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What Happens Next?

Orbit 10  (Orbit, volume 10)

Edited by Damon Knight 

19 Oct, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit

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1972’s Orbit 10 was the tenth volume in Damon Knight’s Orbit series. Like the previous nine anthologies, it offered a selection of original science fiction stories.

Orbit 10 is a return to form after a couple of disappointing entries. It’s probably worthy pointing out that it is a rare anthology series that makes it to its tenth volume. Orbit 10 came in 4th for Locus’ Best Original Anthology for its years, while two stories within it (The Fifth Head of Cerberus and A Kingdom by the Sea) were nominated for a total of six awards. No wins, but they say even being nominated is an honour. 

There are eleven stories, two by women and nine by men. Probably it would have been a good idea to create a chart tracking that before the halfway point of the project. 

Something I don’t recall from previous volumes in this series: enthusiastic name-dropping and Tuckerizations of other authors, including but not limited to Orbit contributors. I suppose it amused the authors, although readers’ milage may vary. 

Now for the nitty-gritty

The Fifth Head of Cerberus • (1972) • novella by Gene Wolfe

Raised in isolation on a minor colony world twenty light years from Earth, Number Five is subjected by his father to unpleasant treatments for reasons he does not understand at the time. With maturity comes growing comprehension … and the same homicidal intentions towards Number Five’s father as his father once had for Number Five’s grandfather. Why history repeats itself is no mystery.

The colonists started off by exterminating the natives, continued by enthusiastically embracing slavery, and have since begun what seems to be a long, inexorable decline. So, not exactly the usual Humanity Uber Alles tale. Indeed, quite possibly critical of New World settler nations. 

It turns out I have been confusing this story with Michael Bishop’s A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire for almost half a century. Go, me! 

Wolfe name-checks two of his Orbitcolleagues, Wilhelm and Vinge.

The Fifth Head of Cerberus was nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus, losing to the Hugo to Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, the Nebula to Clarke’s A Meeting with Medusa, and the Locus to Pohl’s The Gold at Starbow’s End.

Jody After the War” • (1972) • short story by Edward Bryant

Years after the Chinese nuclear strike on the US, a payphone repairman and his lover struggle to deal with survivor’s trauma.

The phone repairman is convinced that China struck first and that China’s subsequent annihilation was deserved. But of course he would be. 

The protagonist has bold ideas about how to deal with urban ethnic strife:

I should have been smart enough to take a partner along, or maybe to wear blackface.” Or perhaps the blackface would not have produced the results the protagonist wanted. 

Al” • (1972) • short story by Carol Emshwiller

The sole survivor of an airplane crash slowly integrates into the curious community in which he now finds himself.

Said community is a sort of artistic Shangri La, one that includes SF author Thomas Disch. 

Now I’m Watching Roger” • (1972) • short story by Alexei Panshin

One of a trio of astronauts embraces a bold solution to reduce the stress of sharing the lunar facility with two increasingly dislikeable companions. 

Whirl Cage” • (1972) • short story by Jack Dann 

Mantle’s efforts to escape an urban hellscape are as determined as they are futile. 

A Kingdom by the Sea • (1972) • novelette by Gardner Dozois 

A man who works in a slaughterhouse is haunted by a female figure he calls Lilith. At the end of the story, he kills a cow he also calls Lilith; this may not be symbolic.

The story was nominated for a Hugo (which it lost to Anderson’s Goat Song”), a Nebula (also lost to Goat Song”), and a Locus (which it lost to Ellison’s Basilisk”).

Christlings” • (1972) • short story by Albert Teichner

The drug known as Juno A imbues therapist Dr. Bruch with vast powers of empathy, the better to minister to his patients. At first, Juno A appears to be a wild success. Then, as they always do, unintended side effects appear. Enhanced empathy is exhausting. Worse, those with whom he empathized become addicted to empathy. 

Because so many of the previous stories have references to actual authors, one has to wonder if Putzman, the embittered, abrasive author Bruch treats, is based on a real-world author. Pursuing that thought might be a dangerous vision too far. 

Unlike a lot of awesome science discoveries in SF, the therapist’s attempts at secrecy do not secure him a monopoly on the drug. Widespread use will have very interesting effects on society. 

Live, from Berchtesgaden” • (1972) • short story by George Alec Effinger 

How to process one’s nation’s sins? Confront or forget? And how to process an ailing daughter who will not shut up about certain historical unpleasantnesses? Could willful amnesia not serve there as well?

While this story is very specifically about post-War Germany, Effinger notes that other nations may not be innocent of genocide. The issue here isn’t inherently a German issue, even if this particular instance is German. 

Dorg • (1972) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

Bold embrace of a visionary hypothesis concerning the origin of species transforms a cartoon character into the solution to world hunger … for a while.

It is a minor part of the story but early on it is established that all discussions of policy with more than three people involved are required to include a young person. However, there is a catch:

I have had my age officially set back eleven years. In Amalgamated Youth we have that privilege. Besides, you have no idea how difficult it is to recruit chronological youths into Amalgamated Youth.”

It would not surprise me if Laffery had been inspired by L’il Abner’s Shmoos, especially given that one of the characters in the story is a mad cartoonist named J. P. Dordogne.

Gantlet” • (1972) • short story by Richard E. Peck

A commuter takes his designated turn running a co-op train, valiantly slaughtering the desperate poor who try to interfere with the vehicle as it travels from a sealed city, through toxic slums, toward distant work places. 

The Fusion Bomb • (1972) • novelette by Kate Wilhelm

Provided a sequestered island on which to carry out their investigations, researchers delve into the hidden patterns governing existence. Isolation is bad enough — but there are other costs.

Index to Volumes 1 – 10 (Orbit) • (1972) • essay by uncredited

This is a complete (as of Orbit 10) index, by author and by story.