1979’s Fireflood and Other Stories was Vonda N. McIntyre’s first and (as far as I know) only collection 1. It contains most of her early works, excepting only six pieces. It is one of the reliable comfort reads to which I return every decade or so.
Well, “comfort” is the wrong word. Don’t look to early McIntyre for warm, happy feels.
Fireflood • (1979) • novelette
Transformed into hideous but durable creatures, the unfortunate diggers were dumped onto an isolated reservation when the program for which they were intended was deferred. Unable to tolerate their living conditions, a small band of diggers make a desperate bit to form an alliance with other groups similarly transformed and abandoned.
Sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is a stand-offish dick.
Although the diggers started off as humans, apparently they lost human legal status as a result of their transformation. Or the cops cannot be bothered to enforce it.
Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand • (1973)
A wandering healer on worn-out Earth uses unique resources combined with impressive skills to save a sick child. The ignorant rustics she is helping repay her very poorly indeed.
This was expanded into Dreamsnake.
The healer is much more forgiving of her hosts than I would be in her place.
“Spectra” • (1972) • short story
A horrifically transformed worker despairs over her condition.
This is the SFnal opposite of those “it gets better” videos. Nothing will ever get better for this character. It can only get worse.
“Wings” • (1973) • short story
An alien priest, left behind on a dying world (most of the others of its species have left for the stars) saves a bitter and depressed youth. The elder seeks nothing for itself, which is good because nothing seems to be all it will get from the youngling.
This is the first of two stories about this race of aliens (which I don’t think is ever named). They have an interesting ecological niche and life cycle. I have always been sad that McIntyre never gave them their own novel.
“The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” • (1974) • short story
Two generations after leaving their world, the winged aliens arrive at their target destination. Much to the disgust of the elder alien on board, none of the youths who have grown up on the ship want to leave it for the demanding environment the planet offers; they would rather continue travelling in hope of finding a better world. The elder, having invested its life to reach this unpromising world, is determined to die there.
McIntyre packs a lot of information about the aliens into comparatively few words. Both stories share a premise: the plots centre on the last love affair an elder undertakes before heading off to die. The form that affair takes is driven by biological imperatives.
“The End’s Beginning” • (1976) • short story
An embittered dolphin welcomes death, for itself and the humans who enslaved it.
At least the sharks will have a happy ending….
Screwtop • (1976) • novella
Cultural misunderstanding nearly leads to disaster, in a dismal prison camp on an alien world.
Cool Hand Luke meets The Gulag Archipelago.
“Only at Night” • (1971) • short story
The beautiful people of Tomorrow have a simple solution for children who do not meet their aesthetic standards: dump them in an institution and forget them.
“Recourse, Inc.” • (1974) • short story
Epistolary piece about do-gooders struggling to help a dim and easily intimidated man from a rapacious credit card company.
Comic and too long for the joke. Features a carefully reproduced Hollerith card.
“The Genius Freaks” • (1973) • short story
A dying genetically engineered genius goes to great lengths to deny her exploitative creators any benefit whatsoever from her creation.
McIntyre’s genetic engineers always want a good ROI from their creations and generally go about getting it in ways seemingly calculated to provoke rebellion.
Aztecs • (1977) • novella (First published in 2076: The American Tricentennial)
To evade relativity-related bafflegab, star pilots must sacrifice their hearts in favour of relativity-immune mechanical hearts. This comes at a cost the protagonist is all too slow to grasp.
This was expanded into the novel Superluminal. The Pain of Space was implausible enough in Smith’s “Scanners Live in Vain”; McIntyre’s version, in which time-dilation kills, is frankly absurd.
Romances tend to end badly in McIntyre stories, even in species where romance is not something that only happens between elders on the edge of the grave and youths. Just say no to romance.
Aside from Aztecs and “Recourse, Inc.”, these stories have aged fairly well. My one gripe about the book is that it has not been joined by a second volume, one that would collect stories from McIntyre’s career post-1979.
Fireflood and Other Stories is available here .
1: McIntyre’s ISFDB entry also lists Lythande. Most of the stories in that work are by Marion Zimmer Bradley with one by McIntyre. It is (just barely) an anthology, not a collection.