OFF THE SHELF: “Orbit 2”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Orbit 2The last time I reviewed a book it happened to be the Chrysalis 8 compilation. A science fiction collection from various authors, I found Chrysalis 8 to hover between good and excellent. It seems that the Chrysalis series got the good pieces to print – and on the other hand the Orbit series, of which Orbit 2 is obviously a part of, got the bottom of the barrel.

There isn’t much here in Orbit 2 at all to do anything beyond bore you – or at least me. Edited by well known author Damon Knight who shits out books like he’s on a trip to Mexico, it includes works from Brian Aldiss, Ted Thomas, R.A. Lafferty (who also appeared in Chrysalis 8) and of course others. Damon’s collection, when pit against the previously read anthology from Roy Torgenson, pales horribly.

The highlight story of this collection is Richard McKenna’s Fiddler’s Green. A well told tale of alternate perception-based reality, Fiddler’s Green takes on the I-see-and-feel-therefore-it-is thought and tackles it very well, including one of my favorite quirks of this quasi-theory: the less intellectual beings around to unratify your perception, the better chance you have of making it real – for you. Extend this outward, and you can then make it also real for others, creating a sort of shadow realm known here as the elusive Fiddler’s Green of old tale and myth. While the story opens and moves very well, and the reading is splendid, it then tends to hover into the “enough already” territory. It is by far the longest short in the book, possibly a novella to some, and in my opinion it should have ended much sooner than it did. Nonetheless it retains its charm for what it is and tackles perception-reality theory very well and convincingly, with interesting if slightly quirky characters.

For our budding astronomers, check out The Dimple in Draco by Philip Latham. It goes deep in astronomical theory and suggests some rather cosmic changes in universal belief. Not overly engrossing, but quiet and short and at least a little interesting – and I’m sure moreso to all those amateur astronomers. Meanwhile, for a new take on legend lore and fantasy, Gene Wolf’s Trip Trap makes an attempt at redefining one of my favorite childhood storybook features – the troll that lives under the bridge. It does so using an off-world, futuristic backdrop for the story, but retains the old world flavor of its fairy tale father.

Joanna Russ gives us two tales of Alyx, a heroine that Knight attempts to define against a Conan male counterpart. The first story in the series, I Gave Her Sack and Sherry, is confusing and riddled with ridiculously pedantic drivel masquerading as “dialogue.” But the second, The Adventuress, continues the travels of Alyx with a different approach to the writing style that is more sensical and easier followed. It’s not really that great, but it’s better than the first and I suppose further looks into Alyx, if there are any, might be warranted on a very bored and rainy night when you’ve already read the library through and have nothing else to pick up.

There is at least one more notable mention in Orbit 2, and that is R.A. Lafferty’s The Hole on the Corner. In Chrysalis 8, Lafferty’s Crocodile was a surrealistic style piece that took on Asimov’s Law of Robotics. Here, Lafferty retains his same strangeness and satisfyingly weird prose with his offer for this collection, and takes on the idea of the multiverse containing counterparts of our own world. It’s very well written, and a breath of fresh air when encountered within the anthology. Thoroughly enjoyable and laughingly strange.

I’d like to tell you about a few more of the stories contained here – The Doctor by Ted Thomas, Baby, You Were Great by Kate Wilhelm, The Food Farm by Kit Reed and Full Sun by Brian W. Aldiss. But the fact of the matter is, not long after being read, they faded away into mindbending obscurity. Which, in short, means they were totally forgettable. All the stories with the possible exceptions of Fiddler’s Green and The Hole on the Corner are similar, and I almost had to force myself to remember the bit I did about them so I could write this review. Orbit 2 is a collection of mostly humdrum sci-fi, and there are many other anthologies that are more worth your time than this.

“Orbit 2” Anthology Edited by Damon Knight
Published by Berkeley Medallion Books
Copyright © 1967 by Damon Knight

Legends Online