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Worlds Away

Orbit 20  (Orbit, volume 20)

Edited by Damon Knight 

8 Mar, 2022

Damon Knight's Orbit


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1978’s Orbit 20 is the 20thand second to last volume in Damon Knight’s series of original SF stories.

Orbit 20contains eight stories: three stories by three women and five by five men. Four of these stores were later reprinted; four weren’t. Like the previous Orbit, Orbit 20 is not the award magnet that earlier Orbit were. There was one exception — Seven American Nights” — which was at least a nominee if not a winner. 

It seems as if there’s a pattern: a dismal Orbitfollowed by a partial recovery. Perhaps it’s just that the more wretched instalments make the ensuing volumes look better by comparison. Still, I do not think that’s the case here; some of the stories are quite enjoyable, if not award bait. Moongate is a competent horror story if somewhat overlong; Bright Coins” is an amusing story that does not overstay its welcome; The Synergy Sculpture” was surprisingly effective. Seven American Nights is the standout, as one might guess from the fact it’s the one that attracted nominations. 

One more Orbit to go! 

Orbit 20is out of print.

They Say (Orbit 20) • (1978) • essay by uncredited

Snippets of SF and SF-adjacent commentary drawn from various sources, including Wendel Berry’s memorable gripe about O’Neill’s space colonies. 

Moongate • (1978) • novella by Kate Wilhelm

A woman’s traumatizing experience is interpreted as delusion by those around her. However, what she experienced is very real and very dangerous to study. 

The Novella Race” • (1978) • short story by Pamela Sargent

An account of the grueling world of competitive writing.

Bright Coins in Never-Ending Stream” • (1978) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

The doleful tale of a man whose unending wealth comes with an irksome catch. 

The Synergy Sculpture” • (1978) • short story by Terrence L. Brown

Empathic sculptures lead to a blind competition between toxic couples. 

The Memory Machine” (Orbit 20) • (1978) • essay by uncredited

SF-related snippets. I really don’t get what Knight saw in these. 

The Birds Are Free” • (1978) • short story by Ronald Anthony Cross

A coach’s hopes for their athletes are not fully realized, but his efforts are not without profit.

A Right-Handed Wrist” • (1978) • short story by Stepan Chapman [as by Steve Chapman]

A worker is surprised by what happens after he upgrades his prosthetic hand. 

They Made Us Not to Be and They Are Not” • (1978) • novelette by Philippa C. Maddern

A second-contact team struggles to make sense of enigmatic alien statements, while the poor aliens struggle to understand humans. 

The contact team mentions in passing that settling alien worlds without formal agreements with the natives always ends badly. It’s not clear how often settling alien worlds with formal agreements ends well for the aliens. Not settling inhabited worlds doesn’t seem to be on the menu. 

Seven American Nights • (1978) • novella by Gene Wolfe

A citizen of a flourishing Muslim culture visits the decaying ruins of America. Tasting local delights proves ill-advised. 

Arcs & Secants (Orbit 20) • (1978) • essay by uncredited

Biographical commentary on the contributors. 

Index to Volumes 11 – 20 • (1978) • essay by uncredited

What it says on the tin.