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This Rusty Key

Orbit 19  (Orbit, volume 19)

Edited by Damon Knight 

22 Feb, 2022

Damon Knight's Orbit


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Orbit 19 is the 19th volume in Damon Knight’s Orbit series of original science fiction.

This is something of a let-down compared to earlier Orbits. Most of the selections are works by men; stories by Wilhelm and Arneson are the exceptions. This is a departure from earlier Orbits, which, if not gender-balanced, approach more closely to that ideal. About a third of the stories (five out of thirteen) saw print only in Orbit 19(counting only publications in English). I do not believe any of the stories herein were nominated for awards. 

Still, Orbit 19 is a step up from Orbit 18 (or perhaps I’m reaching the era of authors whose works are covered in the patina of fond teenage-James memories). Of note: a Varley Eight Worlds (first series [1]) story, Lollipop and the Tar Baby; Wilhelm’s amusing State of Grace”; and Robinson’s The Disguise. Unlike earlier Orbits, there were no stories I actively disliked. Curiously, for reasons explained below, I even found the Memory Machine installment diverting. 

Orbit 19 is out of print. 

Now for the mini-reviews. 

They Say (Orbit 19) • essay by Damon Knight

Lollipop and the Tar Baby • [Eight Worlds] • novelette by John Varley

A young woman exploring the Oort cloud with her supposed mother discovers that her mother is not quite who she claims. More ominous revelations follow.

Normally this is where I would complain about all the adult-child sex, but this particular adult created the kid as a disposable fucktoy so it’s not like the adult is being presented as a good person. Still, ew. 

State of Grace” • short story by Kate Wilhelm

Enigmatic cryptids provide a wife with the means to confound her controlling husband.

Many Mansions” • short story by Gene Wolfe

Visiting a vanquished planet to investigate a curious, long-vanished aspect of household life on that world, an imperialist discovers to their cost that the past is not as past as it could be.

The Veil Over the River • novelette by Felix C. Gotschalk

Rejecting computer mandated conditioning, a rebel sets out for the freedom that waits on the other side of a forcefield.

This works out just about as well as one would expect, which is to say not well at all. 

Fall of Pebble-Stones” • short story by R. A. Lafferty

Confronted with an inexplicable phenomenon, a wag uses it to annoy innocent passers-by.

The Memory Machine (Orbit 19) • essay by Damon Knight

More snippets of prose about SF. Usually these bore me but in this issue there is a historically significant quotation: young Asimov’s tirade against women and romance in SF:

Three rousing cheers for Donald G. Turnbull for his valiant attack on those favoring mush. When we want science fiction, we don’t want swooning dames, and that goes double. You needn’t worry about Miss Evans, Donald, us he-men are for you and if she tries to slap you down, you’ve got an able (I hope) confederate and tried auxiliary right here in the person of yours truly. Come on, men, make yourself heard in favor of less love mixed with our science!”

—Isaac Asimov

Astounding Stories, September 1938

I thought I’d first encountered this in Larbalestier’s Battle of the Sexes but nope, I must have read it in Orbitfirst. It’s probably for the best that young Asimov didn’t have a Twitter account. 

Tomus” • short story by Stephen Robinett

An immortal is so because they take over one commandeered body after another, moving on when the host begins to fail. They make the mistake of permitting the mind of a commandeered body to survive. Worse yet, the immortal permits the infant mind to discover the doom that waits for it. Still, what can one youthful mind do to an ancient, experienced body-hopper? 

Under Jupiter • novelette by Michael W. McClintock

An Earthman ventures to the Jupiter system in search of a treasure for which he will pay most dearly.

This was oddly archaic for an Orbitstory.

To the Dark Tower Came” • short story by Gene Wolfe

Two men discuss the nature of the vast tower they are traversing. 

There is a curious subgenre of people climbing things” from this era of SF: staircases, ladders, this tower. Why was this trope popular then?

Vamp • novelette by Mike Conner

Eager to join the art world, a young man discovers a world of malicious voyeurism.

Beings of Game P‑U” • short story by Phillip Teich

A seemingly harmless game is in fact an insidious, lethal trap.

Night Shift” • short story by Kevin O’Donnell, Jr.

A convicted criminal works hard to catch other criminals, motivated as he is by a minute reduction in his own debt to society with each arrest. 

Going Down” • short story by Eleanor Arnason

A driven artist sculpts alien worlds, providing them with an invented history that human colonists, unaccustomed to empty worlds, find comforting. 

The Disguise • novella by Kim Stanley Robinson

A driven man stalks a homicidal actor, seemingly without success, but closer to his quarry than he dreams.

Arcs & Secants (Orbit 19) • essay by Damon Knight

Commentary on the contributors. 

1: Let me explain this. In the 1970s Varley wrote a flurry of short works set in the Eight Worlds. After a hiatus of twelve years, he returned to the Eight Worlds but since 

the thought of going back, rereading all those old stories, and putting them in coherent order filled [Varley] with ennui. 

the later works don’t really share a continuity with the earlier books. I consider these two series of stories as related but distinct.