Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: 'The Farthest Reaches', edited by Joseph Elder

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Farthest Reaches’ (Pocket Books, 1968) is a paperback reprint of a hardbound anthology first published in 1967. Like Ellison’s ‘Dangerous Visions’, it’s an early effort at showcasing previously unpublished stories with a New Wave SF flavor. 

The cover illustration echoes the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with its ‘trippy’ multicolored blurs speeding past a determined-looking astronaut.

The roundup on the stories:

‘The Worm That Flies’, Brian Aldiss: In the far future, on a desolate planet gripped by entropy, mutated humans struggle with existential angst. I groaned when I saw the words ‘cthonian’ and ‘paraesthesia’ within the first page; a clear signal that Aldiss was yet again trying to write a Speculative Fiction tale designed to emulate his hero, J. G. Ballard. Like all of Aldiss’s efforts in this vein, the story is a dud.

‘Kyrie’, Poul Anderson: one of the more imaginative ‘hard’ SF stories in the collection. A pair of telepaths, communicating over distance by purely mental means, join a starship’s survey team for a potentially hazardous investigation of a black hole.

‘Tomorrow Is A Million Years’, J. G. Ballard: a genuine New Wave tale with its depiction of an existential, sand-covered planet, and a pair of settlers haunted by atavistic visions of ancient seafarers. But unlike so many of his imitators, Ballard takes pains to provide the reader with a functioning plot and a believable resolution, rather than displaying artsy writing for its own sake.

‘Pond Water’, John Brunner: an android assumes control of humanity and institutes a despotic reign. More of a fable than SF, this story is one of Brunner’s less inspired efforts.

‘The Dance of the Changer and the Three’, Terry Carr: on a gas-giant planet, energy-based life forms do seemingly religious things, while a human observer provides commentary. Carr’s effort at a New Wave approach to writing is weak and unmemorable.

‘Crusade’, Arthur C. Clarke: another hard SF tale, in which a silicon-based life form dispatches emissaries throughout the galaxy. The ‘sci-fi’ wording of the tale will probably strike modern readers as unsophisticated, even a bit corny.

‘Ranging’, John Jakes: a straightforward tale of youthful rebellion among the pilots of deep-space probes. The story certainly had resonance for readers back in the late 60s.

‘Mind Out of Time’, Keith Laumer: two astronauts embark on a risky journey in the first warp-drive spacecraft. Entertaining, if not remarkably original.

‘The Inspector’, James McKimmey: a team of Federation investigators examines the unfortunate death of a hero astronaut while he was in orbit around the planet ‘Tnp’. A rather pedestrian tale about Questioning Youth, the expectations of elders, and Need to Be Free.

‘To the Dark Star’, Robert Silverberg: squabbling crewmembers are dispatched on a hazardous mission to record the formation of a black hole.

‘A Night in Elf Hill’, by Norman Spinrad: on the remote backwater planet of Mindalla, a veteran spacer encounters a strange alien artifact.

‘Sulwen’s Planet’, by Jack Vance: feuding linguists spar over the recovery of data from crashed alien spaceships.

All in all, ‘Reaches’ is a modest compilation of New Wave SF tales, better in some ways than ‘Dangerous Visions’, but also lacking with regard to providing real gems. Those readers keen to expand their collection of stories from the late 60s may want to keep an eye out for it.

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