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The Colour of Your Dreams

Orbit 6  (Orbit, volume 6)

Edited by Damon Knight 

24 Aug, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit


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1970’s Orbit 6 is the sixth volume of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology series. 

Orbit 6 contains fifteen stories, of which five were written by women. Knight was comfortable running multiple stories by the same author (sometimes back-to-back). While there are fifteen stories, there are only thirteen authors: four women, and nine men. 

Orbit 6 provides a nice demonstration of Orbits award-magnet record. The pieces included garnered six Locus Award nominations and five Nebula nominations. I don’t know who was reading Locus at this time, but the fact there were five Nebula nominations but no Hugo nominations suggests that the audience to whom Orbit particularly appealed was other authors. The fact that the series lasted twenty-one volumes, even surviving the Elwood extinction event1, suggests that the series was reasonably popular, even if non-writer readers didn’t nominate Orbit stories for the Hugo in sufficient numbers to make the finalist ballot. 

Orbit 6 is, of course, hella out of print. 

The Second Inquisition • [Alyx] • novelette by Joanna Russ

An exotic woman boards with a local family. The family’s awkward daughter is transformed by the encounter. 

The Second Inquisition was nominated for a Nebula, losing to Sturgeon’s Slow Sculpture.

This story belongs to a fairly common subgenre (which seems to be nameless): 20thcentury people unwittingly host visitors from another era. Very often this turns out badly. It didn’t in this case. 

The girl at the centre of this story is unsure how to racially classify her family’s guest; her home town is entirely white and she has never seen a black person. Given that this story is set in an American town of the 1920s, this demographic peculiarity was most likely fostered by the local authorities. 

Remembrance to Come” • (1970) • short story by Gene Wolfe

Haunted by an ominous figure, an academic reassesses his life.

If I were to do a piece on 1960s and 1970s students these days!” stories for Tor.com, this would be one of those stories. It’s very much from the era of student demonstrations, before young people’s wills were effectively crushed even before their traumatized husks entered college. 

Remembrance” was adapted as a radio play by Michael Hanson for his show Mind Webs. I’m slowly working my way through the archive. I’ve gotten as far as episode 8; the Wolfe story is episode 158. It will be some time before I reach it (if I listen in order, as is my wont). 

How the Whip Came Back” • (1970) • short story by Gene Wolfe

An activist is strong-armed into accept a Soviet-sponsored revival of the international slave trade. While the US is second fiddle to the more virile Soviet Union, it’s not in any way reluctant to adopt this particular Russian suggestion. 

This story suggests Americans that gave up prison slavery at some point, which seems pretty unlikely. 

Goslin Day” • (1970) • short story by Avram Davidson

A man observes but cannot slow the spread of malevolent beings into his world. 

An uncharitable interpretation of this is that lot of SF authors spent the 1960s terrified of kids. 

Maybe Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, Was a Little Bit Right” • (1970) • short story by Robin Scott Wilson

The sole survivors of the human race, three astronauts — two men and a woman — methodically tackle the problem of repopulating the planet. In addition to the obvious genetic issues, the task is greatly complicated by what one might call an unfortunately high asshole quotient. 

Speaking of themes on which I could do Tor pieces: needlessly contrived depopulation scenarios in which women are merely convenient wombs. 

The Chosen” • (1970) • short story by Kate Wilhelm

An overcrowded Earth of today is exploring the Earth’s distant future, hoping to find exploitable resources. One of the explorers realizes that he does not want to return to his era. There is a Catch-22 of which he is unaware. 

The temporal expeditions are carefully selected to maximize their utility to their home era, which may be why none of them seem upset by encountering such futures as post-nuclear-war Earth” or post-total-extinction-of-all-animal-life Earth.”

Entire and Perfect Chrysolite” • (1970) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

A triumphant demonstration of mind over matter fails when belief is no match for a hungry crocodile. 

One could read this as a derisive metaphor for how certain white people see Africa and Asia.

This story was nominated for a Locus (losing to Ellison’s The Region Between) and for a Nebula, which last went to No Award. You might be curious about the Nebula voting. The nominees were as follows:

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” by Gene Wolfe (Orbit 7)

Entire and Perfect Chrysolite” by R. A. Lafferty (Orbit 6)

In the Queue by Keith Laumer” (Orbit 7

By the Falls by Harry Harrison” (New Worlds of Fantasy #2)

The Creation of Bennie Good” by James Sallis (Orbit 6)

A Dream at Noonday” by Gardner Dozois (Orbit 7)

A Cold Dark Night with Snow” by Kate Wilhelm (Orbit 6)

You may notice that there were a great many Orbit authors on the list. A backlash ensued, organized by authors who disliked the New Wave. These authors agreed to vote for No Award. More details here. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Sunburst” • (1970) • short story by Roderick Thorp

A man witnesses helplessly as the world is beset by chaos and violence.

Hmmm, a possible Tor essay. Quite a few late 1960s authors were inspired to write tales along the same lines as Sunburst.” Why, there are three such stories in this very volume. 

The Creation of Bennie Good” • short story by James Sallis

Surrealists flirt archly.

This was nominated for the Nebula and as discussed above, lost to No Award.

The End” • (1970) • short story by Ursula K. Le Guin (variant of Things)

While other people on his island embrace inevitable doomsday, one tradesman stubbornly uses the products of his trade to escape. The tools of his trade are bricks (seeming an unpromising material), despite which he perseveres. 

A Cold Dark Night with Snow” • (1970) • short story by Kate Wilhelm

Domestic ambition in the Atomic Age ends badly.

This was nominated for a Nebula and lost to No Award.

Fame” • (1970) • short story by Arthur Jean Cox [as by Jean Cox]

The first interstellar voyager returns after a century to accolades … but not for the achievement for which he expected praise. 

Debut” • (1970) • short story by Carol Emshwiller

A carefully cosseted young woman meets her fate. 

Where No Sun Shines” • (1970) • short story by Gardner Dozois

A man witnesses helplessly as the world is beset by chaos and violence. There is an element of race war. 

The Asian Shore • (1970) • novelette by Thomas M. Disch

An ambitious ex-pat assimilates into Turkish culture more effectively than he planned. 

The text’s depiction of Turks is disapproving:

Not that he wanted to look like a Turk. Turks were, by and large, a homely lot. 
And There was something so unappealing in almost every Turkish face. He had never been able to pin it down: some weakness of bone structure, the narrow cheekbones; the strong vertical lines that ran down from the hollows of the eyes to the corner of the mouth; the mouth itself, narrow, flat, inflexible. Or some subtler disharmony among all these elements. 

This foreshadows Disch’s own later descent into impotent ranting about immigrants. There does not seem to have been any particular need for as xenophobic as H. P. Lovecraft but gay” but here we are. Or were, fifty-one years ago. 

This was nominated for a Locus (losing to The Region Between by Harlan Ellison) and for a Nebula (losing to Slow Sculpture by Theodore Sturgeon).

1: Roger Elwood edited a large number of SF anthologies in the 1970s. Industry gossip has it that he temporarily torpedoed the market for anthologies. He released too many sub-par collections over a short period.