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Each of Us a World Apart

Orbit 5  (Orbit, volume 5)

Edited by Damon Knight 

10 Aug, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit

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As one might guess from the title, 1969’s Orbit 5 is the fifth volume in Damon Knight’s Orbit science fiction anthology series. 


Having started by counting gender ratios in these volumes, I feel obligated to continue. There are twelve stories in this anthology, of which four are by women. 

This volume is a huge improvement over volume four. While there are a few duds, the Carr in particular, on the whole there are more hits than misses. The Wilhelm, the Le Guin, and — I say this rather grudgingly — the Spinrad all stand out in their way. 

Somerset Dreams • (1969) • novelette by Kate Wilhelm

An anesthesiologist summering in her old home town reluctantly agrees to participate in a visiting academic’s dream research. They expect the results to be unremarkable. The results are disquieting. 

Wilhelm’s stories are always very technically proficient with an SF core that makes me wonder if she’s more suited to mainstream fiction. Of course, she did eventually jump to writing mysteries. 

The Roads, the Roads, the Beautiful Roads” • (1969) • short story by Avram Davidson

Road engineer Craig Burns loves the highways he helps create. Shame he must then hand them over to drivers. The best part of his job is driving the roads before the great unwashed gain access. Or so he believes. His final cruise reveals truths he was happier not knowing. 

Ah, the end user: always the worse part of any system.

Look, You Think You’ve Got Troubles” • (1969) • short story by Carol Carr

A disgruntled Jewish man struggles to come to terms with his daughter’s choice of husband.

This did not age well. 👈 UNDERSTATEMENT

Winter’s King • [Hainish] • (1969) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

Captured and brainwashed by political enemies, King Argaven of Karhide refuses to be used by his country’s enemies. The King abdicates so that they might seek out medical treatment on a distant world. Thanks to relativity, decades pass before the King returns home, despite which they still manage to serve their kingdom to the best of their ability.

Relevant to a discussion I had on Twitter about similarities and differences between Hogan’s Voyage to Yesteryear and Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness : Le Guin’s tendency to treat systems as inherently constrained. Rather than Earth’s breakneck development, Karhide’s Age of Technology is slow and stable.” Earth’s path (as discussed in The Dispossessed , set long before this story) produced less happy results:

We multiplied and gobbled and fought until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. 

The Time Machine • (1969) • novelette by Langdon Jones

A melancholy love story complicated by a time machine. I didn’t quite understand this New Wave-ish story. 

Configuration of the North Shore” • (1969) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

A determined man searches for the North Shore, whose location transcends such things as mundane geography.

Reading any given Lafferty is like being the only person at a party who has not dropped acid. 

Paul’s Treehouse” • (1969) • short story by Gene Wolfe

A father’s stubborn quest to convince his recalcitrant son to come down from his lavish treehouse completely distracts the father from the total collapse of society. Which just happens to be taking place at the same time. 

One could assemble a fine anthology about 1960s adults struggling to deal with specific teen rebellions while utterly failing to deal with the grander dangers to their societies. 

The Price • (1969) • novelette by C. Davis Belcher

Nothing can be done to save John Phillpott Tanker from dying of traumatic head-injury. Harvesting his organs could save other lives … but when to harvest? Tanker must be dead enough that it’s ethical to harvest his organs, but not so dead that the organs are no longer useful. 

Organ transplants, novel at the time, prove unexpectedly complicated. 

SF really loves courtroom dramas for some reason. 

The lawsuits that start flying back and forth are stupid and contrived (e.g., plaintiffs wanting a share of Tanker’s estate proportional to the fraction of their body that is a Tanker organ, other plaintiffs holding Tanker partly responsible for the actions of a serial killer who is able to go on killing thanks to a donated organ). They are not outside the realm of possibility; some people are greedy idiots and there are lawyers willing to cater to them. 

The Rose Bowl-Pluto Hypothesis” • (1969) • short story by Philip Latham

A former track star turned academic jokingly convinces himself that his record was broken only because space is shrinking and one hundred meters is not as long as it was in his day. He does not expect his theory to be confirmed. 

Probably best not to overthink this story. Consider: if distances and the means by which they are measured shrank, then the runners must have shrunk as well.

A couple of years before this story was published, I wasted a lot of time in grade one trying to work out how to tell if tape measures maintained a consistent length, whether straight or wrapped around something (me).

Winston” • (1969) • short story by Kit Reed

A family of All American knuckleheads purchase a genius child, to raise as their own. The results are predictably tragic. 

The History Makers • (1969) • short story by James Sallis

A Terran observes the ebb and flow of an alien city.

The Big Flash • (1969) • novelette by Norman Spinrad

Desperate to circumvent short-sighted civilian qualms regarding limited nuclear strikes, the US military turns to the band the Four Horseman to shift public opinion. The Four Horsemen are a loathsome lot, but they are extraordinarily effective. The project succeeds beyond the generals’ wildest nightmares. 

This story is riddled with antique slang (hip, with-it) and obnoxious racial descriptors. 

Everyone in the story is either a loathsome bigoted monster or the sort of person who is easily swayed by same. However, unlike many works of this era about which I could say much the same thing, this story is consciously obnoxious; the author intended it so. Which is to say, it’s a 1960s Norman Spinrad work. Someday I will get to The Men in the Jungle .

***

Orbit 5 is out of print.