Guest Post: “Allegiances,” Michael Bishop (1975)

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(Jack Guaghan’s cover for the February 1975 issue of Galaxy, where “Allegiances” was first published)

The tenth and final (at least for now) installment in my guest post series on the science fiction of Michael Bishop comes via Peter S. a longtime commentator on my site.  He should start his own SF review site….  His comments (and this review) are greatly appreciated!

He selected the novella “Allegiances” (1975) from the anthology The 1976 Annual World’s Best SF (1976), ed. Donald A. Wollheim he owned (image below)–DOMED CITIES!

The novella was included in Catacomb Years (1979) reviewed by 2thD recently.

Thanks everyone for a successful series.  All the comments and contributions are greatly appreciated.  I have more plans along these lines for the future!


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“Allegiances” (1975) — Michael Bishop

Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1976 edition of The 1976 Annual World’s Best SF (1976), ed. Donald A. Wollheim

When I come across a Science Fiction anthology, I first check the contents to see if there is anything unusual such as a story by a favorite author that I have not seen before, or maybe a lost gem from an author I was not previously aware of. I also check to see who the editor is, since each editor has their own distinctive way of putting together a collection.

My impression of the many anthologies that Donald Wollheim (1914 – 1990) worked on is that they are always of interest. I expect the majority of the stories in any given collection to be very good, most will be mainstream Hard Science Fiction, though there will always be a few that could be considered unusual or that break new ground. As the co-founder of DAW, along with his wife Elsie, as well as editor, he must have been forced to wear two hats. Forced to make sure a book was commercially viable, while also trying to present a unique collection of stories each year.

Michael Bishop’s story ‘Allegiances’ fits in well with the usual Wollheim mold. It uses a fairly standard Sci-Fi theme; the domed city, with just enough of a twist to make it of interest close to 40 years after it was first published. It is part of his ‘Urban Nucleus’ series of stories that center on a near future Atlanta, now closed up in a dome. The story was later included, along with the other short stories in the series in ‘Catacomb Years’ , a sequel to ‘A Little Knowledge’, which was reviewed by Heloise Merlin a few weeks ago.

A team is sent out from Atlanta, consisting of Zoe Noble, Alexander Guest, and Newlyn Yates, in search of who or what is not made clear until about mid way through the story. As might be expected, first we are introduced to each team member, a racially diverse group consisting of an African-American man, a Native-American man, and a Caucasian woman. The reason for this diversity is made apparent by the end of the story, and is hinted at by the use of the word ‘allegiances’ as the title. Of course, introducing the team is not at all unusual for a story of a journey, what I did find unusual is his use of ‘Place’. The city of Atlanta is not a random choice of location, it is central to the story. Southern history especially the Civil War, Andrew Jackson, the Trail of Tears, slavery, and even kudzu make appearance throughout. Kudzu could even be considered a minor character!

I’m not sure if there are very many other writers that do as good a job with regionalism as Michael Bishop has done here, Clifford Simak’s beloved Wisconsin comes to mind, but in general it’s rare to find such use of regional history in a Science Fiction story.

The story is told from the point of view of Zoe Noble, and a good portion of it consists of her conversations with the other two team members as they go on their mission. It seems as though other writers would use this portion of the story to have the team get into some kind of suspenseful situation. A violent encounter with the savages outside the dome for example. But Bishop is subtler than that, he uses this time to explain each character’s motivation, as well as hint at those allegiances. The social order of the domed city is only partially described, though it is apparent that the lower classes end up being relegated to the lowest levels, those underground. The nature of the city leadership is only hinted at, as well as the reason for the city being domed.

The team leader, Newlyn Yates, eventually reveals that the mission is to locate Fiona Bitler, the exiled widow of one of the city’s rabble rousers. The usual ‘domed city’ theme presents the inhabitants as being the last hope of mankind after some kind of cataclysm, with anyone left outside assumed to be savages. However, as the team advances in their mission, the further they get from the city, and the more aware they become that ‘The City’ may not actually be the only civilization left on the planet. What they find out when they find Fiona Bitler may end up changing the established order under the dome. I won’t be giving anything away by saying that some of the team do not end up returning, you just have to pay attention to the ‘allegiances’ presented to figure out who among the team might not go back to way of life they have known.

It is clear that Bishop has much larger things in mind when he wrote this story. Details are hinted at, the history of the domed city is presented in asides or obliquely referred to. A complex society has developed that might be coming to an end due to what this team has found, and it’s clear that there’s more to come from Bishop on the domed city of Atlanta.   While not everything is explained in this single story, there is just enough to be intriguing enough to make me want to search for more of these Urban Nucleus stories, in either the books A Little Knowledge, or Catacomb Years.

Other Anthologies/Collections containing “Allegiances”

(Rich Sternbach’s cover for the 1976 edition of The Best from Galaxy, Volume IV (1976), ed. James Baen)

(Patrick Woodroffe’s cover for the The Best from Galaxy, Volume IV (1978), ed. James Baen)

(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1979 edition of Catacomb Years (1979), Michael Bishop)

(Chet Jezierski’s cover for the 1976 edition of The 1976 Annual World’s Best SF (1976), ed. Donald A. Wollheim and Arthur W. Saha)

Links to previous Michael Bishop Guest Posts [updated]

“Allegiances” (1975) (review by Peter S.)

A Little Knowledge (1977) (review by Heloise at Heloise Merlin’s Weblog)

Blooded on Arachne (1982) (selections) (review by Carl V. Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings)

Brighten to Incandescence (2003) (review by MPorcius at MPorcius Fiction Log)

Brittle Innings (1994) (review by James Harris at Auxiliary Memory)

Catacomb Years (1979) (review by 2theD at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature)

“Death and Designation Among the Asadi” (1973) (review by Jesse at Speculiction…)

“In Rubble, Pleading” (1974), “Death and Designation Among the Asadi” (1973), and “The White Otters of Childhood” (1973), (review by Admiral Ironbombs at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased)

No Enemy But Time (1982) (review by Megan at From Couch to Moon)

“The Quickening” (1981) (review by Max at Pechorin’s Journal)


Links to my three previously posted reviews of Bishop’s work

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975)

And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (1976)

Stolen Faces (1977)

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: “Allegiances,” Michael Bishop (1975)

  1. Thanks for including my post Joachim! I tend to focus on works from the 50’s and 60’s, so while I was aware of Bishop, it had been some years since I’ve read anything by him. So I’ve learned quite a bit about a writer who I have been unjustly neglecting.

  2. I’ve found the Waldheim touch to be pretty true for me, too: if he was the editor or particularly if the book is a yellow-spine DAW book, I usually like at least enough of it to make it worth the reading. I’m not sure I’ve ever been dissatisfied with one of them.

    • Hmmm, DAW doesn’t always sit well with me — Dickson collections (blah), Stableford (perpetually average to bad)… And their fantasy turn in the late 70s/80s (cringe). For example, this homage to Burroughs cannot possibly be worth reading!

  3. If you haven’t had one already, your thoughts on the various anthology editors would make for a good post. I like Damon Knight’s ‘Orbit’ series, and the ‘Spectrum’ series from Amis-Conquest. The DAW collections are usually fairly easy to find, I don’t see too many Orbits anymore though!

    • Not sure I’ve read enough anthologies to come up with an opinion. I would like to read more Merril’s anthologies for example (some important early New Wave ones etc).

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