This is the first of a 4 book anthology series, where the series concept is to have a set of four stories from each author, one per volume, which can each be read as individual stand-alone stories, but which together make up a story arc. It was published in 1974 and was edited by Roger Elwood, which is an entertaining and informative tale in itself.
I bought my copy of volume 1 about thirty years ago, and for various reasons (including the dreaded “it was only going to be in storage for a year or two”) I probably haven’t read it for close to twenty years. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that I only remembered two of the stories — the one by Philip Jose Farmer, which I don’t actually like very much and don’t think works as a standalone; and the story from Anne McCaffrey, which is the first part of what later became The Crystal Singer, and which I’ve thus read a fair number of times in the novel. The others seem completely unfamiliar to me. This is surprising, because there are some good stories in here. I read a library copy of volume 4 a few years after buying this volume, and can vaguely remember something about the closing stories of only those two authors as well. (I think I liked the Farmer sequence better for having seen the end of the arc.)
Philip Jose Farmer – Stations of the Nightmare
Guy shoots at quail flock in his neighbour’s field, and hits a very small flying saucer instead. It escapes into the woods but releases a golden pollen-like substance, and it eventually becomes clear that guy has been contaminated by it. Except nothing much actually happens, and this story doesn’t seem to have any closure that makes it work as a standalone.
Poul Anderson – My own, my native land
Coming of age story on a recently colonised planet. The settlement is up on a plateau where the atmosphere is breathable for Earth-born humans; one of the colonists has had to crashland a survey shuttle down on the plains, where the conditions are barely survivable without some form of life support. The colony can’t spare another shuttle to retrieve the salvageable parts and datatapes by air, but it’s still worth taking them out by road. The problem is having to cut the road first, in an environment that’s not actively hostile but requires immigrant colonists to wear life support if they want to do any heavier labour than slow walking. The shuttle pilot recruits one of the locally-born teenagers to go back with him for the salvage parts. Enjoyable as an individual story.
Chad Oliver – Shaka!
A trading company’s spaceship finds a way around the prohibition on cultural contamination in order to protect their trading partners on a primitive planet from an aggressive neighbouring tribe. They use an obvious historical model — but some time later have to find a way to ameliorate the effects of their cultural tampering. Enjoyed this.
Thomas N Scortia — The Armageddon Tapes
Now this one worked as a standalone for me, while leaving me wanting to read the rest of the arc. Someone who was as a child part of a group abducted by aliens and integrated into their spaceship’s ecology has recently been returned to Earth, and is being interrogated by the minions of what is clearly a deeply unpleasant dictatorship. The interrogation is not exactly going according to plan…
Anne McCaffrey – Prelude to a Crystal Song
This is the first segment of what later became the novel The Crystal Singer, although MacCaffrey re-wrote large chunks of the anthology series material, in particular giving it a different ending. I always loved this short story and the novel that grew from it, in part because the heroine really isn’t always likeable – and the author knew it. But in spite of Killashandra having, as McCaffrey says, a generous portion of the conceit and ego needed for her chosen profession of opera singer, she also has courage, the self-understanding to recognise her self-pity for what it is, and the maturity to indulge herself just a little with self-pity after a crushing disappointment at the end of her time as a music student and then move on to practical consideration of what else she might do with her life. Fate hands her the opportunity to take her inborn talent and hard-won skill to another profession, one where the rewards – and the risks – are a worthy challenge.
Gene Wolfe – The Dark of the June
Very short piece that can’t be reviewed without spoilering it.
Edgar Pangborn – The Children’s Crusade
Thirty years after a limited nuclear war combined with biological warfare has drastically reduced the population, the people in a small Vermont village are mostly getting along fairly well with the level of tech they’ve managed to retain. Then along comes the Children’s Crusade, led by a man who was a very young child at the time of the war. He’s not an evil man, but he certainly has the potential to be a threat. Two of the villagers join the Crusade as it leaves the village after staying for a few days. I’d like the story a lot better of the author didn’t openly hector the reader about what I presume are the author’s political views – and I say this even though I either agree with or am neutral about most of them. Notable for discussing the issue of global warming back in 1974.
Dean R Koontz – The Night of the Storm
Four members of a robot civilisation go on a hunting expedition where part of the point is to deliberately cripple their senses and physical strength so that the hunt is a more equal match between robot and animal. They tell each other campfire stories, including the story of the legendary “human”, a creature that is an animal that can think. And as with all good campfire ghost stories, they start to see things in the shadows, where it’s just that little too dark for them to see clearly… Loved this, and it would be my main reason for keeping the anthology in order to re-read.