Best Thing Ever


At the 2021 Trekonderoga, Phil Merkel hosted "The Best Thing Ever", a panel that explored those rare moments of bliss from a particular movie, book, or piece of music. It is different for everyone, and we each shared our own examples.

One of mine is the Ballantine "Best Of" short story collections, more formally known as the Ballantine Classic Library of Science Fiction.

I remember clearly when these were coming out. This was pre-Star Wars, and I had read the usual fare: James Blish and Alan Dean Foster's Star Trek episode novels, Larry Niven's Known Space, Tolkien, the John Carter books, the first three Dune books, Clarke, and Asimov.

But this was something special! Each book contained short stories entirely drawn from one author. Selected by the other authors and introducing each other, the books were filled with gems, a master class retrospective in story telling, harvested just as SF novels became dominant and new short stories were becomming rare.

And the covers! Beautiful, distinctive work by H.R. Van Dongen, Dean Ellis, and others. By this time, Van Dongen had moved to Canandaigua NY and was no longer working in SF, but Lester Del Rey roped him back in specifically to do covers for this series.

I bought every one that I saw at the time, and recently tracked down all of the ones that I missed. They cover two generations of SF writing, with the authors of the 30-40's like Ray Gallun, Jack Williamson, and John Campbell, plus the folks they inspired, 50-60's authors like Fred Pohl and Cy Kornbluth. The introductions and behind-the-scenes memories at the start of each book is just as interesting as the short stories!