginning, the model for the original anthology series was set: try to establish, via some combination of high pay, perceived prestige (enhanced by relatively low frequency as well as the cachet of book publication, usually in hardcovers), and selectivity, a market which can publish not just a representative selection of available short fiction, but more generally, an elite selection. This ideal has been realized fairly often in the history of original anthologies, in my opinion: certainly in their respective days, Star, Orbit, Universe, New Dimensions, and Full Spectrum all could claim to be elite collections, at least for a span. And currently, Tor's Starlight series, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, is such an anthology: managing to be, for the happy few of us SF short fiction followers, an event in each year it is published.

Star continued to be a source for memorable stories. #2 featured Jerome Bixby's classic "It's a Good Life". #3 featured Clarke's novelette "The Deep Range", and Gerald Kersh's somewhat overlooked, but quite remarkable, story "Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo". The later issues seem to me less excellent, though fine stories by Cordwainer Smith, Chan Davis, and Fritz Leiber were highlights.


After Star ceased publishing, there were no significant original anthology series until the mid-1960s. In 1966, Damon Knight, whose amazing career in SF already encompassed major contributions as a fan, a writer, a critic, and as the first president of Science Fiction Writers of America, published the first number of Orbit, which became nearly the longest lived of all SF original anthology series, in terms of number of issues. (Only the English series New Writings in SF seems to have published more issues.) (Unusually for original anthologies, there were often multiple issues of Orbit in a single year, including three in 1974 alone. The 21 total numbers were published between 1966 and 1980.)

Right from the beginning, Orbit attracted major writers and excellent stories. The first issue included Richard McKenna's Nebula winner "The Secret Place", as well as James Blish's classic "How Beautiful With Banners". The second number featured Brian Aldiss, with "Full Sun", and Joanna Russ' first two Alyx stories: "The Adventuress" (a.k.a. "Bluestocking) and "I Gave Her Sack and Sherry" (a.k.a. "I Thought She was Afeard Until She Stroked My Beard"), and one of Gene Wolfe's first published stories, "Trip Trap". Orbit 3 featured two award winners: "The Planners", by Kate Wilhelm, and "Mother to the World" by Richard Wilson.

And so it went. Orbit was established as perhaps the "prestige" market for SF short fiction. It's reputation was as a very "literary" market, but Knight also published Charles Harness, Vernor Vinge, and Keith Laumer, none of them overtly literary. Good science fiction was what he wanted, and the results show it.

Three writers are perhaps more closely associated with Orbit than any others. These three published stories in almost every edition of the anthology. They are R. A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, and Kate Wilhelm. Lafferty even published a collection of his stories from Orbit, called, naturally enough, Lafferty in Orbit. Others among the many featured in Orbit include Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Disch, Howard Waldrop, and Brian W. Aldiss. Knight also encouraged new writers, publishing early stories by Wolfe, James Sallis, Gardner Dozois, Eleanor Arnason, Carter Scholz (his first story), Kim Stanley Robinson (his first two stories), and more.

The Original Anthology Series in SF
| New Writers Only | The Prolific 1970s | New Writers Only |
Anthology Links
For further information on original science fiction anthologies and their contents, you can visit:

Internet Science Fiction Database
William Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
Locus Magazine's Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror: 1984-1996

Copyright © 1999 by Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.

Star 5
Orbit 13
Orbit 19
Best of Orbit
New Dimensions 5
Universe 7
Stellar 1
Stellar 2
Stellar Short Novels
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