Saturday, January 10, 2015

Black Holes & Bug-Eyed Monsters: Review

Asimov's Choice: Black Holes & Bug-Eyed Monsters (1977), edited by George H. Scithers, is a collection of stories featured in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine--including a story by Asimov himself. Writing a really good straight short story takes a lot of skill; writing a really good short science fiction is, I believe, even more difficult. To drop a reader in a brand new world--whether that world is an alternate Earth, future Earth, or an entirely alien world--and make it comprehensible as well as believable within the limits of the shorter form is no easy task. And, unfortunately, not all of the authors in this collection were completely up to the task. There may be a reason why I am thoroughly unfamiliar with the work of writers such as F. M. Busby (although I have, at least, come across his name before), Richard Lee Hawkins, and Steven Utley. One does hope that other work--for I see on the interwebs that some of them are "well-known"--is stronger than the stories here.

The best of the bunch are John Varley's "Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe," "Low Grade Ore" by Kevin O'Donnell, Jr., "Perchance to Dream" by Sally A. Sellers, and "To Sin Against Systems" by Garry R. Osgood. The story by Asimov is, as always, a fine one, but it is one of the Black Widowers tales and not, strictly speaking, a science fiction tale--though the solution does involve science. And, besides, I've read it before so the impact wasn't quite as great. 

Varley does a marvelous job of selling me on the idea of an artificial world in the heart of Pluto. We know that Piri, our narrator, is playing at a second childhood in those undergound waters, but we don't know exactly why and there is great pleasure in finding out at the end. "Low Grade Ore" by O'Donnell is also excellent. In just twenty-five pages, he convinces us of alien invasion by teleportation and the method by which a little child leads humanity to successfully fight back against the victors. "Perchance to Dream" and "To Sin Against the Systems" each give us a different take on what life for someone with an extended life-expectancy would be like. In one case, the young woman longs to die, but can't--until her husband, a doctor, is willing to help her find a way. In the other, a man with the capability to repeatedly "metamorphose" into a new life must outwit a man determined to learn--and use--his secret.

The collection wound up being very balanced and enjoyable--not quite "The Best in Science Fiction" as promised on the back cover. But a solid group of stories from the 1970s. ★★★ 

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds right up my alley, short story wise.... not so sure about the sci-fi aspect though! Great review!