Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, August 9, 2015

1976: Best Science Fiction of the Year 5 (del Rey, Lester)

Some smiles, some thoughts, some originality (4/5)

I’m a skeptical believer when it comes to award-winning novels, all-time favorite novels, and so-called best-of collections. I very rarely agree with any objective praise lavished on a story because, for me, the subjective appeal is much more important to me that any trophy. If a story hits a nerve in me to some degree, it appeals to me, which is why del Rey’s best-of collection here ranks among one of my favorites. Some are quirky and fun, making you smile; some are reflective and humanistic, making you think; the others are fine yet are pale in comparison as they don’t offer a smile or a thought. Among the best are Phyllis Eisenstein’s probing of the alien and human condition in the “Tree of Life” (1975) and Hayford Peirce’s utterly unique and detailed “High Yield Bondage” (1975)—the former to make you think, the latter to make you smile.

Prior to reading this anthology, I had never heard of Hayford Peirce. But his two inclusions to this collection are quirky and fun. He’s an author whose work I’ll have to track down.

The Bitter Bread (novelette, 1975) – Poul Anderson (3/5)
On a rotating observation of a star ready to go nova, the ship Uriel and its crew of seven men stray too close. The unexpected result of the tugs of gravity and its passing of warped time and space is their state without inertia. Immediately, a mission to re-supply the ship is gathered, and the wife of one member bribes her way onto the roster of the usually male-exclusive space mission. She’s prohibited from touching her husband so as not to mix states, but destruction might be a kinder fate. 29 pages

Mail Supremacy (shortstory, 1975) – Hayford Peirce (4/5)
Chap Foey Rider recalls the days of express mail service, twice per days mail services, and ever prompt deliveries. At his main offices in New York, Chap receives an in-own letter within eight days yet a letter from Tahiti in only three days. As a test, he has his office in Bangkok send a letter to Lima 12,244 miles away—it arrives in one day. His curiosity piqued, Chap addressed and mails a letter to the Supreme Galactic Council regarding its General Post Office. He doesn’t know it yet, but 1984 is the start of something big. 4 pages

Child of All Ages (shortstory, 1975) – P J. Plauger (4/5)
Fourteen-year-old Melissa is a precocious child correcting her history teacher about the labor conditions during the industrial revolution. While the teacher said the child labor was disgraceful, Melissa argued that it was better than farm work, which was why she too worked in the factories centuries ago. Wanting to change foster homes, she admits to the social worker that she’s in fact 2,400 years old, her long life a gift from her ancient wizard father. Continually and purposefully still in pre-pubescence, adulthood has no draw for her. 20 pages

Tree of Life (shortstory, 1975) – Phyllis Eisenstein (5/5)
A parasitic alien crash lands on Earth. As its host dies, the parasite transfers itself to the nearest life form—a lone berry tree. Limited to the tree’s own senses, it can still sense the man whose land hosts the tree. Dismayed and angered with the inconveniences of the tree, the man cuts it down, cuts it into timber, and paints the imperishable stump blue. Yet, the tree doesn’t die, so the parasite can’t transfer. It waits for a time to become the dominant species of the planet—man. 8 pages

Helbent Four (novelette, 1975) – Stephen Robinett (4/5)
The lone survivor of the epic 2.478 nanosecond battle with the Spacethings, Helbent Four returns to Earth to gloriously proclaim the end of the human war against the aggressive aliens. In orbit, he’s met by no welcoming party, only a radio signal which interrogates him. NASA has no idea who Helbent is not who the Spacethings are; it’s then that Helbent realizes that he is three hundred years in Earth’s past, he the victim of the warpstorm. Thence, he spills forth his incredible story, awaiting a reply yet when his are answers are unwelcome, Helbent eyes sacrifice. 20 pages

Pop Goes the Weasel (shortstory, 1975) – Robert Hoskins (3/5)
After the Apocalypse, in which nearly everyone died of disease, only a few remain isolated from each other. Willie is one of them, having been raised by robots for most of this life while living in a mountainside bunker. Lacking human contact, aside from video calls from the blonde Margaret and the elderly Ernst, he lives a childish life of fantasy, whim, and pouts. One day, when Ernst announces he’s dying and his well-maintained abode falters, Willie feels the draw of living out his fantasy, but first he must escape his only home. 17 pages

The Book Learners (shortstory, 1975) – Liz Hufford (4/5)
The aliens on the planet Imitia were taken by storm when they first read the Bible of a crashed cosmonaut. Struck by the sheer originality of it, the entire planet became Christian and those who considered themselves Christ had themselves sacrificed on the cross—hundreds of them. Earth hears of this and sees an opportunity. The first two missionaries there are amazed to find the planet much like Jesus’ time—whales and all. The aliens being prone to new ideas and rules, a second book is sent to establish them as a base for manufacturing. 11 pages

High Yield Bondage (novelette, 1975) – Hayford Peirce (4/5)
Over 17,000 light-years from its home system, Huntleader Riderson and his ship plummet to the Earth but check their trajectory and settle in the unoccupied central desert of Texas. Unable to quickly contact home or repair the ship, the ship, itself, begins a decadal project in which Huntleader will take the form of a human, manage a supermarket, and launder money in order to secure enough finances for the next step of the project—nothing short of mutually beneficial world domination. 30 pages

Senior Citizen (shortstory, 1975) – Clifford D. Simak (3/5)
Orbiting Earth in his isolated satellite, Mr. Lee awakens every morning to the pleasant voice of the satellite’s robotic voice. His breakfast is made, he tasks are listed, and his garments are readied, yet Mr. Lee is as stubborn as an old man comes. Having his every care catered to, the geriatric man scorns things he once loved—scrambled eggs and painting—simply for a plain view of the stars, albeit sitting and feeling defeated. He misses his wife, who he spookily sees in all aspects of his hermetic life. 5 pages

The Peddler’s Apprentice (novelette, 1975) – Joan D. Vinge & Vernor Vinge (3/5)

Wim Buckrey and his small-time band of louts eye the recent arrival of a merchant gypsy. For lack of trade in the poor village, the gypsy-cum-magician named Jagit decides to travel through Darkwood Corner and Witch Hollow with Buckry’s band acting as so-called protectors, when they really just want to thieve him. When Buckry’s men are killed in an attack, he bonds with Jagit and, as they enter their destined city of Fyffe, Buckry learns an astonishing secret behind the magician and his own world. 44 pages

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