Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

1973: The Alien Condition (Goldin, Stephen [editor])

How aliens may live, work, die, breed, etc. (4/5)
From July 19, 2011

A collection of one dozen science fiction stories which attempts to "examine the Human Condition - by examining the much larger and more general problem of the Alien Condition." The collection has a fantastic start with back-to-back stories which are unique and inviting. It was surely headed for a perfect 5-of-5-stars rating for the collection until the last three stories (about 40% of the volume) make a terrible ending. You might as well just SKIP the last three stories altogether.


Kathleen Sky: Lament of the Keeku Bird - 4/5 - Female carnivore must cross the desert on her belly to Long Rock so that she will transform into an Old On. With pieces of her flesh and matted hide behind her, a vulture-like Keeku trails. 18 pages

Vonda N. McIntyre: Wings - 4/5 - Crippled hermetic winged alien accepts the unexpected visit of a crippled youth. Combating loneliness, habit and his religious vows, the old man nurses the youth back to health even though his departure is likely. 17 pages

Alan Dean Foster: The Empire of T'ang Lang - 5/5 - The alien named T'ang Lang is the master of his environment. He taunts mountains, sharpens his knives and lives in solitude to wait for his next kill. 9 pages

Mirian Allen deFord: A Way Out - 4/5 - Scaled alien ambassador to earth is disgusted by all things human and misses all things of his homeland. With very different laws between the two planets, an escape by a felonious act is his only solution. 12 pages

Arthur Byron Cover: Gee, Isn't He the Cutest Little Thing - 4/5 - A rather cynical little alien is stranded on earth, kept as a pet. He vents his cultural and sexual frustrations by lambasting all earthly things including cats, pigs and talk shows. 7 pages

Rachel Cosgrove Payes: Dead Listener - 4/5 - Survey ship finds no intelligent life on a gaseous, barren planet but when scooping and compressing the gases, the hull starts to dissolve wherever they go. 8 pages

C.F. Hensel & Stephen Goldin: Nor Iron Bars a Cage - 3/5 - Fifteen-minded alien senses, hears, then views a tall metallic object surrounded by a gas-created char. The minds debate on the source and move to investigate. 11 pages

Thomas Pickens: Routine Patrol Activity - 4/5 - Playful security duo sing-song their way through their patrol. When confronted by an unidentified object, the two attempt to establish contact the only way they know how. 11 pages

William Carlson & Alice Laurance: Call from Kerlyana - 4/5 - An avian intelligence and a potty-mouthed reptilian intelligence are at limited war on the continent they share. One of each of them is chosen as an envoy by an alien third party to establish a peace agreement. 15 pages

S. Kye Boult: The Safety Engineer - 1/5 - Subterranean safety inspector of a delicately balanced ecosystem relying on cooperation, dadada - it's unbearable to read and stopped after only fifteen page. No wonder it was only published once. 61 pages

James Tiptree, Jr.: Love is the Plan the Plan is Death - 2/5 - Some sort of giant dinosaur/spider hibernates after a long winter to fall in love with a tiny pink being, who he binds in woven silk as she grows to maturity through the warm summer months. 19 pages

Edward Wellen: The Latest from Sigma Corvi - 3/5 - Radio DJ reads the 6:25 news summary but fails to understand the gibberish pronouns and links the occurrence to an astronomical anomaly. 4 pages


  1. It's a shame that the James Tiptree, Jr. work was so miserable -- I have her collection Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home waiting to be read -- hopefully it's better than that one!

    I just read a Mirian Allen deFord story as well in Future City -- was complete crud -- now I'm curious about her other work!

  2. That Tiptree story was just bizarre. I don't think I've come across any of her other work, but this had a weird pedo- vibe to it. I was raising my eyebrow more than once! Gorgeous cover on Future City! Sphere usually has a few nice covers. I have a Sphere edition of Delany's The Fall of the Towers which pictures a corroding spaceship shrouded in mist- very mysterious:

  3. Of course the Tiptree story seems bizarre - it is told entirely from the perspective of an alien and with alien protagonists and does not have a single human in it - she'd have done something seriously wrong if it would have appeared anything but bizarre. If you think about it, it's an insanely risky thing to do to try and tell a story exclusively from an alien point of view with no safety net of familiarity markers atl all, and one might certainly argue whether the story succeeds or not (personally, I think it does and is one of the prime examples of what science fiction can achieve), but in any case you have to admire her for attempting something like this and sustaining it consistently.

  4. Many of the stories were less bizarre and sometimes when I review SF I'm critical about how "human" the aliens seem, as if they take on too many human-like qualities. She might of had some idea of what she wanted to fulfill when she penned the story (love could be seen a distinctly human attribute) but it was really off the wall. Which brings to the question, at which point in the development of an alien species in a novel do you make them more or less human for the reader to comprehend and sympathize with? It's a basic question which, unfortunately, has no answer and lies in idiosyncratic tastes and... opinion.