Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1984: The Best from Universe (Carr, Terry [editor])

Aligned with the Nebula Awards, if that’s your thing (4/5)

It’s a little odd that I’ve been reading science fiction for eight years now yet I’ve never opened an anthology by Terry Carr. I’ve read one of Carr’s short stories (“The Dance of the Changer and the Three” [1] [2]) but wasn’t too impressed by it. Once the editor of the Universe anthology series (1971-1987), Carr compiled his favorite nine stories from the series in 1984. The Best from Universe would ideally be a cross-section of all the stories published, but rather than being back by Carr’s subjective tastes, the anthology feels aligned with Nebula Award nominations (Ellison, Leiber, and Varley) and Nebula Award winners (Silverberg, Wolfe, and Waldrop).

For the most part, the stories are quite good—the notable exception of Ellison’s story “On the Downhill Side”, which I didn’t care for the least bit. Aside from Ellison’s fantasy tale of unicorns and death, Carr includes the bizarre—courtesy of Lafferty and Silverberg—, the steamy and intellectual—courtesy of Leiber—, and the literary—thanks to Wolfe.


Silverberg, Robert: Good News from the Vatican (shortstory, 1971) – 4/5 – The narrator, along with a bishop, a rabbi and a couple, wait at a café just outside of the Vatican for word of the election of the new Pope. It’s widely rumored that the new Pope will be a robot in order to appease the population of the automata. The rabbi, himself, has seen the mirrored figure as a keynote speaker one time and he had his charms. From the chimney rises the white smoke of decision—one of oppressive mirrors or one of impressive smoke? 9 pages

Lafferty, R.A.: Nor Limestone Islands (shortstory, 1971) – 4/5 – Of the millions of clouds floating above our land, it’s rumored that thirty of so of them are actually lands of granite and marble. How they stay aloft, no one knows for sure but there are instances where their existence is ponderable. First the man who said his marble quarry was only three miles away who also had the reputation of flinging stones; then, there’s the photographer considered batty for the shots of the clouds; and lastly, someone please explain the 400-meter tall pagoda. 13 pages

Ellison, Harlan: On the Downhill Side (shortstory, 1972) – 2/5 – Disembodied as a ghost haunting the Quarters of New Orleans, Paul Ordahl and his trusty unicorn steed innocuously roam the streets of the day’s twilight. Lizette, too, strolls the street where the unicorn allows her to stroke its muzzle—a sure sign the young lass is a virgin. Her stories date her more than a hundred years old while Paul is a more recent death, his prior life haunted by foiled marriages. As dawn approaches, so too do their fates. 14 pages

Le Guin, Ursala K.: Schrödinger’s Cat (shortstory, 1974) – 3/5 – Both notable for their speed, earthworms will crawl or speed about under feet while birds will swoop of break the sound barrier above head. As one man’s house, a postman or perhaps a dog knocks at the door and marvels at the coincidence of having Schrödinger’s box and seeing Schrödinger’s cat in the house. The man is initially leery of performing the experiment, but the cat jumps into the box and experiment begins, but where and when does the experiment cease? 8 pages

Wolfe, Gene: The Death of Doctor Island (novella, 1973) – 5/5 – Orbiting Jupiter, an island of spherical glass houses an ocean and its own sandy island. On this island tread the fractured minds of once isolated individuals: Diane with her occasional yet incurable catatonia; Ignacio with his homicidal tendencies, anti-social yet thriving; and Nicolas with his general lassitude toward social conformity and a penchant for fire. The convalescence sphere oversees their recuperation but not their safety in the space-warping bucolic hospital. 53 pages

Pangborn, Edgar: The Night Wind (novelette, 1974) – 3/5 – Having committed a taboo in his community, Benvenuto flees the once secure village in favor of isolation and personal safety. Though brought up to read and write by the bishop, all of the sudden, after his so-called heinous act, Benvenuto is labeled a monster but still clings to the vanity of once being called beautiful. He reflects on his past history with his lover Andreas and his filial affection for the chandler’s wife—Mam Miriam. 17 pages                                                                                                  

Leiber, Fritz: A Rite of Spring (novelette, 1977) – 5/5 – Cooped up in the top of a cube in the desert dedicated to theoretical and applied sciences, Matthew is pleasantly disrupted by the cherubic grace of young Severeign Saxon. Initially awkward, the chance encounter in his room takes a playful turn as the two play the Numbers Game—naming all things grouped by seven. After a brief round and a brief kiss, Matthew relishes her return and her mysterious origin. Playfulness becomes foreplay, innocence becomes guilt. 35 pages

Varley, John: Options (novelette, 1979) – 3/5 – When cheap and easy sex changes were first introduced, it was outside the norm of society and catered to a specific demographic. Now twenty years later, people of all ages and all walks of life are cloning their reverse-sexed bodies to live as it for some time. Cleo, a wife and mother of six, though mutually agreed to non-monogamy, takes an interest in becoming Leo. With the change in full, Leo experiences life as a man married to a reluctant man. 28 pages

Waldrop, Howard: The Ugly Chickens (novelette, 1980) - 4/5 – Paul Lindberl is working on his master’s in ornithology and is a biology assistant at the University of Texas. While on a bus thumbing through his book on extinct and rare birds, one woman comments on how she used to see those ugly chickens—the dodo—all the time when she was young. Paul follows the lead to a country shack where he gathers the old bits of shells and bones, but he needs to take it one step further: How did the dodos end up in America and where is the photographic proof? 23 pages

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