Piers Anthony’s 1985 Anthonology is a collection of his short works, with added commentary by the author’s foremost admirer, Piers Anthony. The stories are for the most part dreadful … but at least there are a lot of them.
“Possible to Rue” • (1963)
A promise to his son reveals to a man that what he took to be simple everyday truths are not true at all.
The story itself is minor. The commentary reveals that Anthony is still smarting over dismissive comments made by editor H. L. Gold more than twenty years earlier. It’s a pattern that is repeated over and over again. Anthony does not forget or forgive slights, real or imagined.
“The Toaster” • (1985)
An old lady overcomes all obstacles so she can give her ten-year-old niece a delicacy: toast!
While the story dates back to the 1960s, it didn’t see print until this collection. As Anthony notes, he only sold one in four stories that he submitted (one reason to move to novels). What might have put editors off way back in the 1960s is the way the story dwells on the precocious ten-year-old’s thigh-revealing clothing.
“Quinquepedalian” • (1963)
Confronted by a vast, alien being, three spacemen all too hastily shoot it. The dead beast’s mother proves vindictive and highly focused.
The story is fairly clearly on the side of the grieving mother, for what it’s worth.
“Encounter” • (1964)
In a world overrun by man’s creations, a solitary man finds an unexpected companion: a tiger!
“Phog” • (1965)
Pursued by a virtually invincible foe, the humans’ only hope is one young man’s ingenuity. More will be needed: sacrifice!
This is one of the “lone genius surrounded by knuckle-heads” stories but as it turns out, victory depends on teamwork.
The Ghost Galaxies • (1966)
A zippy fast starship heads towards the edge of the universe to resolve the question of which of two competing cosmologies is correct. The mission’s greatest impediment may be the human crew itself.
Anthony notes the science in this is dated. I think “was never correct to begin with” is a bit closer, since his vision of the Big Bang seems to have a specific origin in space. As it turns out, the evidence in this universe doesn’t support the Big Bang.
“Within the Cloud” • (1967)
What would clouds say, if clouds could talk?
Anthony was also not pleased by Fred Pohl’s editorial efforts, although Anthony likes Pohl’s fiction.
“The Life of the Stripe” • (1969)
A bold administrative innovation invites a terrible curse.
“In the Jaws of Danger” • [Dr. Dillingham] • (1967)
A steadfast human dentist accepts a Brobdingnagian challenge.
This reads like a minor Sector General story.
“Beak by Beak” • (1967)
What tragedy explains the silent alien spacecraft in orbit around Earth?
Generally one expects sexism in an Anthology story, but this delivers a bit of racism as well. One avian explorer falls for an attractive but unintelligent bird; Anthony compares this to a human (white, male) explorer falling for a pretty native girl.
Getting Through University • [Dr. Dillingham] • (1968)
The first human to seek entry to the prestigious alien university, galactic dentist Dillingham’s odds of winning entry seem dim, very dim indeed.
But the author is on Dillingham’s side and thus Victory is Assured. Anything Dillingham does will turn out to be the right thing to have done under the circumstance.
In the Barn • (1972)
On a parallel Earth where humans are the sole remaining mammals, what on Earth could be in their barns?
It’s human women, of course, raised in a manner calculated to stunt their intellectual growth so they don’t mind being milked or otherwise treated like animals. We have Harlan Ellison to thank for this particular piece seeing print. Ellison seems to have been a little unclear on the difference between “bold and innovative” and “the 1970s answer to ‘Queen Bee’.”
If I ever arrange a Young People I Dislike Read Old SF Chosen Purely Out of Spite, this will be one of the first stories I offer them.
[Editor’s note: I read this story many years ago. I still remember it. I wish there were such a thing as brain bleach.]
Up Schist Creek • (1985) (variant of Up Schist Crick 1972)
Chance may have handed the businessman the chance for untold wealth. Or merely the opportunity for embarrassment.
It’s all a build-up to a poop joke.
“The Whole Truth” • (1970)
How can the lonely and horny spaceman living alone on a distant outpost determine if the young woman is the young human woman she claims to be or a shape-shifting alien bent on sabotaging humanity’s border defences?
It’s a good thing childbirth is the sort of trivial, risk free endeavour two amateurs should be able to handle out in the middle of nowhere.
“The Bridge” • (1970)
The fate of a species depends on one man’s penis! And his ability to cram it into a tiny woman.
On the Uses of Torture • (1981)
Determined to negotiate a vital treaty, a human envoy embraces the values of an alien race.
“Small Mouth, Bad Taste” • (1970)
What influence steered pre-humans onto the path to true humanity?
Shades of Big Ancestor. The humans in this story know that their origin was humble. They did not know that they were once a domesticated(ish) species.
“Wood You?” • (1970)
A boy skilled at whittling does rather well in a galactic whittling contest. Not that his family believes him.
The boy’s ten-year-old sister is described as adult. Granted, by the boy, who is much younger.
“Hard Sell” • [Fisk Centers] • (1972)
Fisk is offered the chance of a lifetime, but only if he acts swiftly and decisively.
Great deal! Close now! is a standard conman’s tool, a way to pressure the mark into making a quick decision without due diligence, Most of these gambits work best on someone who is potentially dishonest.
Hurdle • [Fisk Centers] • (1972)
Manipulated by his precocious foster daughter into volunteering for a high-stakes race, Fisk must choose between wealth or doing the right thing.
By this point in his career, Fisk has been burned multiple times, thanks to snap decisions based on greed. Unlike some protagonists I could mention, he has actually learned from his experiences.
I am very skeptical that fusion-powered cars will ever become a practical reality but there’s every chance the one featured in this story is not really practical, given that “lethal amounts of radiation” is a known bug for this sort of vehicle.
“Gone to the Dogs” • (1985)
A man and his dog are granted a glimpse of a wild world where it is Dog and not Man who rules!
At least it was short.
I’ve only myself to blame for reading this, because I can turn down commissions if I so choose. For that matter, only my desire to put this behind me compelled me to trudge through it in one read. I could have spread it out over a few days or weeks.
For the most part, these are badly thought-out stories. Also they are poorly written and liberally spiced with un-introspective misogyny. Not to mention an unsettling fixation on little girls1. Some magazine editors must have been desperate to publish these stories.
Anthony’s comments (and his sales rates) make it clear I’m not the only one to consider his work sub-par. From Anthony’s perspective, criticism was undeniable proof of error on the critic’s part. If Anthony had not been clad in ten-inch-thick collapsium armour of self-regard, his career would have ended in the 1960s. And I would not have had this book to review.
Anthony hated his editors, with few exceptions. Among those exceptions were Judy-Lynn del Rel and Lester del Rey, the people I believe we can blame for springboarding Anthony from the mid-list to best sellerdom. A Spell for Chameleon was one of the first books published by the Del Rey imprint. Readers loved the series, judging from the forty plus that have seen print thus far.
The one aspect of the book that did not make me pray for rapid onset macular degeneration was, rather unexpectedly, the cover. Both the American cover and even the British cover are, I think, reasonable examples of the state of the art.
Anthonology is out of print.
1: Which reminds me, I really need to finish that core list of books whose treatment of kids is such to suggest the author should never be allowed to babysit them.