Jean E. Karl’s 1976 The Turning Place: Stories of a Future Past is a collection focused on the aftermath a disaster: the Clordian Sweep.
Humanity ventures out into interstellar space and discovers that the stars they covet are already claimed. The Clordians, who are slightly more technologically advanced than humans, have had starflight for some time and have used their head start to build a nice little empire. But it’s only a head start and the humans might catch up. The Clordians decide to be proactive and exterminate the human race.
Almost every living being on the surface of planet Earth is disintegrated. Almost but not all. There are a handful of refugia from which life expands again. Rather quickly, it seems. One would think that the process by which the planet recovers from a mass extinction event would be fascinating (well, it would be to me) but that’s not what interested the author. She wants to tell us about how the humans developed psychic powers and how this affected the rebound of human civilization.
The rebound seems to take mere lifetimes, not millennia, not even centuries. The new humans don’t seem to be interested in reprisals against the Clordians; they just make it clear that no new attempt at a clean sweep will succeed.
This collection didn’t do much for me. It’s aimed at a much younger audience. Also, tales of awesome mind powers triumphing over mere reality are not my thing. The farther the stories get from contemporary society, the less well defined their settings. There’s one exception, the final story, which purports to be a speculative piece by one of the new humans about how first contact might go if aliens were indistinguishable from humans. Which, I might point out, was a common assumption in the SF of half a century ago1.
Karl is, of course, well known as an editor.She’s somewhat more obscure as an author. If this is a representative sample of her work, she may be yet another writer who should have stuck to editing2. Still, someone must have liked this book because it’s back in print.
You could stop here, but if you want to know more about the stories in the book …
The Turning Place • novelette
Every star within range had been claimed by Clord. For Earth to have any colonies, they will have to take some Clordian planets. While humans and Clordians are snarling at each other, Georgia and her friend Krishna take a relaxing wilderness hike. Pure chance places them in one of the few locations not affected by the Clordian Sweep. It’s not at all clear what is happening as the Clordian attack breaks down all the carbon compounds on the surface of Earth. (Scientifically implausible, yes?)
“Over the Hill” • short story
Her home oasis is too small to support large numbers of people. Carpa is sent out into the wastelands to find a husband if she is lucky, or die in the desert if she is not. She stumbles across a lone survivor raised to view outsiders with suspicion. Lacking common language, can they learn to communicate?
“Enough” • short story
A now-aged Velta Akhbar tells the reader how, when she was young, she made discoveries that greatly facilitated humanity’s recovery from the Sweep.
Accord • novelette
Casselia Sorchum reluctantly accompanies her parents on a diplomatic mission to Clord. The Clordians believe she is there to marry a Clordian of note, thus solidifying Earth’s status as a Clordian tributary. In fact, she is there to demonstrate certain unforeseen consequences of the Sweep, consequences that signal that Clord’s dominance has come to an end.
The Catabilid Conquest • novelette
Bored siblings stow away on their parents’ spaceship, thus gaining the opportunity to make a momentous discovery.
“Quiet and a White Bush” • short story
Drawn through mysterious means to a distant planet, Menta reconstructs how she must have been transported, thus opening an era of long-range psychic teleportation.
“The Talkaround” • short story
Teenaged Jalish Dozent’s encounter with a reclusive non-physical race sets the young man on a path of exploration and discovery.
A Central Question • novelette
Young Ganser Wekot is drawn into an effort to determine what or who occupies the central portions of the galaxy, heretofore beyond reach.
“Out of the Flicker Path” • short story
Young inhabitants of a world in the Flicker Path (this could be Andromeda; it’s two million light years from the Milky Way) are interrogated by explorers from Earth.
“Some Notes on Sources” • short fiction
Historical notes on the context of these accounts, written by an unspecified author living in the stories’ setting some time after the events depicted. Most are inspired by historical events; one of the stories is a fictional rendering of a possible first contact with aliens.
1: The collection reminded me of an episodic novel of the late 1970s whose title and author eludes me. All I remember is that humans, possibly fleeing Earth, accidentally annihilate a psychic race, whose death cry sets every telepathic species in the galaxy against us. The catch is that while technology is dangerous, every mentalist species eventually succumbs to inbreeding….
2: Being a capable editor is a rare thing, so settling for being a noteworthy editor is a bit like settling for being a gold-medal Olympian.