Those Little Eyes

Anthonology — Piers Anthony

Anthonology

Piers Anthony’s 1985 Anthonology is a collection of his short works, with added commentary by the author’s foremost admirer, Piers Anthony. The stories are for the most part dreadful … but at least there are a lot of them.



Possible to Rue” • (1963)

A promise to his son reveals to a man that what he took to be simple everyday truths are not true at all.

Comments

The story itself is minor. The commentary reveals that Anthony is still smarting over dismissive comments made by editor H. L. Gold more than twenty years earlier. It’s a pattern that is repeated over and over again. Anthony does not forget or forgive slights, real or imagined.

The Toaster” • (1985)

An old lady overcomes all obstacles so she can give her ten-year-old niece a delicacy: toast!

Comments

While the story dates back to the 1960s, it didn’t see print until this collection. As Anthony notes, he only sold one in four stories that he submitted (one reason to move to novels). What might have put editors off way back in the 1960s is the way the story dwells on the precocious ten-year-old’s thigh-revealing clothing.

Quinquepedalian” • (1963)

Confronted by a vast, alien being, three spacemen all too hastily shoot it. The dead beast’s mother proves vindictive and highly focused.

Comments

The story is fairly clearly on the side of the grieving mother, for what it’s worth.

Encounter” • (1964)

In a world overrun by man’s creations, a solitary man finds an unexpected companion: a tiger!

Phog” • (1965)

Pursued by a virtually invincible foe, the humans’ only hope is one young man’s ingenuity. More will be needed: sacrifice!

Comments

This is one of the “lone genius surrounded by knuckle-heads” stories but as it turns out, victory depends on teamwork.

The Ghost Galaxies • (1966)

A zippy fast starship heads towards the edge of the universe to resolve the question of which of two competing cosmologies is correct. The mission’s greatest impediment may be the human crew itself.

Comments

Anthony notes the science in this is dated. I think “was never correct to begin with” is a bit closer, since his vision of the Big Bang seems to have a specific origin in space. As it turns out, the evidence in this universe doesn’t support the Big Bang.

Within the Cloud” • (1967)

What would clouds say, if clouds could talk?

Comments

Anthony was also not pleased by Fred Pohl’s editorial efforts, although Anthony likes Pohl’s fiction.

The Life of the Stripe” • (1969)

A bold administrative innovation invites a terrible curse.

In the Jaws of Danger” • [Dr. Dillingham] • (1967)

A steadfast human dentist accepts a Brobdingnagian challenge.

Comments

This reads like a minor Sector General story.

Beak by Beak” • (1967)

What tragedy explains the silent alien spacecraft in orbit around Earth?

Comments

Generally one expects sexism in an Anthology story, but this delivers a bit of racism as well. One avian explorer falls for an attractive but unintelligent bird; Anthony compares this to a human (white, male) explorer falling for a pretty native girl.

Getting Through University • [Dr. Dillingham] • (1968)

The first human to seek entry to the prestigious alien university, galactic dentist Dillingham’s odds of winning entry seem dim, very dim indeed.

Comments

But the author is on Dillingham’s side and thus Victory is Assured. Anything Dillingham does will turn out to be the right thing to have done under the circumstance.

In the Barn • (1972)

On a parallel Earth where humans are the sole remaining mammals, what on Earth could be in their barns?

Comments

It’s human women, of course, raised in a manner calculated to stunt their intellectual growth so they don’t mind being milked or otherwise treated like animals. We have Harlan Ellison to thank for this particular piece seeing print. Ellison seems to have been a little unclear on the difference between “bold and innovative” and “the 1970s answer to ‘Queen Bee’.”

If I ever arrange a Young People I Dislike Read Old SF Chosen Purely Out of Spite, this will be one of the first stories I offer them.

[Editor’s note: I read this story many years ago. I still remember it. I wish there were such a thing as brain bleach.]

Up Schist Creek • (1985) (variant of Up Schist Crick 1972)

Chance may have handed the businessman the chance for untold wealth. Or merely the opportunity for embarrassment.

Comments

It’s all a build-up to a poop joke.

The Whole Truth” • (1970)

How can the lonely and horny spaceman living alone on a distant outpost determine if the young woman is the young human woman she claims to be or a shape-shifting alien bent on sabotaging humanity’s border defences?

Comments

It’s a good thing childbirth is the sort of trivial, risk free endeavour two amateurs should be able to handle out in the middle of nowhere.

The Bridge” • (1970)

The fate of a species depends on one man’s penis! And his ability to cram it into a tiny woman.

Comments

YKINMK

On the Uses of Torture • (1981)

Determined to negotiate a vital treaty, a human envoy embraces the values of an alien race.

Comments

Torture porn.

Small Mouth, Bad Taste” • (1970)

What influence steered pre-humans onto the path to true humanity?

Comments

Shades of Big Ancestor. The humans in this story know that their origin was humble. They did not know that they were once a domesticated(ish) species.

Wood You?” • (1970)

A boy skilled at whittling does rather well in a galactic whittling contest. Not that his family believes him.

Comments

The boy’s ten-year-old sister is described as adult. Granted, by the boy, who is much younger.

Hard Sell” • [Fisk Centers] • (1972)

Fisk is offered the chance of a lifetime, but only if he acts swiftly and decisively.

Comments

Great deal! Close now! is a standard conman’s tool, a way to pressure the mark into making a quick decision without due diligence, Most of these gambits work best on someone who is potentially dishonest.

Hurdle • [Fisk Centers] • (1972)

Manipulated by his precocious foster daughter into volunteering for a high-stakes race, Fisk must choose between wealth or doing the right thing.

Comments

By this point in his career, Fisk has been burned multiple times, thanks to snap decisions based on greed. Unlike some protagonists I could mention, he has actually learned from his experiences.

I am very skeptical that fusion-powered cars will ever become a practical reality but there’s every chance the one featured in this story is not really practical, given that “lethal amounts of radiation” is a known bug for this sort of vehicle.

Gone to the Dogs” • (1985)

A man and his dog are granted a glimpse of a wild world where it is Dog and not Man who rules!

Comments

At least it was short.

General Comments

I’ve only myself to blame for reading this, because I can turn down commissions if I so choose. For that matter, only my desire to put this behind me compelled me to trudge through it in one read. I could have spread it out over a few days or weeks.

For the most part, these are badly thought-out stories. Also they are poorly written and liberally spiced with un-introspective misogyny. Not to mention an unsettling fixation on little girls1. Some magazine editors must have been desperate to publish these stories.

Anthony’s comments (and his sales rates) make it clear I’m not the only one to consider his work sub-par. From Anthony’s perspective, criticism was undeniable proof of error on the critic’s part. If Anthony had not been clad in ten-inch-thick collapsium armour of self-regard, his career would have ended in the 1960s. And I would not have had this book to review.

Anthony hated his editors, with few exceptions. Among those exceptions were Judy-Lynn del Rel and Lester del Rey, the people I believe we can blame for springboarding Anthony from the mid-list to best sellerdom. A Spell for Chameleon was one of the first books published by the Del Rey imprint. Readers loved the series, judging from the forty plus that have seen print thus far.

The one aspect of the book that did not make me pray for rapid onset macular degeneration was, rather unexpectedly, the cover. Both the American cover and even the British cover are, I think, reasonable examples of the state of the art.


Anthonology is out of print.

1: Which reminds me, I really need to finish that core list of books whose treatment of kids is such to suggest the author should never be allowed to babysit them.


Comments

  • Shem

    Of possible, but unlikely, interest: Anthony eventually expanded "The Ghost Galaxies" into a novel, Ghost. It wasn't really much of an improvement. (And I say this as one of the teenagers of the 1980s who thought Anthony was awesome and grabbed up everything he published.)

    • Ross Presser

      The "Prostho Plus" dentistry stories also got the novel fixup treatment.

    • Richard Hershberger

      I am pleased to report that I was never one of those teenagers, despite being within the right age range. I read the first Xanth book, found it amusing, started the second, realized that this was going to be more of the same and that it wasn't *that* amusing, and that was it for me and Xanth. Confronted by his popularity I later gave him another try, this time with Bio of a Space Tyrant, which I had been told was his serious work. Good lord but that was awful! It didn't help that I was in a stubborn phase, so slogged through the whole thing.

      • David P

        Bio of a Space Tyrant was actually the book that got me to DROP Piers Anthony.

        I'd skipped Xanth (it looked like silly fantasy) but had started with Macroscope, Omnivore, and the Tarot novels (Chaining the Lady, etc.) which, while imperfect, were quite interesting in a science fiction sense. These were all from the 60s era when Anthony was actually appearing on Hugo ballots and had some interesting ideas. Later on, someone I knew recommended the first Incarnations of Immortality (which was okay; the rest weren't). Other than that... well, his autobiography is interesting in the sense that many SF writer autobiographies are.

        The author who reminds me most of Anthony in terms of career and writings is Jack Chalker: promising early novel-form work, but success in certain areas led to feedback mechanism that rewarded the worse parts of his writing.

  • Danny Sichel

    "the author is on Dillingham’s side (...) Anything Dillingham does will turn out to be the right thing"

    hey, d'you know what Piers Anthony's full name is?

    • James Davis Nicoll

      I don't, actually.

      • Evan

        "Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacobs", a fact I learned from an about-the-author note almost 40 years ago and have been wasting brain cells on ever since.

  • HelenS

    Jacob, I think, not Jacobs.

  • PeterM

    I'm sorry to hear Gone To The Dogs was no good, because a "wild world where it is Dog and not Man who rules!" sounds like it could make for a fun read. My own dog is convinced she already lives there, of course.

  • Ian Osmond

    Isn't "In The Barn" one of the standard finalists for "Worst Science Fiction Short Story Ever"? As in, the only defense anyone has ever offered for it was that Anthony was actually deliberately attempting to write the worst story ever written, and succeeded?

    • James Davis Nicoll

      The book is filed but I don't recall Anthony making that defense.

      • Todd

        FWIW, the sophomoric aspects of "In the Barn" are unmistakable, but unlike (as I understand it, since I've not yet read the Garrett story) "Queen Bee" one gets no sense the protagonist approves of the breeding and stunting program that produces such heavily and absurdly metaphorical human cattle, male as well as female (how much the author enjoys thinking along these lines, I won't speculate). Though the interplanetary cop-equivalent investigating this ridiculous development (there are better metaphors for slavery, as well as simply dealing with the fact of slavery) gets awfully turned on by the prospect of sex with one of the women so messed with, and then realizes it doesn't work so well--poor guy. Memorably bad story, his kink and more is definitely showing, but perhaps not down to the level of the Garrett story...which I suppose I should read some day, though it's not a prospect I look forward to.

  • Patricia Lambert

    Your review made me laugh, thank you . I read these stories a long time ago and they put me off him completely. I was wavering due to his 'Apprentice Adept' series getting a bit near the knuckle (I'm not a prude but - dogs? Really?). And it was going downhill, partly due to his increasingly obvious belief that he could write anything and it would sell because it was Him. In the short stories, his comments, with his conviction that he was God's Gift to Literature, were so unpleasant I didn't want to give any shelf room to him any more.
    I feel your pain, reading them. At least you won't have to do it again. (What were you thinking! *grins*)

    • James Nicoll

      I was paid :)

  • Richard Hershberger

    "1: Which reminds me, I really need to finish that core list of books whose treatment of kids is such to suggest the author should never be allowed to babysit them."

    Leo Frankowski says hi!

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