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Orbit 9  (Orbit, volume 9)

Edited by Damon Knight 

5 Oct, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit


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1971’s Orbit 9 is the ninth volume in Damon Knight’s original science fiction anthology series, Orbit. 

Orbit 9 contains fourteen stories, of which four and a half were written by women while nine and a half were written by men1.Of them, just one — Wilhelm’s The Infinity Box” — was nominated for an award, which is somewhat disappointing … if the award list is compared to those for Orbits6 and 7. For most anthologies, that’s not a bad ratio2. In the case of Orbit, volumes 8 through 21 suffer by comparison with two remarkable volumes. 

Standouts, in a negative sense: the Stover and the Vinge. The Reed, and the Russ were memorable in a positive sense. I have no idea what to make of the second Sallis; it’s just too far outside my frames of reference. 

Orbit 9 is out of print. 

Heads Africa Tails America” • short story by Josephine Saxton

A discontented woman dreams of life in the Africa of her imagination, which is long on pleasing climate, exotic animals, and other delights, and surprisingly short on Africans, save as tempting bed partners. 

Some reviewers would comment on Saxton’s prose but that’s not what struck me. Despite being told in the first person, the narrative doesn’t show the protagonist in a flattering light. 

What We Have Here Is Too Much Communication • (1971) • short story by Leon E. Stover

Determined to free Japanese entertainment from foreign domination, Japanese visionaries turn to cutting edge science with mixed results. 

Stover tells this entirely from what he believes is a Japanese perspective. Sentences like None of this body ritual we go through, such as bowing and hissing” make me wonder if Stover ran this past any reader who was, well, actually Japanese. 

Later reprinted, but only because Stover included it in an anthology he edited. Feel free to discuss the ethics of an editor buying their own stories for anthologies.

Dominant Species” • (1971) • short story by Kris Neville

Lobthar the all-knowing controls his universe through sheer force of will … or so he is firmly convinced. 

Lobthar’s grasp of the cosmic all may be incomplete, perhaps because he appears to be a rooster. 

The Toy Theater” • (1971) • short story by Gene Wolfe

A marionettist visits a master of the art. Some of what he learns will be incorporated into his show. Other details must remain secret.

Stop Me Before I Tell More” • (1971) • short story by Robert Thurston

A travelling salesman spends his life trying and failing to work out with which of two alluring but very enigmatic twins he is carrying on a torrid affair, only discovering that not all questions get answered. 

Gleepsite • (1971) • short story by Joanna Russ

A travelling salesman quite different from Thurston’s offers delight to twin sisters also quite unlike Thurston’s. Buyer beware.

Binaries” • (1971) • short story by James Sallis

A quick flicker through various identities, unified by obsession with women and pervasive paranoia. 

Lost in the Marigolds • (1971) • novelette by Lee Hoffman and Robert E. Toomey, Jr.

Alarmed at an important project’s lack of progress, unable to make contact by vid-phone, an increasingly befuddled businessman reluctantly leaves his home to attend to the matter in person, only to encounter impediment after surreal impediment. 

Across the Bar” • (1971) • short story by Kit Reed

Invited to become America’s Poet Laureate of Outer Space, an elderly woman realizes her true role will be something much less pleasant … despite which she embraces her destiny.

This is essentially The Marching Morons,” except that instead of morons it features old people. Instead of being told from the perspective of someone who despises the surplus population, it is told from the point of view of a person deemed unnecessary. The reader’s sympathy for the old lady may be somewhat undermined by the casualness with which she suggests that the cats she is leaving behind can be put down if new homes aren’t available. 

The Science Fair” • (1971) • short story by Vernor Vinge

An alien industrial spy is hired to guard a scientist whose latest discovery will, if revealed, present his society with a choice: reform its intellectual property laws or perish! 

This was included in 2001’s The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge, which I read and reviewed for SFBC, despite which I have no memory of this story at all. Vinge’s unambitious, unremarkable story seems out of place in this collection. Not all of the stories in this volume work for me, but at least the authors were trying. 

The Last Leaf” • (1971) • short story by W. Macfarlane

A stubborn refugee convinces younger companions to return to lost Earth. Not only is he left behind with the rest of his Transylvanian ilk, but the expedition also turns out to be a bitter disappointment. 

When All the Lands Pour Out Again” • (1971) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

The Jubilee comes once more and, in its wake, the entire world is transformed.

Transformed in ways that care neither for conventional narrative nor plausible geology. Suffice it to say that this is a Lafferty story.

Only the Words Are Different” • (1971) • short story by James Sallis

I keep setting this aside and rereading the story to see it if will eventually cohere into a whole I can discuss … and it doesn’t. I hope that the problem is the story, not James, 

The Infinity Box • (1971) • novella by Kate Wilhelm

A medical researcher discovers that his new neighbor is burdened by an uncanny gift. He takes her in initial dislike; becomes obsessed with her; then determines to control her. This is merely the first of a number of extremely bad choices that will afford him a very personal understanding of her gift.

Although told from the medical researcher’s perspective, this paints him an unsympathetic character. He believes that the world and its inhabitants are his to order as he sees fit. One wonders: had this been written by a man and not a woman, would it have been as critical of arrogance? 

1: Lost in the Marigolds,” being written by a woman and a man, is responsible for the half credits. 

2: On a related note, five stories in Orbit 9 don’t appear to have been anthologized by other editors, but that still leaves nine that were. That’s not a bad ratio.