(Uncredited cover for the 1982 edition)
3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)
Fresh off Terry Carr’s novel Cirque (1977), I decided to return to his original Universe series of anthologies. I’ve previously reviewed Universe 1 (1971) and Universe 2 (1972). As with the majority of SF anthologies, Universe 10 (1980) is sprinkled with both good and bad. I selected it from the veritable sea of anthologies on my shelves due to the presence of authors I wish to explore further and those who are foreign to me: Michael Bishop and James Tiptree, Jr. in the former category; Lee Killough, Howard Waldrop, Carter Scholz, and F. M. Busby in the latter.
Michael Bishop’s “Saving Face”, James Tiptree, Jr.’s “A Source of Innocent Merriment,” and Carter Scholz’s “The Johann Sebastian Bach Memorial Barbecue and Nervous Breakdown” make the anthology worth tracking down.
Bottom line: A solid but unspectacular installment in the Universe series. Recommended.
“Saving Face” (1980) novelette, Michael Bishop, 4.5/5 (Very Good): The conceptual (and metafictional) sequel to Bishop’s lesser known masterpiece, Stolen Faces (1977), “Saving Face” tells the story of Mr. Rakestraw, snatched from his isolated rural (almost utopian) existence as his face matches, scientifically, the trademarked visage of Tiernan, a famous actor whose movies he’s never seen. A victim of the Physiognomic Protection Act, Mr. Rakestraw must emigrate to a foreign country where he would not be recognized, or permanently alter his features. At the actor’s expense, he opts for the latter choice. However, on his return home, face augmented, he cannot act as if nothing has happened with his family and previous life. Rather, he starts obsessively watching the actor’s performances, and imitating his voice and mannerisms.
There are numerous references to Stolen Faces (1977), for example Tiernan’s movie Yeardance is named after the main character and contains the general plot of Bishop’s earlier novel. In a characteristically Bishop touch, the outcome of this existential dilemma remains humanistically grounded and not of the earth-shattering nature. Bishop’s stories anchor themselves in the realistic actions of individuals encountering individual challenges in a transformed future. Recommended.
“A Source of Innocent Merriment” (1980), short story by James Tiptree, Jr., 4/5 (Good): A reporter for GalNews engages in conversation with an traumatized astronaut who reluctantly tells his story: “Well… we were away outside the Arm, see, checking out a cluster of promising-looking second-generations stars [..]” (48). Redolent of the ocean alien in Stanisław Lem’s Solaris (1961), the astronaut encounters a planet whose surface, a “primordial soup” (49), flashes the entire future of the planet by at incredible speed. The joy created by the spectacle has devastating consequences for the astronaut…
A haunting story about a man presented with a terrifying yet seductive vision in the empty expanse of space.
“And All the Skies Are Full of Fish” (1980), short story by R. A. Lafferty, 3/5 (Average): An oblique, and forgettable, tall tale from R. A. Lafferty about a competition (perhaps?) between the children of the The Local Anaesthetics (“with a scientific bent,” 61) and the “willow-dancing, pure-water kids” (70). The odd element of story concerns quotations from the “Rocky McCrocky” comic strip that seems to be influencing the way of telling… Lafferty inserts bigger parascientific/pseudoscientific arguments into the mouths of children all dolled up with comic book touches.
For fans of Lafferty only. I found it hard going.
“Bête et Noir” (1980), novelette in the Aventine sequence, Lee Killough, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): As “A Source of Innocent Merriment” reminded me of Lem, “Bête et Noir” is an overt homage to J. G. Ballard’s Vermillion Sands sequence of stories about an unusual artist colony. Miss Delacour, a famous actress, agrees to participate in a play in the théâtre vérité style directed by Brian Eleazer. Théâtre vérité, facilitated by drugs consumed by the actors, uses no scripts but rather allows the actors to take the mantle of a character and act as if they are the character. But Eleazer has suspicious past, his own wife in the practice leading up to her first théâtre vérité performance died under the influence of the facilitating drugs.
Despite the derivative nature of some elements of the premise (unavoidable), it is still worth the read.
“The Ugly Chickens” (1980), novelette by Howard Waldrop, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good) won the 1981 Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo. An occasionally funny (especially for those with knowledge of academia) story about the potential existence of an animal long throught extinct, the dodo. Filled with lengthy explanations of the history of the bird, a University of Texas graduate student in ornithology posits that the dodo might still alive in the American South. Spurned by an off-handed comment on a bus ride and desperate for fame, he sets off on an adventure to find the creature. An occasionally funny satire of academics and academic research, the story remains on the slight side.
“SUPERL” (1980), short story by Charles E. Elliott, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): The first of two “non-fact articles.” The idea, present a fragment of an article to indicate a greater SF world. I was tempted not to rate them but realized that many authors present similar experiments as “stories.” I appreciated that Carr included them!
A memo about SUPERL, “a language devised to replace all of the so-called natural languages” (146), lays out the advantages and disadvantages of such a linguist invention (and all possibility of dirty words) and combats all the critics (from those who think that jokes will be impossible, etc). One could imagine the committee sitting around discussing the language and dismissing it out of hand with jokes and giggles, thus the official sounding document about such an outrageous invention adds comic effect.
“Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life” (1980), short story by Harry Turtledove (as Eric G. Iverson ), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): The second “non-fact article” in the collection posits a document suggesting the incredible damage, ecological and societal, that will occur if Spain continues its exploration of the New World. This document suggests a very compelling jonbar point for an alternate history.
“The Confession of Hamo” (1980), short story by Mary C. Pangborn, 2/5 (Bad): A bland fantasy tale… Hamo of York (also known as Hamo the Red) confesses to Brother Albertus his nefarious past involving alchemy with a twist. Those who obsessively want to catalogue all instances of Medievalism in fantasy might be intrigued, I am already in the process of forgetting.
“The Johann Sebastian Bach Memorial Barbecue and Nervous Breakdown” (1980), short story by Carter Scholz, 4.25/5 (Good): A time-traveling musicologist, at the annual musicologists’ picnic in the University of Carlifornia at Berkeley’s botanical gardens, relates the manner in which he compelled Johann Sebastian Bach to create his masterpieces. Rather than study music, musicologists time-travel into the past and in a variety of guises create the environment most conducive to genius—states of emotional pain. The audience, however, is very aware that the narrator is a “notorious liar” (193) and not all might be as it seems.
“First Person Plural” (1980), novella by F. M. Busby, 4/5 (Good): Ed Carlain—“wiry, hairy, thirty-eight-year-old, smoker’s-coughing, horny Ed Carlain” (205)—wakes up in the body of an obese young woman named Melanie Blake who has never spoken a word, or moved, in her life. When Ed is in her body, she speaks to an attendant nurse for the first time. Stranger yet, Ed wakes up alternately in his own body with knowledge of Blake’s experiences—although they occupy time simultaneously, the experiences of Melanie as Ed are remembered by Ed as Ed. Although the story heads in rather predictable patterns, Melanie as Ed must meet Ed as Ed (he also happens to be in an open marriage so predictable sexual content must transpire), Busby manages to create an engaging and disquieting story from this audacious Freudian-drenched premise.
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(Lawrence Ratzkin’s miserable cover for the 1980 edition)