Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 17
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
March 23, 1985

LESS IS MORE: Aside from small literary journals and market-specific stories showcasing everything from cats to "choppers," short fiction has almost disappeared from the American publishing scene. The last viable refuge for the short forms has been the world of science fiction and fantasy, and there's ample evidence in the recent deluge of SF anthologies that short fiction is not only surviving, but thriving.

Among the notable single author collections is "Fire Watch" (Bluejay, $14.95 HB) by Connie Willis, a fine new writer who fairly overwhelmed the magazine scene in 1982 with several outstanding tales. Included among the dozen stories in this first collection of Willis' work are the Hugo- and Nebula-winning title tale, the Nebula-winner "A Letter From the Clearys," and "All My Darling Daughters," a disturbing story about the father-daughter dynamic which is published here for the first time.

"Limits" (Del Rey, $2.95 PB) by Larry Niven is a less traditional anthology, containing, among other pieces, three collaborative stories, two stories set in universes created by other writers, and five of Niven's short but entertaining Draco Tavern tales.

One of the Niven tales also appears in "Berserker Base" (Tor, $6.95 PB), a strange sort of serial collaboration growing out of the earlier Berserker books by Fred Saberhagen which also spawned a popular video game. "Berserker Base" consists of six stories by other writers, such as Roger Zelazny and Stephen Donaldson, plus seven chapters by Saberhagen, all blended into something that is more than an anthology but less than a novel. For fans only.

Somtow Sucharitkul is one of the most idiosyncratic and poetic voices in SF. Both of those qualities are in evidence in "Utopia Hunters" (Bantam, $2.95 PB), in which are collected his popular and challenging Inquestor stories as well as some new material. Sucharitkul's rich, colorful stories offer a refreshing cross-cultural perspective which lifts them well above the mean.

There's no overlooking "Light Years And Dark" (Berkley, $8.95 PB), a monster (500-page) anthology of contemporary SF edited by Michael Bishop. Containing forty stories and several miscellaneous pieces covering a wide range of styles and a wider range of authors, "Light Years And Dark" serves as a fine sampler of contemporary "literary" (vs. escapist) SF.

Working the other side of the street, Bishop's fine novella "Her Habiline Husband" leads off "Universe 13" (Tor, $2.95 PB), the first reprint of the 1983 collection edited by Terry Carr. Bishop's entry chews up more than a third of the book, leaving room for only six more stories by the likes of Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, and Bruce Sterling -- all of whom are clearly rising stars.


-- Michael P. Kube-McDowell is the author of EMPRISE, a science-fiction novel to be published in June by Berkley.

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Created: 12 March 2005
Last Revised: 07 July 2009