Mutants, Burger Creatures, and Genetically Engineered Sharks: Orbit 12, edited by Damon Knight

Mutants, Burger Creatures, and Genetically Engineered Sharks: Orbit 12, edited by Damon Knight

Orbit 12-smallOrbit 12
Edited by Damon Knight
Berkley Medallion (240 pages, $0.95, March 1974)
Cover by Paul Lehr

If I’ve got my story straight, there were 21 volumes of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology series in all — and The Best of Orbit. The first of these saw the light of day in 1966.

Obviously, that puts this volume somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as the chronology goes. Reviewing is a subjective thing and we all like what like, but I’ve got to say that I wasn’t very impressed. I’ll start with a look at the two stories I liked, and move on to the many more that I liked less.


“What’s the Matter with Herbie?,” by Mel Gilden

Nine stories into this volume and this is the first story that appealed to me. It’s a tale of two very alien aliens in a universe where strange aliens seem to be the norm. There’s not much to the plot but Gilden’s imaginative take and whimsical touch made it worth reading.

“The Genius Freaks,” by Vonda N. McIntyre

A genetic mutant with genius level intelligence is terminally ill and on the run from those who made a mutant of her. Using some hacking techniques that are particularly interesting — given that this was published nearly a half century ago — she makes an interesting discovery about a biological virus that could have serious consequences.


“Shark,” by Edward Bryant

Genetically engineered sharks feature in this tale. Stylistically, it reminded me a bit of J.G. Ballard.

“Direction of the Road,” by Ursula K. Le Guin

A strange story about a tree, told from the perspective of the tree.

“The Windows in Dante’s Hell,” by Michael Bishop

Civil servants in a grim overpopulated future go into the home of woman who has just died and find a recreation of the set of a TV show in the vein of Star Trek.

The Malacia Tapestry-small

“Serpent Burning on an Altars”
“Woman in Sunlight with Mandolin”
“The Young Soldier’s Horoscope”
“Castle Scene with Penitents”
by Brian W. Aldiss

Four fantasy short-shorts by Aldiss, apparently set in the world of his Malacia Tapestry. Perhaps if I’d been familiar with this world I’d have found them more interesting.

“The Red Canary,” by Kate Wilhelm

Well written but incredibly depressing yarn about a grim future where medical care is hard to come by and very impersonal.

“Pinup,” by Edward Bryant

The second story in the book by Bryant is a short short written in a style that left me wondering what it was about.

“Burger Creature,” by Steve Chapman

Whimsical almost to the point of silliness. Not to spoil it but the tale takes place in a fast food restaurant and the title sums it up.

“Half the Kingdom,” by Doris Piserchia

The last few stories in the book are insubstantial short shorts that don’t seem to have much reason for being. This one tells of a man who goes through a portal and is turned in to a spider and almost falls victim to a strange predator. That’s it.

“Continuing Westward,” by Gene Wolfe

There’s nothing here that really shows why Wolfe would go on to be some acclaimed. It’s a well written snippet of not really SF about a pair of flyers who set their plane down near a tribe of desert dwellers and rely on their hospitality. Not much more happens.

William I. Lengeman III’s last article for us was Star Trek Movie Rewatch: Star Trek (2009). He holds forth at

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