Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: 'Universe 1', edited by Terry Carr

2 / 5 Stars

‘Universe 1’ (250 pp.) was published by Ace Books in 1971; the cover illustration is by Davis Meltzer.

In his Introduction, editor Terry Carr declares that the ‘Universe’ anthology series is dedicated to science fiction, and “….there’ll be no ‘speculative fiction’ at all.” 

This is untrue, unfortunately, as most of the contents of ‘Universe 1’ are indeed speculative fiction pieces. This isn’t so surprising, as 1971 saw the New Wave movement in sf operating at full throttle.

Brief summaries of the entries:

‘West Wind, Falling’ by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund: inter-generational conflict among the colonists living inside the hollowed core of a comet. Benford would return to this theme in fuller form with his 1986 novel Heart of the Comet.

‘Good News from the Vatican' by Robert Silverberg: a group of people of varied religious backgrounds idle in Rome’s stylish cafes, as they await word on the advent of the first robot to be named Pope. A slight tale, if anything at all.

Edward Bryant contributes two stories. ‘Jade Blue’ is New Wave through and through: a plotless story about a young boy, his nightmares, and a talking puma. 

‘The Human Side of the Village Monster’, on the other hand, is the best entry in the anthology. It’s set in a decaying, near-future New York City, with a real ‘Soylent Green’ vibe. ‘Human Side’ shows that when he avoided contrived efforts at Speculative Fiction, Bryant could produce memorable, ‘traditional’ sf tales.

‘Nor Limestone Islands’ by R. A. Lafferty: a ‘fabulation’ about floating islands of limestone; the inhabitants offer philosophical insights. Mediocre.

‘Time Exposures’ by Wilson Tucker: a murder mystery, featuring a camera that can take pictures of past events. Imaginative, even if discerning readers are liable to figure out Whodunit very early on.

‘Mindship’ by Gerard F. Conway: on board a starship, a retiring individual serves as the vital psychic masseuse for the ship's pilot, a group mind comprised of individuals submerged in a fugue state. A promising concept, but one gradually overwhelmed by the author’s too-frequent use of overwrought, figurative prose. Conway expanded the story into a novel, published by DAW Books in 1974.

‘Notes for A Novel About the First Ship Ever to Venus’ by Barry N. Malzburg: brief tale, dispersed in one- or two- paragraph chapters, about a spaceship venture to the eponymous planet. As many sf authors were wont to do during the New Wave era, Malzburg tries to imitate an existing ‘literary’ style, in this case something reminiscent of Dos Passos, with…….. unimpressive…….. results.

‘Poor Man, Beggar Man’ by Joanna Russ: the ghost of his murdered general haunts Alexander the Great. Devoid of genuine sf content, and consisting of lengthy conversations, the best I could do with this entry was scratch my head at editorial attitudes of the New Wave era.

‘The Romance of Dr. Tanner’ by Ron Goulart: another effort at sf humor by Goulart; this time, pipe-smoking lizard men highlight the domestic neuroses suffered by a TV ad executive. It’s the worst story in the anthology.

‘Mount Charity’ by Edgar Pangborn: talking animals – who are the assumed forms of aliens – muse on human foibles over the ages. A readable story, infused with the philosophical attitudes of the ‘hippy’ generation.

‘All the Last Wars At Once’ by George Alec Effinger: uneasy satire about what happens when contemporary American social conflicts are solved with overt violence.

Summing up, ‘Universe 1’ is unwavering, early 70s New Wave sf. Most entries have aged quite poorly. Modern readers will find little to engage them here, save for the stories by Bryant, Tucker, and Pangborn.

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