Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 3
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
January 28, 1983

Collections of short fiction in book form--anthologies--have always been important in the world of speculative fiction (SF). The first of them appeared in the 1940s, and mined the first 20 years of SF magazine fiction. Theme anthologies, with all the entries exploring one central idea, first surfaced in the 1950s. And the several "best-of-the-year" collections, notably those edited by Judith Merril and Terry Carr, have been responsible for winning many new fans for SF.

But the last decade has been a rough one for anthology publishing. Long-running series such as "New Writings in SF" and Damon Knight's "Orbit" were suspended, and recently the next volume of the Robert Silverberg/Marta Randall series "New Dimensions" was postponed.

One bright spot has been the popular and critical success of books which represent a new wrinkle in theme anthologies. The wrinkle is that the editor creates a "universe," or detailed setting, in which the stories are to take place.

"Storm Season" (Ace, $$2.95) is the fourth volume in the Thieves' World series created by editor Robert Lynn Asprin. The setting is Sanctuary, the "meanest, seediest, most dangerous town" in the Rankan Empire. Sanctuary is populated by the densest concentration of scoundrels, harlots, and other assorted riffraff to be found anywhere. Fun? You bet. The series has even spawned a role-playing fantasy game, for as contributor Lynn Abbey said in an earlier volume, "frankly, nastiness is interesting."

Sometimes an editor creates a universe without meaning to. That's what happened to Larry Niven when he wrote the novel "The Magic Goes Away," in which the age of magic ends as the power which drives it is exhausted. But there's still a little left, enough to power the five tales in "The Magic May Return" (Ace, $2.95). The stories are by Niven, Poul Anderson, Fred Saberhagen, and others who didn't want to see the magic go just yet.

James Gunn's 30 years of experience as an SF writer, combined with his years teaching SF as a professor at the University of Kansas, made him the perfect editor for an anthology series intended to trace the history of the genre. With the appearance of "The Road to Science Fiction 4: From Here to Forever" (Mentor, $4.95), that series is now complete, and the new volume matches the high standards of the others. Gunn has again included detailed introductions which place each selection in context, and the selections themselves are splendid. Daniel Keyes "Flowers for Algernon," Walter Miller's "The First Canticle," and an excerpt from Frank Herbert's "Dune" stand out among the 31 tales packed between the covers of this fat paperback.

Single-author collections usually face the toughest sledding, unless the author has an established following, an award-winning story, or both. C. L. Moore does have both, as might be expected of someone whose first story appeared in 1933. The five tales in "Jirel of Joiry" (Ace, $2.75) recount the adventures of a medieval French heroine who follows a tunnel to another world for a weapon to turn against those who had stormed Castle Joiry. Though Jirel made her debut in the 1930s, she wears her age well.

James White is best known for his stores and novels set on a massive space-station-cum-hospital called Sector General. "Futures Past" (Del Rey, $2.95) is primarily composed of White's other stories, most of which appeared in the 1950s in the British magazine NEW WORLDS. As is wont to be the case with a collection of any writer's early work, the quality is uneven.

To round out this roundup of anthologies, there's Rudy Rucker's "The 57th Franz Kafka" (Ace, $2.50). Rucker is a new writer who takes some setting used to--his stories are full of diagrams, as though he were scribbling on a classroom blackboard en route to making some didactic point. If you can see your way to bringing Zen, physics, and sex together, then you'll find these audacious pieces--not all are fiction, though it can be hard to tell--to your liking.

--Michael Kube-McDowell is a member of the Truth staff.

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Created: 12 March 2005
Last Revised: 07 July 2009