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Yesterday’s Songs

Orbit 8  (Orbit, volume 8)

Edited by Damon Knight 

21 Sep, 2021

Damon Knight's Orbit


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1970’s Orbit 8 is the eighth volume in Damon Knight’s Orbit science fiction anthology series. 

Alas, even Jove nods. This anthology is a bit of a dud, especially in contrast to Orbits 6 and 7.

In contrast to the last two volumes, only one story in Orbit 8 was nominated for an award: Kate Wilhelm’s The Encounter.” Lamentably, this lack does not seem to be due to some secretive anti-Orbit campaign. IMHO most of the stories in this volume are forgettable, when they are not outright subpar. That said, there are some stories of note: Lafferty’s All Pieces of a River Shore,” Charnock’s The Chinese Boxes,” and Wilhelm’s The Encounter.” 

A detail that will in no way enhance your reading experience, although it does mine: when I read these, I hear them in the voice of Mindwebs Michael Hanson. Feel free to ask in comments if you do not know who he was. 

Orbit 8 is out of print. 

Horse of Air” • short story by Gardner Dozois 

An angry, bitter oligarch imprisoned in their apartment fantasizes about the destruction of civilization.

It’s not just about death. It’s also about the irrelevance of the bitter and aged. Dozois appears to have foreseen the rise of the Fox News viewer. 

One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty” • short story by Harlan Ellison

A time traveler attempts to intervene in his own miserable childhood, with mixed results. 

I suspect that this story may be drawing on Ellison’s own childhood for inspiration. 

Rite of Spring” • short story by Avram Davidson

Spring brings sordid fertility rituals.

The Bystander” • short story by Thom Lee Wharton

Attempts to lean on a legitimate businessman and force him to inform on the Mob have tragic consequences… but not for the businessman.

This story does not appear to be in any way SFnal.

All Pieces of a River Shore” • short story by R. A. Lafferty

A collector avidly tracks down all the fragments of a marvelous artwork of mysterious origin that depicts America of the ancient past.

Sonya, Crane Wessleman, and Kittee” • short story by Gene Wolfe

An unlikely friendship provides a poor woman with a glimpse into the lives of the rich (who have a fondness for pets shaped to look like humans). 

This is as close as Wolfe got to an In the Barn” story. If you don’t get the reference, treasure your ignorance and don’t consult the search engines. 

Tablets of Stone” • short story by Liz Hufford

A love affair between human and alien manages to transcend biology, only to underline the importance of due diligence. 

Imagine if you will that Robert Sheckley had written his AAA Ace stories while profoundly depressed, and you will get an inkling of what it might be like to read this tale of tragic love. 

Starscape with Frieze of Dreams” • [Spacewhale] • short story by Robert F. Young

Discovering that the lobotomized space whale intended for transformation into a starship is not quite lobotomized, a young male human sets out to use the whale for an unsanctioned purpose.

Robert F. Young’s stories often struck me as characteristic of earlier times. This one, for example, is very committed to the ladder of evolution model and would have fit in well in Astoundingof 1955. As it happens, this was collected into a book about space whales in 1980, which I own. I cannot say I remember anything about it save its location on my book shelf. Still, potential review material…

The Book • short story by Robert E. Margroff and Andrew J. Offutt

Enslaved by a book of mysterious origin, a caveman plots arcane revenge on the he-man who will some day murder him.

Inside • short story by Carol Carr

A woman’s solitary life in a mysterious, mutable house is interrupted by the uninvited and unwanted appearance of people from her past.

This also seems to be about death.

Right Off the Map • short story by Pip Winn

Minor functionaries in the overcrowded world of tomorrow discover a secret garden of Eden concealed by cartographic error. This raises a question: pave it over or keep it secret? 

The Weather on the Sun • novelette by Theodore L. Thomas

Faced with the Sun’s impending, premature excursion off the main sequence, weather engineers embrace a daring plan to steer the Sun back onto the main sequence. 

This was … legit awful and out of place in Orbit. And long. As I recall, there is at least one other Thomas story that took place in this setting, about which I only recall that it was quite sentimental and saccharine. Ah, a bit of searching suggests it was 1962’s The Weather Man.

I know other people enjoyed Thomas more than I do — he won a Hugo! — so I am a bit surprised to see no collections of his work listed on ISFDB. 

The Chinese Boxes” • short story by Graham Charnock

A man desperate for a job is forced to choose between unemployment and participation in an inhumane experiment.

This may have been inspired by the Milgram Experient, although the parallels are much closer to Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment carried out the year after this story saw print. Maybe Zimbardo read Orbit. In any case, while a tragedy, the story takes a very slightly more optimistic view of human nature than would be justified by the results of either experiment. Despite pressing need, the protagonist ultimately refuses to engage in cruelty to keep his job. 

A Method Bit in B”” • short story by Gene Wolfe

A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, particularly if the policeman makes the mistake of too intently pondering the nature of reality.

Interurban Queen” • short story by R. A. Lafferty

Automobiles lose the war to dominate American transit, to the betterment of society all around. However, a few rogue car fanciers remain, pests who invite the harshest of punishments. 

The Encounter” • novelette by Kate Wilhelm

An unlikable man is trapped with an unfamiliar woman in an underheated train station during a killer blizzard. He does not understand the significant of the encounter until it is far, far too late.

While for the most part Orbit stories remind me of Mindwebs—no surprise given that Mindwebs drew from Orbit, among other sources — this story reminded me of an entirely different radio show, CBC’s Nightfall(no relation to the Asimov story). Nightfall was fond of stories about terrible weather and awful people coming to terrible ends. This would have fit in nicely.