Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 8
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
September 9, 1983

Despite the modest financial rewards awaiting them, talented new writers continue to enter the world of speculative fiction. Among that number is Timothy Zahn, who was diverted from a career in physics by the death of his thesis advisor. Since 1979, Zahn's short works have been appearing with some regularity in ANALOG and other magazines. Now Zahn's first novel, "The Blackcollar" (DAW, $2.95 paper), has appeared, and it's a sparkling adventure yarn.

The blackcollars of the title are chemically augmented guerrilla warriors "invented" by the Terran Democratic Empire for use in the war against the alien Ryqril. But the TDE fell to the Ryqril, and the blackcollars went into hiding on their now-subjugated planets. Thirty years later, Allen Caine goes looking for them--carrying the secret of a cache of warships which could loosen the Ryqril chokehold, if the underground can beat the Ryqril to them. Deep intrigues and blistering action spice this solidly-written entertainment.

More top-notch work by relative newcomers can be found in "The Best Science Fiction of the Year #12" (Timescape, $3.95 paper), edited by Terry Carr. This fat volume contains thirteen of the top stories from 1982's magazines and anthologies, plus a review of the year by Locus Magazine's Charles Brown and a recommended reading list (whereon, honesty compels me to admit, you will find a story of mine listed.)

Writers represented in this year's volume include underknowns Nancy Kress and William Gibson, rising star Connie Willis, and established names such as Frederick Pohl and Ursula LeGuin. I was particularly pleased to see Robert Silverberg's "The Pope of The Chimps," which first appeared in the anthology "Perpetual Light"--it's the best piece of short fiction I read last year.

James Hogan has made himself a reputation for first-class "hard" science fiction in the vein of Hal Clement or early Arthur C. Clarke. In his new novel "Code of the Lifemaker" (Del Rey, $13.95 cloth) Hogan creates a complete machine ecology on Saturn's moon Titan. There are predator machines, scavenger machines, and even sentient robots who wonder about their Maker.

Though the parallel course of evolution followed by Titan's "life" forms may seem a hair contrived, that's quickly forgotten as Earth's leaders react to the discovery with typically proprietary fervor. Lost in the race to exploit the Titans' natural wizardry is any consideration for their different but equally worthy "humanity." Hogan weaves some weighty philosophical questions into his tale, and his answers rang true to my ear.

In a fragmented world recovering but slowly from nuclear war, how would efforts to rediscover that technology be received? Coolly, of course. But what if the reason for releasing the nuclear genie again is to raise humanity back above the plane of subsistence? That's the interesting dilemma which is at the heart of Poul Anderson's "Orion Shall Rise" (Timescape, $7.95 trade paper). The Maurai inspectors allow only "appropriate" technologies to flourish within their sphere of influence--but the Norrmen have set their sights higher. Four cultures, with four visions of the present and the future, are drawn into the struggle over the Norrmen's dream to reclaim the stars.


Speaking of Hugos: take 6000 fans, 200 writers, 115,000 square feet of floor space, sprinkle in films, video, role-playing games, masterful costumes and fresh crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, stew the whole business together for five days, and what have you got? The 1983 World Science Fiction Convention (i.e. the Worldcon), held in Baltimore over the Labor Day weekend. I'll have a report for you next time up, including this year's Hugo Award winners.

--Michael P. Kube-McDowell
August 19, l983

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