Charting the Fantastic and Bizarre New Anthologies Help Readers Find Their Way through the Evolving Genre of Science Fiction

By Paul O. Williams. Paul O. Williams, who teaches English eight science-fiction novels. | The Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 1992 | Go to article overview

Charting the Fantastic and Bizarre New Anthologies Help Readers Find Their Way through the Evolving Genre of Science Fiction


Paul O. Williams. Paul O. Williams, who teaches English eight science-fiction novels., The Christian Science Monitor


SCIENCE fiction, once a ghettoized subcategory of pop fiction, now publishes so many titles monthly that no one can gain a comprehensive sense of what is going on in the genre.

Consequently, readers tend to stick with favorite writers. And one way new readers can find those favorites is to read anthologies of short stories and novellas, then go on to look for work by writers whose work they enjoy.

One such anthology is Universe 2, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber (Bantam, 397 pp., $21.50 cloth, $10 paper). Consisting of 22 selections, with a general introduction by Silverberg and introductions to each story as well, this reestablished annual anthology continues the Universe series edited by the late Terry Carr from 1971 to 1987.

All but one of the stories are previously unpublished. Their authors include the widely acclaimed and the lesser known. Silverberg and Haber chose stories of considerable variety on the basis of literary excellence.

Readers will find some stories fairly traditional in style, some much more esoteric - such as Alex Jeffers's "The Fire The Fire." For those who know Tom Godwin's famous short story "The Cold Equations," Deborah Wessell's "The Cool Equations" will prove a rollickingly inventive riposte.

Nebula Awards 26, edited by James Morrow (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 322 pp., $24.95 cloth, $12.95 paper) includes stories from the finalists in the annual Nebula competition. Chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), the material is written by its members.

The Nebulas are highly valued awards. But the manner of their choice will always be a source of argument among the members of SFWA. Few members can read all the relevant material they vote on. At times, they choose on the basis of reputation or familiarity in general rather than the sterling quality of any particular story; as a result, the range of quality in the collection varies greatly. A couple of the stories are quite negligible, though on the whole the standard is high and the writing satisfying.

If one can judge by these two collections, science-fiction stories are moving away from narratives told in a traditional manner toward the more fantastic, bizarre, and, if one can accuse a science-fiction writer of such a thing, the literary and even arty. Twenty years ago, when the genre was more economical, straightforward, and head on, many of the stories in this anthology would have had a struggle getting published.

Particularly delightful is Terry Bisson's "Bears Discover Fire." Ted Chiang's "Tower of Babylon" turns back on itself marvellously. Joe Haldeman's "The Hemingway Hoax" appears in its shorter version, edited down from its novel length for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine by Gardner Dozois. The result is in part not easily intelligible. The full novel version is a fine time-travel and alternate-universe story based on Hadley Hemingway's disastrous loss of a suitcase full of her husband Ernest's story manuscripts.

The Nebula anthology also contains a fine essay by Karen Cramer on science fiction in 1990, another by Bill Warren on science-fiction films of 1990, tributes to Donald A. Wollheim and Lester Del Rey, reprints of Rhysling Poetry Award winners, and other material. Not only are most of the stories highly worthwhile, but this volume also gives the reader interesting insights into the maturing science-fiction and fantasy community as of 1990.

Robert Silverberg has also edited a remarkable project, Murasaki (Bantam, 290 pp., $20 cloth), a novel in six parts, each written by a different Nebula-winning writer. This multiple work presents a problem of a created dual world - two planets that revolve around each other. …

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