Book Review: Fellowship of the Stars, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Ursula K. Le Guin, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Sargent, Fritz Leiber, et al.)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Terry Carr’s anthology Fellowship of the Stars (1974) collects nine original short stories by luminaries of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin and Fritz Leiber, to lesser known authors such as Alan Brennert and Mildred Downey Broxon. As the title suggests, Carr commissions stories on the “theme of friendship between human and alien beings” (vii). In a bit of a twist, in more than one instance “friendship” might be code for something far more sinister.

Of the nine, Alan Brennert’s “In This Image,” George Alec Effinger’s “Ashes All My Lust,” and Mildred Downey Broxon’s “The Stones Have Names” did not appear in later anthologies or collections.

A solid collection for fans of 70s SF.

Brief Analysis/Plot Summary

“Dream Done Green” (1974), Alan Dean Foster, 2.5/5 (Bad): I’ve struggled so far with the handful of Alan Dean Foster stories I’ve encountered in various anthologies. “Dream Done Green” tells of Casperdan, a young woman from a wealthy city on a wealthy world, who meets an intelligent horse. After the discovery of a “hormone that broke the lock on rudimentary animal intelligence and enabled the higher mammals to attain at least the mental abilities of a human ten-year-old” (2), the world is filled with speaking animals. But the horse has an illegal request to make manifest an age-old dream. And Casperdan cannot resist. Foster riffs on common archetypal desires and spins a SF fairytale.

“Ashes All My Lust” (1974), George Alec Effinger, 3.75/5 (Good): I have long adored Effinger’s brand of polished, fabulist, and unnerving SF. Highlights include “And Us, Too, I Guess” (1973), the micro-aggressions at the end of a relationship parallel a biological apocalypse, “Biting Down Hard on Truth” (1974), where a Mithraic cult has its followers obsessively take notes and watch nightmarish B-movies, and “All the Wars at Once” (1971), an anti-War black comedy where factionalism begets factionalism begets factionalism ad infinitum.

Perhaps as it lacks a bit of his characteristic polish, “Ashes” never appeared in an Effinger collection or later anthology despite the unnerving territory it charts. Tobblen and his tribe inhabit a small “strand of trees” in an empty “silent gray plain” (19). With the other men of the tribe, he spends his days trekking out across the plain hunting for giant wasps whose stings contort their victims with grotesque paralysis (21). After a hunter dies from a sting, Tobblen is blamed for the death. Ostracized by all, including his wife who refuses his desperate sexual advances, a voice from the gray plain permeates his mind, and offers him relief. But like the sting, the effects are grotesque.

I need to read more George Alec Effinger–even his least-known tales (so far) merit a read.

“Enjoy, Enjoy” (1974), Frederik Pohl, 3/5 (Average): Tud Cowpersmith dreams of hedonistic excess, of “booze, broads, big cars, the finest of food, waterbeds filled with vintage champagne” (40). Little does he know that a job exists where hedonism in all its manifestations is the tune. From whom the check comes, Tud doesn’t know. And what happens when another adventure, another decadent meal, another sexual experience no longer brings the pleasure it once did? Well, the voyage down into the depths of despire also excites the mysterious collectors. But only for so long….

Like “Ashes All My Lust,” Pohl sends in a sinister look at alien friendship i.e. alien obsession with sensation in all its extremes. As a fan of future media (in this case aliens recording human experience), I found the story, while told with Pohl’s characteristic functionalism, enjoyable. It’s far from as memorable as Effinger’s nightmare.

“The Stones Have Names” (1974), Mildred Downey Broxon, 3.5/5 (Good): A completely unknown author to me, Mildren Downey Broxon (1944-) published 20 science fiction and fantasy stories in various venues between 1973-1986 and three fantasy novels between 1979-1981 (including one with Poul Anderson). Here’s her bibliographic listing. “The Stones Have Names” explores attempts by a colonial Terran governor to pursue a meaningful friendship with a colonized Calliur, and the detrimental effect (on their status in their society and the trajectory of their people) on both.

The Calliur relate a lachrymose history of conquest of which the Terrans are the newest galactic overlords. Leoder Inona grows conflicted over the strange actions of Hopper O’Rourke, the new Terran governor, which appear to be friendly in nature but might hide his true intentions. But Hopper learns her language… And while he might interfere accidentally in the rituals of her people, once tossing a stone intended for Inona’s mother “killed in the last Rebellion” (63), Hopper appears to want to reform the relations between their people. A refreshingly complex (for SF) look at colonization, and the societal inertia that prevents progress, with gorgeous moments of scene and prose.

“Do You Know Dave Wenzel?” (1974), Fritz Leiber, 3/5 (Average): Don Senior receives a visit from an old college friend and his suburban world is turned upside down. Don’s wife Katherine can never seem to see the friend who repeatedly reappears in Don’s life and captures his attention and eats at his soul. An eerie tale of the power of lost dreams and memories framed as a commentary on the emptiness implicit in the suburban experience…

“Shadows” (1974), Pamela Sargent, 3/5 (Average) is the disappointment of the collection! The premise transfixes. The Earth-conquering alien Aadae, with their oddly dirty clothes, appear to mourn the humans they kill. Their cries and performative mourning fills the air. They force the survivors to live in empty domes constructing odd metal implements that seem without purpose. Sargent’s realistic prose contains details that place the reader firmly in the story. Suzanne, forced to live in abject filth, tells of the “ritualized” bathroom experience and the physical ailments the torment her body (101).

Sargent’s dystopic future worlds–“Desert Places” (1974) and The Sudden Star (variant title: The White Death) (1979) come to mind–are filled with unnerving violence layered with grime and sadness. “Shadows” tells of aimless individuals caught up in dreams of rebellion and revenge who cannot help but prey on their fellow sufferers.

The conclusion feels like a cop-out, a missed opportunity, that reeks of misplaced positivism that implies that all the pain and suffering inflicted on humanity has a more noble purpose.

“In This Image” (1974), Alan Brennert, 3.5/5 (Good): Another unknown author to me, Brennert convincingly places the reader in the mind of an alien explorer who encounters a wreck spaceship with a human occupant. The alien, with his AI “Mind” synced to his every instruction, preserves the human’s soul and mind and places him in a new body. But there’s a problem. The new body isn’t a human one but in the alien’s image. Mav Durham awakes and discovers he is now sexless and Paol, his alien rescuer, must attempt to understand the nature of the crisis.

There’s a lot of promise in this short story, his third published work. Brennert successfully depicts Paol’s desires and motivations in the emptiness of space. Hopefully I can acquire a copy of Brenner’s novel City of Masques (1978).

“What Friends Are For” (1974), John Brunner, 4/5 (Good): John Brunner’s satires are always top-notch. While not as blistering as “Nobody Axed You” (1965), “What Friends Are For” mocks modern parenting by the upward seeking who place all their unrealized dreams and desires on their children. The dysfunctional couple Lorna and Jack are forced to extreme action by their genetically modified child Tim, “the latest luxury model” (166), who spends his days tormenting his family, killing neighborhood pets, and setting fire to his school gym. Rather than face the courts, Lorna and Jack pay for a “Friend,” a humanoid covered with “shaggy fur of a brilliant emerald green” (156). The Friend attempts to reform Tim and must also confront the failings of the parents.

A smart satire of the materialistic desires of the modern suburban family. Brunner’s story could be paired with Tom Purdom’s less refined “Toys” (1967).

“The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts From the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” (1974), Ursula K. Le Guin, 4.5/5 (Very Good): Oh yes, this one presses all my buttons! Le Guin’s delightful exploration of the nature of language vibrates with a overwhelming love of the natural world and all its wonders. At turns a light jest at the nature of academic writing and argument, Le Guin presents a series of fragments of unusual languages found in nature–from the “touch-gland exudation on degerminated acacia seeds” laid out by a dead worker ant as an act of protest (170) to the language of feel transmitted by an Emperor penguin’s huddled warmth (175). Le Guin presents the natural world as a SFictional landscape of hidden languages and mysteries beneath the surface.

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Fellowship of the Stars, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Ursula K. Le Guin, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Sargent, Fritz Leiber, et al.)

  1. “Acacia Seeds” is a great story, and strikingly original. I remember really liking some of Broxon’s stories, and being vaguely disappointed in her novels. I was sad when she apparently abandoned writing, or at least SF. The Brunner was good … I liked a lot of Brennert’s work, including “In His Image”, but I don’t think this one was a particular favorite. And I don’t really remember the Effinger, though I liked a lot of his work.

    • Do you know any of Broxon’s other stories worth reading?

      I’m definitely keen on exploring more of Brennert and Broxon’s work after this anthology.

      As I mentioned in the review, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Effinger’s contribution. It’s far less polish, in my view, then some of his other fictions. But intense and terrifying in its implications…

  2. God, this anthology sounds like the epitome of New Wave awfulness, and I’ve encountered some New Wave awfulness in my time…..I think I’ll pass…………I have only so many rod and cone cells in my retinas, and a finite life span………….

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