Mar 10 2009 11:43am

The Ten Most Influential Science Fiction & Fantasy Anthologies/Anthology Series

This time I’m sticking my neck out. I don’t normally do this. I normally keep my opinions to myself. My problem is that I know too many people and, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I have an almost overwhelming desire for people to like me, so I don’t want to offend someone that I know. And as an editor, I view everyone I don’t know as a potential future collaborator.

But now I want to give my opinion. I want to open myself up to criticism. I know that people will have problems with this list. That’s ok. There’s no way to make a top ten list without leaving off someone’s favorite or potentially overlooking something. The photo to the left tips my hand heavily, but that’s ok, too. (And yes, I did not have copies of all the titles in the list at hand, so there are fewer than ten titles in the photo.)

I’ll be the first to admit that prior to the 1960s, I’m just not well read at all, and I’m best read from the 1980s forward. Does that disqualify me from making this list? Of course not. It just gives the rest of you more fuel for comments.

That said, here is my take on the “Ten Most Influential SF/F/H Anthologies/Anthology Series”:

The Ten Most Influential Science Fiction & Fantasy Anthology/Anthology Series

10. POLYPHONY edited by Deborah Layne & Jay Lake (Vols 1 - 6)/Forrest Aguirre (Vol 7 and beyond)

This is potentially my most controversial pick. It’s the most recent of everything on the list, so a lot of people will say that we can’t interpret its influence on the field. But I think differently. The series started in 2002, and has had a volume come out, on average, each year. With contributors ranging from Carol Emshwiller and Barry N. Malzberg to Lucius Shepard and Howard Waldrop to Jeff VanderMeer and Robert Reed, you’ve certainly got something happening to which writers are paying attention. Additionally, I posit that Polyphony is the beginning of a renaissance of the anthology series from decades past. When I see new series like Eclipse, Interfictions, or the Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, I can’t help but think of Polyphony as the starting point for these newer anthology series. The publisher is on hiatus for 2009, putting volume 7 in limbo, but the contributors decided to leave their stories with the publisher and wait for the new volume to come out next year. I don’t know about you, but that says a lot to me about what authors think of the series: they want their work to be seen in it.

9. LEVIATHAN edited by Jeff VanderMeer & Luke O’Grady (Vol 1)/Rose Secrest (Vol 2)/Forrest Aguirre (vols 3 & 4)

You could almost make the argument that Leviathan deserves to be considered the forerunner on the resurgence in anthology series, and if main editor VanderMeer wasn’t so busy writing and publishing his own work, we very well may have seen volumes come out more often than they have. Then again, it might just take the amount time they have for VanderMeer to be happy with their contents. With four volumes since 1996, this series is not about putting out a new volume every year, but rather about getting together the material for a quality anthology. Most people learned of the series with the publication of volume three, which ended up sending people out looking for volumes one and two. In addition to being a talented writer, VanderMeer has proven himself to be an innovative editor, with the Leviathan series giving him the most room to stretch and show off his editorial muscles. The Leviathan anthology series also gives us the progenesis of the New Weird movement, which includes writers like Jeff VanderMeer and China Mieville, and is stylistically akin to the stories published in Leviathan.

8. DARK FORCES edited by Kirby McCauley

McCauley wanted to publish a horror/supernatural answer to Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. The big story—both in name recognition and in actual size—is the novel-length piece “The Mist” from Stephen King. However, I think King’s stature has over-shadowed the quality of the rest of the anthology.This anthology inspired a new generation of writers, including people like Clive Barker, to push themselves past taboos and into new territory. If you like dark fiction and someone missed this anthology, you NEED to go back and find a copy.

7. THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME Vol 1, 1929-1964 edited by Robert Silverberg

The contents of this anthology were voted on by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1965. The intention was to celebrate the great work that had occurred in the field prior to the creation of SFWA. The book was first published in 1970 and re-issued by Tor in 2003 (hardcover) and 2005 (trade paperback). Take a quick peek at the table of contents here, and then come back and tell me that’s not a great collection. The 15 stories that received the most votes automatically were put in the volume and then Silverberg selected additional stories from the next 15 top vote getters to make 26 stories in all. Just like Dark Forces, if you like science fiction, and somehow missed this book, it’s a great way to add some fantastic stories to your library.

6. THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME 1 edited by Gardner Dozois

This isn’t the first year’s best science fiction anthology. There were certainly predecessors to it. And as most of you know, it’s not currently the only year’s best book out there. I single it out based on the superior quality of its table of contents, and the fact that its success has been parlayed into the current spate of year’s best books. The first volume is a near-prefect snapshot of what was going at the time in science fiction. You clearly see Dozois’ hand here with the number of cyberpunk authors (or at least those who were associated with cyberpunk) in the table of contents: Sterling, Watson, and Cadigan among others. But a modern reader looking over this list, compiled 25 years ago, should be able to recognize every name on it (with poor Rand B. Lee being the one possible exception). I don’t know if that’s true of every volume since then, but this series certainly got off to an auspicious start. And given that we have seen 25 volumes of this year's best, Dozois is doing something right.

5. NEW DIMENSIONS edited by Robert Silverberg

For me, one of the big things about New Dimensions is its focus on female writers. Whether Silverberg was conscious of this effort (i.e., seeking out and soliciting female writers for work) or it was a byproduct of the surge of women writing SF at the time is irrelevant. The series and its stories won three Hugo awards, one Nebula award, and one Seiun award. Silverberg did actively seek to publish varied authors in the series, eschewing the somewhat typical tendency to use the same authors over and over that other anthology series at the time did. True, Silverberg did publish multiple stories by some authors; he just didn’t solicit work from a stable of writers. The series featured stories from Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Gregory Benford, Orson Scott Card, and Vonda McIntyre among others.

4. UNIVERSE edited by Terry Carr

Universe published 17 volumes in all, with the anthology and its stories winning six LOCUS awards, five Nebulas, one Hugo, and one World Fantasy award over its run. If you’re not swayed by the award accolades, the series published work by Kim Stanley Robinson, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe, and others. It also saw early publications—and sometimes first publications—from many currently established writers such as Molly Gloss, Michael Cassutt, George Alec Effinger, Lucius Shepard, and Robert Reed. The series ceased its run with the death of editor Terry Carr in 1987. Universe had no over-arching theme, or particular editorial bent; Carr just published the best stuff that was sent his way, and he published quite a bit of great stuff.

3. ORBIT edited by Damon Knight

Orbit published 18 volumes (including one double volume, but excluding a best of volume) in its run, with stories winning four Nebula awards. Orbit was quickly considered the ‘place to be’ for science fiction writers of the time. For many writers, Orbit was a place they could stretch out and try new things. You’d see work from Gene Wolfe, R. A. Lafferty, and Kate Wilhelm. In fact, these three writers were in almost every volume of Orbit; Lafferty’s story collection—Lafferty in Orbit—is, you guessed it, a collection of his stories from the anthology series. You also got work from Robert Silverberg, Vernor Vinge, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Disch, Brian W. Aldiss, Gardner Dozois, and others. Orbit definitely inspired several other anthologies/anthology series including New Dimensions and Universe.

2. NEW WORLDS QUARTERLY edited by Michael Moorcock

It’s perhaps a little disingenuous to include New Worlds in this list, as it gained its notoriety and prominence as a magazine rather than as the anthology series it became. And in truth, a lot of the inspirational work from New Worlds, particularly when Michael Moorcock took over as editor in 1963, was published in its magazine iteration. Nonetheless, I am putting this in my list since I think both the magazine and its subsequent anthology series important enough to warrant it. The big concept here was that the stories had to have literary merit. Moorcock pushed the writers to be as different from traditional science fiction as possible. New Worlds was not afraid of controversy. It also ushered in the literary movement known as the New Wave. Like many other literary movements, the New Wave disdained their designation. In addition to writers like J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorock, Norman Spinrad, and Brian Aldiss, you can find a more detailed list of New Wave writers here. Under Moorcock’s stewardship, New Worlds was hugely influential on writers of the time. Writers no longer felt they needed to rein in their literary tendencies.

1. DANGEROUS VISIONS edited by Harlan Ellison

It’s hard to find a single volume of science fiction that won as many awards: two Nebulas, two Hugos, a special Worldcon award, and the LOCUS all-time poll for anthology. There were also an additional three Hugo and two Nebula nominations from this anthology. Of course, that’s tempered a bit when you consider all the nominations and wins went to six out of 32 stories, with the Fritz Leiber novelette winning both the Hugo and the Nebula. Still, that’s an impressive tally. I think this speaks more to the influence the anthology had rather than the staying power of the stories. Reading it today, some of the stories almost seem trite and many more do not hold up to the test of time. I think this is where it’s true power lies. This anthology changed the way that people read and wrote science fiction; it changed the way that people thought about science fiction. It was the first time that there were extended introductions (and sometimes afterwords) to each story. These days you’re hard-pressed to put together an anthology without writing a small expository piece for each story. I know that many people feel that this anthology was the death knell of the New Wave, but all movements have to come to an end at some time, so why not a glorious end like this? It certainly give a larger voice to the writing that was happening in many other venues. For that, I have to place Dangerous Visions at the top of my list.

Honorable Mentions: Star Science Fiction edited by Frederik Pohl, New Voices (John W. Campbell nominees), Starlight edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, The Science Fiction Century edited by David G. Hartwell, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling/Gavin Grant & Kelly Link, Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin, Borderlands edited by Terri Windling et al., and The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Garyn G. Roberts. I’m not sure what it says that the majority of my choices were anthologies that were edited by writers as opposed to those put together by people who work primarily as editors. It certainly doesn’t reflect the esteem in which I hold my editorial colleagues.

Thanks to Rich Horton, and his article “The Original Anthology Series in Science Fiction” on SF Site as well as the LOCUS Index of SF Awards without which I would have never been able to write this post. I also solicited the opinion of many esteemed editors while writing this post, and I will be creating a follow-up post of over-looked anthologies.

Beth Meacham
1. bam
You've left out Judith Merrill. Her anthology series in the 50s and 60s were extraordinarily influential on the field, especially her Best of the Year anthologies from 1956 through 1968. And in particular, I think her England Swings SF, in 1968, made everyone writing and reading in the US sit up and take notice.
Jason Ramboz
2. jramboz
I think I'd agree that Dangerous Visions was truly and powerfully influential. Indeed, the very fact that it seems trite today shows how much the new ground broken by that anthology has been accepted into the mainstream.

I think I'll just sit back and watch the inevitable Harlan Ellison argument, though. He's kind of like a SF-fandom version of the Candyman: say his name at least three times and a flamewar erupts.

Oh, pardon me, I seem to have a tongue stuck in my cheek.
Blue Tyson
3. BlueTyson
To be influential, shouldn't people have heard of them (let alone seen them)?

10 and 9 would be utter failures in that respect. 5 not too good, either.

Influential to/on a certain group of writers is not the same thing as influential overall.

The chance that I ever come across one of those in a shop or library is zero. Can't be too influential if they are being sold out of boxes in the back of someone's shed somewhere in the occasional handful.

Putting very minor league productions like that ahead of Year's Best series is ludicrous.

Sure you weren't on the turps when you put those ahead of Datlow and Hartwell and Jones? Not to mention Carr, Wollheim, Harrison/Aldiss, Dikty et. al.

Going to depend on your age, somewhat as far as what goes. The Groff Conklin anthologies would be influential to an older generation. (I've only ever seen one of the big ones). Or, say, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural.

Similarly, Dangerous Visions is pretty meaningless to a lot of people now - as you say, looking at it now, lots of it is crappy. Important to your George R. R. Martin's etc, though, from what they say.

How about, apart from all the Year's Bests that should be there :

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction / Fantasy - Shippey
The Norton Anthology Of Science Fiction - Le Guin et al.
The Road to Science Fiction - James Gunn
The Great SF Stories - Asimov/Greenberg
The Fantasy Hall Of Fame (multiple)
Masters Of Fantasy - Carr/Greenberg
The Dark Descent - David Hartwell

Or if you are suggesting work looking at or influential on a theme, how about The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance by Hartwell and Cramer.

Yes, it is very disingenous to put New Worlds is there, as pretty clearly, Astounding/Analog, Asimov's, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Weird Tales, etc., slaughter most of your list as far as influence goes.

Major Science Fiction Anthologies - A Brief History

Major Fantasy Anthologies - A Brief History
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
Dangerous Visions was my gateway drug...with as much, if not more, emphasis on the Dillons as on the writing.

I read the Dillons childrens books as a younger kid but it wasn't until I was reading Dangerous Visions that I was old enough to realize that _actual people_ drew pictures for books. And they had names! I then went to used bookstores to buy all the Ellison books that had their covers on them.

In the great "Gallo Book Purge of 04", where I gave just about every non-picture book I owned to Housing Works, I kept all of those covers.
Rick Klaw
5. Rick Klaw
Nice list though but some titles are definitely missing. Sterling's Mirrorshades profoundly influenced an entire generation writers. The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural remains as one of the finest horror anthologies ever.

Outside of Judith Merrill's anthologies (as mentioned previously by bam), the most glaring omission is Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas's Adventures in Time and Space (1946), one of the earliest and the first significant sf anthology.
Blue Tyson
6. BlueTyson
And for sub-genre influence like that, how about Datlow/Windling and the explosion of fractured fairytale overload they engendered?

Then there's Silverberg's Legends and Far Horizons novellas from series books. Likely read by
hundreds of thousands more people than New Dimensions.

There's also a Horror Hall of Fame that is very good, too.
Michael Curry
7. mcurry
Thanks for including Polyphony on the list of ten, even though it meant bumping some of the more obvious choices down to honorable mentions.
Rick Klaw
8. MrJodie
I've published a few top ten lists and, without question, the one thing that gets me the most comments is my inability to give it the perfect title. Had I not omitted the words, "in my opinion" from almost any of them, the comments would have been halved. Had I added the words "sort of, but not quite, my humble offering" I'm sure that people would have fallen all over themselves to convert me to their own biased compilations. However, this list is elegant, without being overly pompous, and civilized, without being completely utilitarian. It's one person's perception through opinion and I respect that, tremendously. I also happen to agree with most of it, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Oh, and consider the previous comments and comments to come. It appears that the list is fulfilling it's intended purpose, n'est pas? Discussion incited.

End of line.
René Walling
9. cybernetic_nomad
Groff Conklin was a superb anthologist and any one of his many anthologies are worth picking up.

@ 3. BlueTyson

"To be influential, shouldn't people have heard of them (let alone seen them)?"

I disagree. To be influential, something merely needs to influence creators, not readers. In fact many times, readers are unaware of many of the things that influenced the writers they enjoy (this is valid for any art form btw).
Rick Klaw
10. William Shunn
BlueTyson, are sales figures the only measure of influence, or even the most important? How many bands today have clearly been influenced by the Velvet Underground, despite the fact that they weren't a great success during their run? Later writers and anthologies are successful because they've absorbed the earlier influences, but the success doesn't necessarily make them influential themselves.
Rick Klaw
11. Diatryma
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress wins for personal influence. The books, and the link included at the end of one of them, pointed out to me how writing is actually done. It's some ten years since I picked them up, but they still have a place in my heart and on my shelf.
Rick Klaw
12. glinda
Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas's Adventures in Time and Space (1946), one of the earliest and the first significant sf anthology.

My father had that, and I remember reading it while I was still in grade school in the late '50s (probably about third grade); it was one of the books in my mother's basement during the flood in '72, and it took me what seemed like *forever* to track it down again.
Rick Klaw
13. Mike Moorcock
As well as some of the others mentioned here, I'd like to add Delany and Hacker's QUARK anthologies. Short-lived, but they did some excellent stuff.
Rick Klaw
14. Michael Walsh
Part of the issue is defining "What Do You Mean By Influential" ??

If one means: The books were really, really important at the time and help shape SF, then ....

Groff Conklin is largely forgotten, but his anthologies, especially the first three:
Best of Science Fiction (1946)
A Treasury of Science Fiction (1948)
Big Book of Science Fiction (1950)
are quite important.

And the Healy/McComas "Adventures in Time and Space" (1946) is paramount in the post war era of SF.
Rick Klaw
15. Robert Silverberg
The Healy-McComas ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE, as several respondents point out, is one of the most significant s-f anthologies ever published. Its absence from the list may be pardonable on the grounds that it goes back to an era before the reading experience of the list's compiler, but leaving it out is a little like leaving Shakespeare out of a list of the great dramatists.
Rick Klaw
16. Michael Walsh
ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE seems to be out of print. But there are used copies out there. Be sure to also look for it under the Modern Library title: FAMOUS SCIENCE FICTION.
Rick Klaw
17. Ellen Datlow
The anthologies that influenced me as an editor were
Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions

The Judith Merril best of the year anthologies

The Playboy Book of Terror and the Supernatural

the Donald A. Wolleim best of the year anthologies
of the late 60's early 70s.

The John Carnell anthologies New Writings in SF from the same period
Joe Sherry
18. jsherry
John - thanks for this post. I've heard of most of these, but it's a good reading list for me to work off of.

Blue Tyson - I've seen both Leviathan and Polyphony in my public library (at various branches).

Also - whether the stories hold up 30 years later does not speak to the influence Dangerous Visions had on the field, which is what John wrote about.
William S. Higgins
19. higgins
I agree that Adventures in Time and Space ought to be on any list of the most influential anthologies.

If I were permitted to add one, I would pick Anthony Boucher's two-volume A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, which appeared in 1959.

And here's why. It's full of great stories by great writers, and for many years it only cost a dime.

It was created for the Science Fiction Book Club and offered as a premium to readers who sent in ten cents. So it was a whole lot of SF (including four novels!) for very little money. Who could resist?

As a result, there are a jillion copies of this collection in libraries, attics, and used bookstores all over the U.S. It must have been "first contact," for a huge number of readers, with the authors offered within.

So I suspect A Treasury of Great Science Fiction was very influential in whetting readers' appetite for more. I can't speak to its influence on writers-- but surely an awful lot of its readers must have gone on to write SF.
Rick Klaw
20. Nicholas Waller
Brian Aldiss did a lot of anthologising in the 60s and 70s, of which maybe the most influential - well, popular, and in the UK anyway - was his 1960s Penguin series Penguin Science Fiction, More Penguin Science Fiction, and Yet More Penguin Science Fiction (though not That About Wraps It Up For Science Fiction), all collected in The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus in the 70s. It was updated and reissued in 2007 as A Science Fiction Omnibus.

I also remember Edmund Crispin's Best SF series from those days, vols 1-7.
Damien Walter
21. damiengwalter
I would like to throw Mirrorshades edited by Bruce Sterling into the ring. Its certainly my most influential anthology, and I would include it in any top ten.

Rick Klaw
22. Derryl Murphy
Yes to Adventures in Time and Space (probably the first anthology I read; in reprint, of course). Judy Merril also started the Tesseracts series, which is up to 13 editions now. Yeah, it's only Canadian, but a lot of serious and excellent work has come out of that, and I think it kick-started the Canadian SF scene.

Rick Klaw
23. steve davidson crotchety old fan
I think a little bit of angst could have been avoided by re-categorizing your list and selecting only post 80's anthologies, as one could put together what I believe is a more faithful 'top ten' of SF anthologies - at least in the 'influence' department - from the over-looked titles other commentors have suggested.

'Influence' to my mind means "the works that informed and inspired those who are writing now".

Here's mine (in no particular order and repetitive of many titles mentioned previously)

Healy & McComas Adventures in Time & Space
Campbells Astounding Tales of Space & Time
Conklins Best of SF & The Big Book of Science Fiction
Wollheims Pocket Book of Science Fiction
Wollheim & Carr's Worlds Best SF
Pohl's Star Science Fiction & SF The Great Years
Carnell's New Writings in SF
Merrill's Best SF & England Swings SF
Ellison's Dangerous Visions &c
Bouchers Treasury of Great SF
Cerf's 50 Best SF Tales
Stover's Apeman, Spaceman
Silverberg's SF Hall of Fame
Asimov's Before the Golden Age
Amis' Spectrum
Aldiss' Omnibus & Space Opera
Best SF from the Saturday Evening Post
Gunn's Road to SF
Knight's Orbit
Baen's Dimensions

and probably fifty others that I'd list if my collection were available for reminders...
Scott Raun
24. sraun
What about Asprin's Thieves' World? I thought it was the first real shared worlds anthology?
Rick Klaw
25. Alan L. Bostick
No Boucher? No Healy/McComas? Nothing by Groff Conklin? WTF???
Jonathan Strahan
26. jstrahan
There are a number of anthologies that stand out as being 'influential' on me as an editor and reader, rather than on the field at large. The first and most important is Michael Bishop's Light Years and Dark. Living a long way from the heart of the SF market, few books got through. I'd not heard of Dangerous Visions or New Worlds, but was very familiar with Golden Age SF. This one book opened up a whole new world, introducing me to writers who are my favorites today, and showing how rich and varied a book could be. After that, Mirrorshades, without which the modern 'movement' antho couldn't exist. And then the Silverberg Hall of Fame vol. which I was reading last night.

Interesting post!
Dave Robinson
27. DaveRobinson
I didn't recognize the last three: so they haven't influenced me as a reader or a writer.

Like many others I'm stunned by the absence of Adventures in Time and Space and anything by Groff Conklin. The Conklin anthologies were where I first discovered short SF. Perhaps we're seeing something of a generation gap, where people who started reading earlier SF have a very different experience of anthology fiction.
John Klima
28. john_klima
@everyone I've ordered a copy of Adventures in Time and Space, and I'll report back when I've had a chance to read it.
Rick Klaw
29. Matt Cheney
In terms of influence, the Healy/McComas is just about undeniably the most influential in helping create a sense of what science fiction is and can be for the writers of that generation. That and Conklin's "Best of Science Fiction" were hugely important in helping to codify what "science fiction" meant to its most influential American writers and readers, and in helping to create a canon.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Asimov's "Hugo Winners" volumes here -- I know I'm not the only person who was introduced to the idea of science fiction as a community through Asimov's story notes in those books.

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