Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: 'The Third Omni Book of Science Fiction', edited by Ellen Datlow

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Third Omni Book of Science Fiction’ (479 pp.) was edited by Ellen Datlow and released in April 1985 by Zebra Books; the cover artist is unknown.

This anthology contains short stories published during the interval 1978 – 1985; some originally appeared in Omni magazine, or in earlier anthologies (‘The Best of Omni Science Fiction’, 1980) associated with the magazine.

The first story, Alfed Bester’s ‘Galatea Galante’, is the worst in the collection. In the early 80s Bester began to get increased praise as the cyberpunk movement recognized the before-its-time quality of 'The Stars, My Destination'. Much is made in the back cover blurb of his inclusion in this collection

Unfortunately, 'Galatea' is a lame re-telling of the Pygmalion theme, a theme already heavily overworked in the sci-fi literature. Bester attempts to add satiric humor and New Wave-style mannerisms (including the insertion of musical notations into the text) but they fall miserably flat.

‘Number 13’, by Stephen Robinett, deals with a lone crewman’s angst. ‘Men Like Us’, by David Drake, is an entertaining look at post-Armageddon Earth and the suspicion of the Outsider. ‘I Am the Burning Bush’ , by Gregg Keizer, is a downbeat, original tale of a mutant and his unique abilities.

‘Farmer on the Dole’, by Frederik Pohl, is another of the weaker entries. Pohl recasts the struggle of the Lumpen Proletariat, with robots as the main characters. The story goes on too long, and runs well out of steam, before it struggles to an ending.

Jack Dann’s ‘Blind Shemmy’ is one of the best stories in the anthology. It is set in a near-future Paris, where an amoral reporter decides to engage in a high-stakes, ‘virtual reality’ game of chemin de fer (the ‘Blind Shemmy’ of the title). Featuring some disturbing imagery and a suspenseful duel between desperate antagonists, this is a gem of an early cyberpunk tale.

Roger Zelazny contributes ‘The Last of the Wild Ones’, set in his universe of intelligent, self-aware automobiles. ‘Prairie Sun’, by Edward Bryant, deals with time travelers and the fateful decisions regulating interaction with the Past.

Robert Silverberg’s ‘Amanda and the Alien’ is a humorous tale of a California Valley Girl and an escaped ET.

Gregory Benford and Marc Laidlaw provide ‘A Hiss of Dragon’, a well-written tale of an adventurer who makes a hazardous living on a low-grav planet. ‘Executive Clemency’, by Gardner Dozois and Jack C. Haldeman II, is another of the better entries in the collection; in a near-future, post- World War Three USA, an elderly man struggles to come to terms with the changes to his world.

Philip K. Dick’s ‘Ruatavaara’s Case’ is a satiric look at the collision of human and alien theologies. ‘Adventurer of the Metal Murderer’, by Fred Saberhagen, mixes his Berserker theme with proto-Steampunk.

‘Borovsky’s Hollow Woman’, by Jeff Duntemann and Nancy Kress, features a spacesuit governed by an empathic AI, a troubled steelworker, and murderous rivalries on a massive space station construction project. It’s a labored tale that could have benefitted from being shortened in length. Gene Wolfe’s ‘The War Beneath the Tree’ is a blackly humorous take on Christmas toys; perhaps because of its shorter length, it is one of his more accessible stories.

‘Webrider’, by Jayge Carr, is a middling tale of a mutant gifted with the ability to travel the galaxy through teleportation. This involves great risk; there is predictable angst on the part of the ‘webrider’. ‘Ringtime’, by Thomas Disch, deals with virtual reality, risky behavior, and a paying audience; it suffers from an oblique prose style that shows too many signs of hanging on to New Wave affectations.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling provide ‘Red Star, Winter Orbit’, a passable, if not particularly exciting tale of a seedy Soviet space station and its rebellious crew.

The anthology closes with a novelette by Dan Simmons, ‘Carrion Comfort’, which the author later expanded into a novel.

‘Comfort’ deals with a group of mutants who are able to bend others to their will. This novelette starts off very slowly, and the powers wielded by the mutants are more than a little contrived. While the ending eventually takes on some momentum, it was too long in coming to make me interested in possibly trying the novel. 

All in all, the Third Omni Book of Science Fiction is a reasonably good snapshot of SF writing in the early 80s, at a time when the cyberpunk movement was in ascendancy, bringing with it greater attention to composition, plotting, and narrative as compared to the defunct New Wave movement it was replacing.

1 comment:

David said...

Cover artist is Tim White.