The 13 Short Novels trilogy (Bonanza Books/Crown, 1984-87). Covers designed by Morris Taub
I spent a lot of hours last year chasing down, reading, and writing about some very fine anthologies produced by the triumvirate of Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. Their output in the decade before Asimov’s death in 1992 was frankly amazing: some 70 anthologies, including nearly a dozen each in Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction and Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy; a decade-by-decade survey of 20th Century SF, The Mammoth Book of Classic Science Fiction; and dozens of others. These were highly readable books assembled with a deep love and knowledge of the genre.
Asimov, Greenberg and Waugh were playful in the themes they chose, and they had a mathematician’s love of lists, in books like The Seven Deadly Sins of Science Fiction and The Seven Cardinal Virtues of Science Fiction, and especially the trio 13 Short Fantasy Novels, 13 Short Science Fiction Novels, and 13 Short Horror Novels — the latter assembled without input from Asimov. The 13 Short Novelstrilogy, which collects 39 terrific novellas in three volumes, is long out of print and forgotten today, which is a shame. These are exceptional books, and one is absolutely fabulous.
Dean Wesley Smith wrote “Shadow in the City” for the anthology Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian. Ian, a longtime science fiction fan, had attended the Worldcon in 2001 and became friends with several authors over the next several years, including Mike Resnick, with whom she edited this anthology in 2003. Smith’s story is inspired by Ian’s song “Here in the City,” from her 1999 album Unreleased 2: Take No Prisoners.
Set in the aftermath of a calamity that has depopulated the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire world, Carey Noack has been living alone for four years near the Oregon coast when she decides it is time to return to Portland to see if anyone is living in the city, or at least to retrieve some of the belongings from her old apartment. In Portland, Toby Landel is living in a penthouse apartment he has commandeered surrounded by surveillance equipment he set up around town in hopes of finding someone else living in the otherwise deserted city.
Although both are looking for other people, they are also aware of the danger of finding someone else. Toby’s one discovery of a person moving through Portland since the catastrophe resulted in him not revealing himself for fear that the transient would just as likely kill him as anything else. The tension of the story comes, in part, from Carey and Toby’s concerns once they realize that there actually is someone else around.
Dreamships (Tor paperback reprint, July 1993). Cover by Tony Roberts
Melissa Scott burst onto the scene with The Game Beyond in 1984 (a nominee for the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel), and followed that quickly with the first two novels in the Silence Leigh trilogy (Five-Twelfths of Heaven and Silence in Solitude, featuring the first polyamorous triad I can remember encountering in SF) and A Choice of Destinies. In 1986 she capped off that impressive run by winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (now known as The Astounding Award, so it’s no longer associated with a racist loon.)
But Scott didn’t really grab my attention until her 1992 novel Dreamships, her hardcover debut and a thoughtful examination of FTL and A.I. in a far-future setting. She followed it with a single sequel Dreaming Metal five years later; that one made the long list for the Locus Award for Best Novel. Dreamships is set in a universe in which the FTL drive that rockets travelers across impossible distances relies on a dreamspace navigated using a virtual reality landscape created by the pilot. Scientists in this future are on the brink of achieving true artificial intelligence, and these two advances drive the plot. …
Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.
I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing. This week I rolled 40,278, which turned out to be Susan Casper’s short story “Why Do You Think They Call It Middle Earth?”
One of the things I hoped to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, was to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I also hoped to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.
Casper’s story is told from Emily Prentiss’s point of view, a thoroughly unlikable, self-absorbed woman who prides herself on her no-holds-barred attitude in the boardroom. While berating a homeless man one day, she falls through a crack in the earth and finds herself in a fantastic realm, intent on finding someone who will pay for her misfortune.
Faster Than Light (Ace Books, March 1982). Cover art by Attila Hejja
Recently I’ve been on a steady diet of anthologies from the most respected SF editors of the 20th Century, including Isaac Asimov, Terry Carr, Mike Ashley, Lin Carter, and Karl Edward Wagner. And I cannot lie, it’s been a blast. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying classic tales by some of the best storytellers in the business, from A.E. van Vogt to Lucius Shepard.
But it’s time to branch out! I dunno, be intrepid. Try some new editors, maybe. Like Jack Dann, who’s produced over 50 SF anthologies in the past four decades. I recently picked up a copy of his very first, Faster Than Light, co-edited with George Zebrowski in the distant year of 1976, and it piqued my curiosity immediately.
It purports to be a serious study of the problems and possibilities of FTL travel, with five highly-regarded essays on the topic by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Keith Laumer, Ben Bova, and Poul Anderson, plus the first appearance of Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay for the TV show The Starlost, Phoenix Without Ashes, and original stories by Poul Anderson, Ian Watson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Gregory Benford, Hal Clement, A. A. Jackson and Howard Waldrop — and two long stories by George R. R. Martin.
Hiero’s Journey and sequel The Unforsaken Hiero (Del Rey, 1983 and 1984). Covers by Darrell K. Sweet
Sterling Lanier occupies a unique and honored place in science fiction history. While he’s fondly remembered for his fiction, his greatest contribution came as a result of his keen eye, and his editorial daring.
In 1961 Lanier was hired as an editor at Chilton, a Boston publisher specializing in business magazines and automobile repair books. In 1965 he convinced Chilton to publish their first novel, an oversized science fiction epic that had been rejected by nearly twenty publishers due to its prodigious length. That novel, Frank Herbert’s Dune, eventually became a bestseller, launching one of the most respected literary franchises of the 20th Century, and completely remaking SF publishing.
Diane Duane’s short story “In the Company of Heroes” appeared in Past Perfect, one of the numerous anthologies Martin H. Greenberg co-edited for DAW Books, this time with Larry Segriff. Originally published in 2001, Duane’s story is one of a dozen time travel stories in the book, and she reprinted it a decade later as the lead story in her collection Uptown Local and Other Interventions.
Robert Willingden is an incredibly wealthy and powerful man who has a hole in his life. Much like Charles Foster Kane, he lost the one thing he cared about as a child. Unlike Kane, he knew exactly what happened to it. His parents had always denigrated his love of comics and he hid them in the attic, carefully retrieving them one at a time to read and then smuggle back to their safe spot until the night there was a fire in the attic. Although the comics made it through the fire, they were lost to a thief who used the hole in the attic caused by the flames to steal his treasure.
He hatched his plan when a priceless clock he owned was damaged. Taking it to a renowned clockmaker in Lucerne, Switzerland, the clockmaker, Uli, indicated the he did more than simply repair clocks and might be able to help Willingden stop the thief from ever having the chance to steal the long missing comics.
The Crystal World (Berkley Medallion, March 1967). Cover artist unknown
I was intrigued by my buddy Jeffrey Ford’s brief but enticing description of J.G. Ballard’s novel The Crystal Worldon Facebook yesterday:
I read it years ago, but I still remember it very vividly. It had this dual sensibility of being really pulpy and yet wonderfully deep. The slow and then quickening crystalization of the world is freaky. And the description of the narrator finally outmaneuvered by it and overtaken is both frightening and beautiful.
When it comes to the beautiful and the weird, Jeff knows what he’s talking about. His marvelous short story “Exo-Skeleton Town” appeared in the very first issue of Black Gate (way back in 2001), and won the Imaginaire Award in France a few years later. Jeff’s novels include The Well-Built City Trilogy, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque (2002), The Shadow Year (2008), and Ahab’s Return: or, The Last Voyage (2018).
A Pride of Monsters (Collier Books, 1973), Eyes of Amber (Signet, 1983) and Neutron Star (Ballantine, 1976). Covers by Richard Jones, Tom Kidd, and Rick Sternbach
Over at Tor.com, James Davis Nicoll looks at a fine set of vintage SF collections, including Eyes of Amber and Other Stories by Joan D. Vinge.
Vinge began her publishing career with memorable novellas and novelettes. It’s therefore quite frustrating that, to my knowledge, there are only three collections of her work, all out of print. Of the three, Eyes of Amber and Other Stories is by far the best. In addition to the title story, a tale of aristocratic ambition and rock & roll set on Titan, the collection provides tales that range from straight-up adventure to puzzle stories, from classic hard SF to a deep space murder thriller, all skillfully written.
In addition to Vinge, James looks back at some very fine books by Tanith Lee, Katherine MacLean, Larry Niven, and James H. Schmitz.
In 2002, Greg Ketter, the owner of Minneapolis’ DreamHaven Books, published the original anthology Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores. The anthology includes one of my favorite stories, P.D. Cacek’s “A Book, By Its Cover.” It also included sixteen other stories, and, while I have re-read Cacek’s story over the years, I haven’t necessarily re-read many of the other stories since the book was originally published. While the book includes work by major names such as Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Charles de Lint, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Harlan Ellison, it also contains stories by less well-known names, including Marianne de Pierres, who had only published a handful of stories when Shelf Life came out, although she has proven to be more prolific in the years since.
Her contribution of Shelf Life is the story “In the Bookshadow,” which explores some of the more marginal customers at a bookstore. Anyone who has worked in retail knows that there are a variety of customer types. Most come and, make their purchases, and leave, the presence only noted by the brief exchange at the cash register. Others are star customers. The staff knows them and looks forward to their visits. They are personable, spend a lot of money, and make the employees feel as if they are doing a real service. De Pierres’ protagonist is the employee who takes care of the marginal customers who give everyone else the willies.
When she begins to start seeing things out of the corner of her eye in the bookstore, she points them out to the customers, who don’t confirm her visions, but also appear to be doing something to protect her from the strange entities that seem to appear when nobody else is around.