A title has been popping up often as I conduct my research for this column: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time. Lester Del Rey is quoted on the front with an apt blurb: “Definitive! It even lives up to its subtitle.” The back of the book has a listing of the authors, and it’s a veritable who's who from the science fiction world of the mid-20th century. My battered copy of the book is a prized possession, and it’s considered an essential anthology for those interested in a primer of classic science fiction.

Anthologies were nothing new by the late 1960s: Numerous authors and editors had put together anthologies celebrating exemplary science fiction on a yearly basis: Judith Merril had started her Year’s Best SF series a decade before with S-F: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, while Martin Greenberg of Gnome Press (NOT the Martin Greenberg who would come to later fame as an anthologist) had released Men Against the Stars, a themed anthology in 1950. There wasn’t, however, a good survey anthology that looked at the evolution of the genre.

The genre was also evolving. In 1965, author Damon Knight founded The Science Fiction Writers of America, an organization designed to bring together authors with an eye toward professional matters: helping them connect with agents, publishers and editors. Coming out of Knight’s experiences with the Milford Science Fiction Writer’s Conference, he became the guild’s first president, overseeing 70 initial members.

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Following the creation of SFWA, the group’s secretary-treasurer, Lloyd Biggle Jr., suggested the creation of an award, which would be funded by an annual anthology. Unlike the pre-existing Hugo Award, the Nebula awards would be selected by the professionals who were members of the group. In 1966, the first Nebula Award winners were announced: They were Frank Herbert’s Dune (Novel); Brian Aldiss’ The Saliva Tree (Novella); Roger Zelazny’s The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth (Novellette); and Harlan Ellison’s " 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (Short Story). The organization’s small annual dues meant that little money came in, and not enough to offset the organization’s needs. Already an experienced anthologist, Knight approached Doubleday Books to put together an anthology featuring the nominated works for that year: Published in 1966, Nebula Award Stories 1965 featured the winners from 1965 and several of the nominees.

In 1967, Knight stepped down from his leadership role in SFWA, continuing his own career and anthology series, Orbit. Author Robert Silverberg replaced him, overseeing an organization that now included 300 members. SFWA’s minimal membership fees caused the group to face continual financial problems, and in response, Silverberg approached Doubleday's Science Fiction editor, Larry Ashmead, and pitched a second anthology. This book would collect notable stories published before the inception of the Nebula Awards.

The idea interested Ashmead, who offered a sizable advance of $3000 (almost $29,000 in 2013 dollars). Half would go to the authors, with a quarter designated for SFWA's treasury and another quarter to Silverberg, who headed up the project.

In the December 1967 issue of the SFWA Bulletin, Silverberg placed a call for stories:

"Nominations will be open all during 1968 for SFWA's anthology of classic sf stories, to be published next year by Doubleday. Stories to be included should be no longer than 15,000 words in length and must have been published no later than December 31, 1964. Members may suggest any number of stories for inclusion, but should not nominate their own work. The working title of the book is SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME. We hope to improve on this before publication, and suggestions for a new name will be gratefully received."

Nominations poured in over the course of the next year, and Silverberg ultimately collected a list of 132 stories from 76 authors, the earliest published story being D.D. Sharp's "The Eternal Man" from 1929. Silverberg collected the stories in a ballot and distributed to SFWA's membership with a deadline. Members were instructed to select 10 stories from the list (no more than one story per author) all the while "keep[ing] historical perspective in mind." Silverberg hoped that the stipulations would help put together an anthology that demonstrated the evolution of the genre. After the votes came in, the following stories received the top 15 slots:

Silverberg intended to list the top 15 stories plus as many more as he could fit into the book. However, the remaining stories would present some finagling: Ray Bradbury had four stories nominated for the anthology, with the vote split between the four. It was just enough to knock each of them out of the running. Silverberg approached Bradbury and asked which of the four he'd prefer to appear in the anthology. Bradbury selected “Mars is Heaven,” one of his stories from his Martian Chronicles collection. The problems didn't stop there, however: Bradbury's agent demanded a rate of $500 for the story’s inclusion, exceeding Silverberg's budget by a tenfold. Informed of the problem, Bradbury permitted the inclusion.

Silverberg faced several other selection problems: Two stories by Clifford Simak placed, one a vote above the other. The lower of the pair, “Huddling Place”' was Simak's preferred story, and Silverberg included it over the top-ranking story. Arthur C. Clarke was the only author to have two stories in the top fifteen, and Silverberg removed "The Star" in favor of "The Nine Billion Names of God," which placed 11th on the list.

An agent representing both William Tenn and Roger Zelazny caused further problems. Tenn's story, “Child's Play,” which originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, placed in the anthology. Tenn’s agent, who refused to grant the rights to the story, and Silverberg, unable to reach Tenn, dropped it from the table of contents. Zelazny's story “A Rose for Ecclesiates” was a particular priority for Silverberg, as it was the most recent of the nominees, where it "brilliantly demonstrated the evolution of s-f since the Gernsback and Campbell eras." The same agent refused to grant rights to the story, as it had already been reprinted in Zelazny's collection Four For Tomorrow and The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 14th Series, both published by Ace Books. Silverberg went directly to Ace, and was able tSF Hall of Fame o include the story.

With those hurtles out of the way, Silverberg ultimately acquired a total of 26 stories: the top 15 placing stories, plus most of the second tier of 15, with some exceptions. The final table of contents was an impressive list of names and stories:

  • "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  • "Twilight" by John W. Campbell
  • "Helen O’Loy" by Lester del Rey
  • "The Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein
  • "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon
  • "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov
  • "The Weapon Shop" by A. E. van Vogt
  • “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett
  • “Huddling Place” by Clifford D. Simak
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster
  • “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril
  • “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith
  • “Mars is Heaven!” by Ray Bradbury
  • “The Little Black Bag” by Cyril M. Kornbluth
  • “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson
  • “Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber
  • “The Quest for Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish
  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “It's a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby
  • “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin
  • “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester
  • “The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight
  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
  • “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny

Silverberg collecteSF Hall of Fame 3d the stories as they had originally appeared, and handed the manuscript off to Ashmead. The book appeared as a hardcover in 1970 under the title The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Times, chosen by the members of the science fiction writers of America. Silverberg, in the introduction, described the anthology as "nearly definitive an anthology of modern science fiction stories as it likely to be compiled for quite some time." The book sold well, and sold out within a year. Doubleday sold the rights to Avon Books, which published a paperback edition in July 1971; it would go through dozens of printings in the coming decades. In 1971, it placed first in Locus' annual poll for best Anthology/Collection and 10th in 1972 for best Reprint Anthology/Collection.

The success of the first anthology prompted the creation of another. In 1973, Ben Bova, aided by Anthony R. Lewis, stepped into the editor's chair to edit another volume of the anthology series, this time focusing on longer-form stories: novelettes and novellas. As with the first volume, Bova issued a call for submissions, and received 76 stories as nominees. Bova noted that he had the "heartbreaking job to rule out any of these file tales," and that many of the responses returned with complaints from authors: "how can I pick only ten of 'em"? Bova compiled a top 10 story list alongside a top 10 author list, ultimately compiling a comprehensive list of 23 stories. Two placing stories were unavailable: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr. and The Fireman by Ray Bradbury. Dismayed at the prospect of cutting the list in half, he approached Ashmead, who approved a second volume to the anthology. In January 1973, the two volumes appeared as The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volumes Two A and Two B, respectively. In June of 1974, Avon released the anthologies as paperbacks.


The table of contents for the second volumes includes a still-impressive list of names: 

Volume IIA:

  • "Call Me Joe” by Poul Anderson
  • "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell
  • "Nerves" by Lester del Rey
  • "Universe" by Robert A. Heinlein
  • "The Marching Morons” by Cyril M. Kornbluth
  • "Vintage Season" by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore  
  • "...And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank Russell
  • "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainer Smith
  • "Baby Is Three" by Theodore Sturgeon
  • "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells
  • "With Folded Hands" by Jack Williamson

Volume IIB:       

  • "The Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov
  • "Earthman Come Home" by James Blish
  • "Rogue Moon” by Algis Budrys
  • "The Spectre General" by Theodore Cogswell  
  • "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster
  • "The Midas Plague" by Frederik Pohl
  • "The Witches of Karres" by James H. Schmitz
  • "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred
  • "In Hiding" by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • "The Big Front Yard" by Clifford D. Simak
  • "The Moon Moth" by Jack Vance

In 1981, British publisher Gollancz commissioned a third volume, edited by Arthur C. Clarke, who had attended the Milford gatherings in the 1950s. Where the preceding books had issued a vote for classic stories, this anthology turned in a different direction and collected the winners of the Nebula Awards from 1965 to 1969, while also collecting a mix of short stories, novelettes and novellas. In his introduction, Clarke touted the professional nature of the award, and some of the pitfalls inherent in the selection process. Released under the title The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume Four in the U.K. (where Volume IIB was titled Volume III), Avon retitled the book The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume Three for the paperback release in the United States in 1982, with George W. Proctor credited as the co-editor. The anthology included the following stories:

  • "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison
  • "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" by Roger Zelazny
  • "The Saliva Tree" by Brian W. Aldiss
  • "He Who Shapes" by Roger Zelazny
  • "The Secret Place" by Richard McKenna
  • "Call Him Lord" by Gordon R. DicksonSF Hall of Fame  4
  • "The Last Castle" by Jack Vance
  • "Aye, and Gomorrah..." by Samuel R. Delany
  • "Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber
  • "Behold the Man" by Michael Moorcock
  • "The Planners" by Kate Wilhelm
  • "Mother to the World" by Richard Wilson
  • "Dragonrider" by Anne McCaffrey
  • "Passengers" by Robert Silverberg
  • "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" by Samuel R. Delany
  • "A Boy and His Dog" by Harlan Ellison

The shift in focus placed the anthology series into new territory. The period of time covered by the first anthologies covered a large body of work that was influential for the authors voting on the stories. With Clarke’s entry, the book collected stories which already appeared in the annual Nebula anthology. In light of this, it’s little wonder that Gollancz didn’t continue the series. At this stage, SFWA was about to enter its second decade of life, and had become a popular and productive organization far removed from its fledgling beginnings. The original purpose for the Hall of Fame anthology series—to provide financial support for SFWA—had succeeded.

However, U.S. paperback publisher Avon decided to continue the series with a fourth and final installment in 1986, this time edited by Terry Carr. This book picked up where Clarke’s left off, collecting the Nebula Award Winners from 1970 to 1974:

  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber
  • "Slow Sculpture" by Theodore Sturgeon
  • "The Missing Man" by Katherine MacLean
  • "The Queen of Air and Darkness" by Poul Anderson
  • "Good News from the Vatican" by Robert Silverberg
  • "A Meeting With Medusa" by Arthur C. Clarke
  • "Goat Song" by Poul Anderson
  • "When It Changed" by Joanna Russ
  • "The Death of Dr. Island" by Gene Wolfe
  • "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" by Vonda N. McIntyre
  • "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death" by James Tiptree, Jr.
  • "Born with the Dead" by Robert Silverberg
  • "If the Stars Are Gods" by Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
  • "The Day Before the Revolution" by Ursula K. Le Guin

The fourth anthology continued the same format as that of Clarke’s; short stories, novelettes and novellas were all included. Avon’s hopes for a revival didn’t pan out: Faced with competition from the annual Nebula anthologies, the fourth anthology was the last.

Clarke’s observatioSF Hall of Fame 5n on the difficulty of using awards as a comprehensive view for the field is an interesting one. Certainly, awarded stories are expected to have a certain level of quality, but ultimately, nominations rarely provide full coverage of a wide field. With the inception of the anthology series, Silverberg issued a call for stories of unique historical perspective, and culled his list not from annual awards, but by the professionals in the field influenced by the stories they nominated. The result is an enduring and high quality set of anthologies that looked to the history of the field, and a quality set of anthologies collecting the award winners, often without the same test of time as their predecessors.

This isn’t to say that the latter two anthologies are of lesser quality: Each set simply have different intentions, and it’s the probable reason for why they are largely unknown. Where The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volumes I-IIB remain in print today with Tor’s Orb Books imprint, the other two have since fallen out of print. The book is also not without some modern problems that tend to alienate newer readers: The first anthology includes works from only two female authors, despite the fact that there were many female writers active during the same period.

Despite this, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies are notable anthological entries in the genre due to both their historical value as survey books for the years in which they cover, but also because the stories chosen are still highly readable and are still largely popular with sci-fi fans. While the anthology market has become crowded since the 1970s, it would be interesting to see just what a new installment would include, and how much change it would show us.

SFWA remains a large and vibrant organization that still hosts the Nebula Awards. This year’s ceremony will take place during the Nebula Awards Weekend on May 15th through the 18th. The Nebula anthologies are also still published: Kij Johnson edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, set for release on May 20th.

Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He can be found online at his site and on Twitter @andrewliptak.