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And Some Remain

Orbit 12  (Orbit, volume 12)

Edited by Damon Knight 

16 Nov, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit

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1973’s Orbit 12 is the 12th volume in Damon Knight’s Orbit series of original science fiction short fiction. 

Depending on whether you count the Aldiss pieces as one four-part tale or as four separate stories, then either Orbit 12 has eleven stories, four by four women, and seven by six men, or Orbit 12 has fourteen stories, of which four are by four women, and ten are by six men. Either approach seems valid but I lean towards treating the Aldiss stories as individual pieces with the same setting. 

This collection has but a single Nebula nomination, for Bryant’s Shark” (which I have in multiple anthologies yet did not remember at all). On the other hand, almost all of the stories were reprinted elsewhere, the single exception being Mel Gilden’s What’s the Matter with Herbie?. I went to ISFDB to find out that fact and made an incidental discovery: as far as the database knows, the short works of Doris Piserchia have never been issued in a collection. Clearly, a task for NESFA. Or possibly Journey Press. 

While not up to earlier volumes, Orbit 12 is better than Orbit 11. Huzzah. And names familiar to me as the promising young authors of my teen years — not all of whom will suffer horrifying fates, although many will — have begun to appear. I am curious to see what future volumes bring. 

Orbit 12 is out of print. 

Shark” • short story by Edward Bryant

Arrogant government functionaries seek out a marine biologist, and pressure him to apply skills honed committing war crimes to new tasks. He provides them with first-hand experience of his work.

Direction of the Road” • short story by Ursula K. Le Guin

The travails forced on an innocent oak tree by human progress, described from the oak’s alien perspective. 

The Windows in Dante’s Hell” • [Urban Nucleus] • short story by Michael Bishop

Functionaries within a sealed, xenophobic city investigate the death of an old lady and discover to their horror that she was a science fiction fan who misused city resources in pursuit of her shocking hobby. 

I note that she was collecting television SF, not print.


The next four stories are all set in Aldiss’ Malacia. Some but not all of them were incorporated into The Malacia Tapestry.

Serpent Burning on an Altar” • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

Two dashing gentlemen meet and seduce two teenage girls. 

Woman in Sunlight with Mandolin” • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

While one young man deals with his malingering father, his friend gets laid (off-stage).

The Young Soldier’s Horoscope” • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

Life complicated by personal infidelity can be amusing but life complicated by other people’s infidelity is a pain.

Castle Scene with Penitents” • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

Our young hero visits his sister, who married a bankrupt aristocrat of impeccable lineage and possibly homicidal tendencies. Their household is not entirely happy. 

Our young hero is aggressively shallow, with an impressible ability to set aside unpleasant truths. It’s a useful skill! 

I found these four stories a bit of a slog for some reason, although they seem straightforward enough. They’re all tales about guys who are reasonably well off and have lots of sex without worrying about fussy legalisms like age of majority.


The Red Canary” • short story by Kate Wilhelm

A well-meaning man struggles to obtain appropriate medical care for his disappointing wife and their subpar child, but whatever the medical system’s goal is, providing abundant, sufficient medical care is not the outcome it provides.

Was this a tirade against Medicare? 

What’s the Matter with Herbie? • novelette by Mel Gilden

An alien’s well-meant but ill-informed attempt to help his best friend provides a rascally human with the opportunity for a confidence game. 

This was a bit long for the joke but mostly harmless.

Pinup” • short story by Edward Bryant

An erotic encounter provides a pointed lesson about due diligence. 

The Genius Freaks” • short story by Vonda N. McIntyre

A dying genius goes to enormous lengths to ensure that her malevolent masters will not profit from her works. 

Burger Creature” • short story by Stepan Chapman [as by Steve Chapman]

Confronted by the living, thinking embodiment of fast-food, two fast-food employees immediately befriend the endearing little creature. 

Half the Kingdom” • short story by Doris Piserchia

A greedy man transported to another realm seeks to maximize his profits, with mixed results. 

Continuing Westward” • short story by Gene Wolfe

Marooned in the desert, two soldiers encounter tribesfolk of uncertain disposition. A beautiful girl presents herself. Are her intentions as benign as they appear? 

Not all SF in the 1970s was about getting laid. Certainly not more than 90 or 95%. This falls within that 95% and is about how paranoia can complicate a good deal. 

Arcs & Secants (Orbit 12) • essay by uncredited

A whimsical biographical essay.