OFF THE SHELF: “Chrysalis 8”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Chrysalis 8Can there ever be enough anthologies of short stories in the world? Well some of us don’t think so – yours truly included considering I’m working on one of my own(1). Others would seem to have said the same – Damon Knight(2), Isaac Asimov, and the editor of the Chrysalis series of anthologies of course – Roy Torgenson. Science fiction surely can offer a ton of anthologies among its ranks, considering that the words “science fiction” can conjure up anything from altered-historical stories to hard SF to fantasy adventures.

The eighth (obviously) in the series of however many did make it out (I have no idea, myself), Chrysalis 8 has some great stand-by authors you and I recognize and some we don’t. Which, again, is kind of the point of an anthology, whether it be a compilation in music or a collection of stories in a book. Some of the names you might recognize include Tanith Lee(3) and Orson Scott Card.

The anthology I have already said is edited by Roy Torgeson and the series itself was said, in its time, to have been the “most exciting thing to hit the anthology market in a long time.” Now I’m reading this more than 20 years after its appearance, and nonetheless the book retains this in form and vision. A lot of the material here has been discussed before, but you’ll find something gloriously different in most short story collections. In novels, things that are touched upon are typically bundled up with a pile of more “things being touched upon,” and therefore none of this is really delved into. In short stories, the authors will typically pick one point – and work towards or about it. So even if I say things here may have been “touched upon” before, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that has been “delved into” quite as splendidly.

The oldest story in Chrysalis 8 is by far R.A. Lafferty’s Crocodile – ten years the senior of the others here. This is the only piece that has appeared elsewhere – in a small magazine called Phantasmicon. This story was written a year before my own birth – in 1970 – while the others all hail from the year 1980. Strangely enough, Crocodile is one of the more futuristic of the pieces here, regardless of its comparative age to the others. Surrealistically fulfilling, too, and takes on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and does it with aplomb, humor and joy.

The foreword/introduction of Chrysalis 8, obviously by Mr. Torgeson, doesn’t spend too much time jerking you around. It introduced you to the vision behind the anthology series (good short stories – bet you couldn’t have guessed that, huh) and provides at least a paragraph each about how he came about each of them and a bit about the writer. It also has some of his feelings about the stories, and I would suggest you bounce back to the introduction and reread each as you go into that story. Sets you up for it, so to speak.

Orson Scott Card’s Hart’s Hope is by far the gem among this collection. It is a fantasy piece while the others tend to stay science-driven, and it is well beyond any of the others in length and breadth. In my last written Off The Shelf review (Better the Devil You Know) I gave a lot of kudos to the author about her ending. I must do the same here for Orson. Hart’s Hope closes with a brilliantly written fantastical ending to a fantastical tale that will bring back all the joy of swords & sorcery you remember from your youth – assuming you’re not a youth. In which case it will just thrill you here and now, regardless of its 20+ year age.

Wryneck Draw Me, written by Margaret St. Clair, is one of the strangest yet superbly written AI pieces I’ve found. It involves a computer – I said AI, right? – that finds that nothing and nobody can ever deserve its love except something perfect. So perfect, something like itself. For it is perfect. And therefore – it falls in love with itself. Jake the computer becomes so infused with the desire to woo itself that it spends all of its time in the attempt, culminating in the Great Dildo Scene, bringing yet another meaning to the term “go fuck yourself.” It’s damned hard to explain, but damned fine to read.

For a dose of surrealism mixed with a heavy amount of macabre, check out Steve Rasnick Tem’s Filmmaker also found here. It details a man filming his life in artsy-fartsy fashion. The imagery is sublimely brutal. The closing piece, Barrier by Leanne Frahm, must have been written in one of her most bitter and hate-filled moods. But those cynics and jade-hearted among us, myself included, will find much to enjoy in Barrier. A brutal, yet hauntingly truthful, vision of mankind from the outside looking in. And the attempt to keep it that way – in.

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“Chrysalis 8” Anthology
Published in hardcover by Doubleday & Co.
Published Kensington Publishing Corp.
Introduction copyright © 1980 by Roy Torgeson
You Are My Sunshine copyright © 1980 by Tanith Lee
Beachcomber copyright © 1980 by Mike Resnick
Emily Dickinson – Saved From Drowning copyright © 1980 by Barry N. Malzberg
The King is Dead! Long Live – copyright © 1980 by Margery Krueger
Hart’s Hope copyright © 1980 by Orson Scott Card
Wryneck, Draw Me copyright © 1980 by Margaret St. Clair
The Cathedral in Dying Time copyright © 1980 by Sharon Webb
Proteus copyright © 1980 by Paul H. Cook
Angel’s Wings copyright © 1980 by Somtow Sucharitkul
Filmmaker copyright © 1980 by Steve Rasnic Tem
Crocodile copyright © 1970 by R. A. Lafferty
Barrier copyright © 1980 by Leanne Frahm

(1) Decade of Dark – The Best of Legends Magazine’s First 10 Years.
(2) I’m reading his Orbit 2 collection now.
(3) Tanith’s Tales From the Flat Earth and Electric Forest were both discussed in Legends’ Off the Shelf column in issues #104 & #103 respectively.

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