1976’s Stellar Short Novels is an ancillary volume to Judy-Lynn del Rey’s Stellar Science Fiction anthologies1. By “short novels,” del Rey meant novellas. All are original to this anthology.
This review is brought to you by “completism” and my awareness I never got around to reviewing this twenty-plus years ago. You’ll be wowed by what I finally review in 2043.
I know of a few other anthology series that had special novella issues. Terry Carr’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year series was given a The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year companion. No other such novella collections were ever published, which suggests to me that perhaps readers don’t or at least didn’t want collections of novellas. Pity, as I think it’s a perfect length for many stories.
Judy-Lynn del Rey was only thirty-five when this was published and only thirty-six when the imprint bearing her name was created. She might have done more had she not died in 19862.
This isn’t an especially memorable anthology. The three narratives are not outstanding, either in the positive or negative sense. The only one I remembered before my reread was the Dickson. I don’t actively dislike the book, but it will probably be another fifty years before I reread it.
One must admit the appearance of the book is evocative, if one is an SF reader of a certain age. The Sweet cover art, the cover design, the fonts, even the back cover layout scream a particular and fondly remembered period in Ballantine and Del Rey history.
Introduction: An Endangered Species • essay by Judy-Lynn del Rey
Del Rey discusses the genesis of the Stellar Series in general (homage to Pohl’s Star books) and this volume in particular. Chance provided her with three novellas too long for the regular Stellar anthologies, so she put together this volume. Along the way, she plugs a number of upcoming Del Rey books.
It is possible there were no follow-ups because del Rey did not seek out novellas. On the other hand, if there was one attribute the del Reys shared, it was a keen eye for what sold. I am sure if this had been a best-seller, there would have been sequels.
The Mortal and the Monster • novella by Gordon R. Dickson
Youngest, a young Loch Ness monster, makes the mistake of saving a human skindiver without returning him to his people. With the diver stashed in an air-pocket-containing cave, his employers search for his body, threatening the sea-dwelling creatures with exposure and worse.
It’s not entirely clear what the sea creatures are. Sure, they look like plesiosaurs but that could be parallel evolution. Given how few survive in Loch Ness, they could be a dead clade walking … except their legends mention another group of them over in Loch Morar and that not so long ago, geologically speaking, they migrated loch-wards from the ocean.
The Greenhouse Defect • novella by Andrew J. Offutt
Judith dies when the machinery she is cleaning turns on, amputating both hands. Since she was alone, in a locked greenhouse, it has to be an accident. The dead woman’s friend Liz thinks otherwise. Once he takes a close look at the case, so does cop Amos McKendree. The trick will be proving how it was done.
It’s not that hard to solve the crime. The killer’s plan depended on nobody taking a close look at the murder scene.
This story centers on what are basically telepathic plants. Remember those? They were huge in the 1970s. See also David Drake’s 1979 The Predators. Another trope: the power of lust, which was also big in the 1970s3.
Oceans Away • novella by Richard S. Weinstein
A biologist’s fascination with cephalopods takes on interstellar importance when Alpha Centauri’s Earthlike ocean world is discovered to be home to an advanced civilization. Can humans and aliens coexist? Research may provide the answer.
This appears to be Weinstein’s only published work. It’s clumsy. In particular the infodump that begins the story could be highly compressed. It’s not without points of interest. I notice that the depiction of the Alpha Centaurians seems to be projection: the military sees enemies, the scientist sees friends, and so on.
1: Reviews of the Stellar Science Fiction anthologies can be found in the Mists of Time. Less ambiguously, reviews at : Stellar 1, Stellar 2, Stellar 3, Stellar 4, Stellar 5, Stellar 6, and Stellar 7.
2: Having married Lester del Rey after the death of his previous wife. Del Rey’s first wife also died. I don’t know the fate of Helen Schlaz, wife number two, but even assuming divorce, burying three of four wives is terrible luck.
3: As to Offutt … need I mention his other career as a writer of porn? 420+ works.