The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990

Summary:The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990“, edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery with consultant Karen Joy Fowler, is a very good survey of SF written in English in Canada and the US from 1960 to 1991. It does some things very well. While I am very happy I read it and I recommend it without reservation to fans of short science fiction, I do think it could have been better, as I discuss below. My overall rating is a strong but not great 3.71/5. Your mileage may vary.

The Story and Analysis: Especially after I began reading a lot of short science fiction (or SF) recently, I became aware of the 1993 “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990”, edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery with consultant Karen Joy Fowler (1993, W. W. Norton & Co.). I have been aware of Ursula K. Le Guin as a writer of science fiction and fantasy for most of my life, but I was not that familiar with her work as an editor, and I was looking forward to this work as an expression of that side of her.

I have read a number of surveys of 20th century SF (5 so far), with one more still to go before I write about and compare and contrast them. I recently read “The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction“, 1980, edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg.

“Arbor House” was aimed to take up the mantle of Groff Conklin’s “The Best of Science Fiction” and the Healy & McComas “Adventures in Time & Space“, both seminal SF anthologies from 1946. “Arbor House” covered 1946 to 1976.

I was quite eager to read and enjoy the “Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990”, for a number of reasons. These included:

  1. A very interesting and inspiring editorial team of Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Attebery and consultant Karen Joy Fowler.
  2. Specific focus on the period of 1960 to 1990, so overlap with but later than “Arbor House”.
  3. An anthology with the explicit goal of fairly equal inclusion of male and female writers.

Stated criteria/parameters for the anthology are noted in the Introduction, including:

  1. Science fiction (and Le Guin goes on in substantial detail to discuss what she means by that in the Introduction).
  2. Written in English by North American authors between 1960 and 1990.
  3. As noted above, a roughly 50/50 split on gender of authors.

Le Guin’s Introduction gives her justification for the period of 1960 and later. She noted, “And, even if we were not trying for it, the chronological order gives some glimpse of the story of science fiction itself during the first thirty years of its maturity.” She goes on to say, “Without in the least dismissing or belittling earlier writers and work, I think it is fair to say that science fiction changed around 1960, and that the change tended towards an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistications of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing.” I assume that Brian Attebery and Karen Joy Fowler accepted this.

Le Guin’s Introduction is broad, erudite and well written; I would recommend reading this just for the introduction, if nothing else. Among other things, it does mention that the publisher wanted a limit of 750 pages, so we are fortunate to get 800 pages.

The “Norton Book of Science Fiction” includes 67 stories by 67 authors, at just over 800 pages of fiction. I did not tabulate the actual male/female/whatever split, but it felt like the balance was probably achieved. This was very positive for me.

I really enjoyed many of the stories, with a number of really great stories that were new to me (or that I did not remember ever reading before).

Stories that I loved and had read before (sometimes a long time ago) included:

  1. “Day Million”, a 1966 short story by Frederik Pohl.
  2. “Speech Sounds “, a 1983 short story by Octavia E. Butler.
  3. “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard”, a 1961 novelette by Cordwainer Smith.
  4. “Out of All Them Bright Stars”, a 1985 short story by Nancy Kress.
  5. “Over the River and Through the Woods”, a 1965 short story by Clifford D. Simak.
  6. “When I Was Miss Dow, a 1966 short story by Sonya Dorman.
  7. “The Women Men Don’t See”, a 1973 novelette by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon).
  8. “Lollipop and the Tar Baby”, a 1977 novelette by John Varley.
  9. “The Lucky Strike”, a 1984 novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson.
  10. “A Midwinter’s Tale”, a 1988 short story by Michael Swanwick.

Stories that I had never read before and that I loved included:

  1. “For the Sake of Grace”, a 1969 novelette by Suzette Haden Elgin.
  2. “Tauf Aleph”, a 1981 novelette by Phyllis Gotlieb.
  3. “Tandy’s Story”, a 1961 novelette by Theodore Sturgeon.
  4. “Kyrie” a 1968 short story by Poul Anderson.
  5. “As Simple as That”, a 1971 short story by Zenna Henderson.
  6. “Strange Wine”, a 1976 short story by Harlan Ellison.
  7. “Frozen Journey”, a 1980 short story by Philip K. Dick.
  8. “‘…The World As We Know’t.’”, a 1982 short story by Howard Waldrop.
  9. “Distant Signals”, a 1984 short story by Andrew Weiner.
  10. “Rat”, a 1986 short story by James Patrick Kelly.

It’s worth noting that some of these stories that were new to me were by authors I am not familiar with, such as Suzette Haden Elgin, Phyllis Gotlieb, and Andrew Weiner. I love that I was introduced to some authors new to me that I need to look into for SF and fantasy. This was a strong point of the anthology for me.

The editors wove a broad canvas of what is SF and selected material from quite a wide range of choices including those not traditionally seen as SF markets. Judith Merril attempted something like that in her “The Year’s Best S-F” series, but I believe the editors here were more successful in providing a generally high quality of SF stories while doing so.

My overall average rating for the fiction was a strong but not great 3.71/5.

While I enjoyed and appreciated most of the book, I would have l liked to have seen some stories written in or translated to English from the other North American countries, such as Mexico, etc. This might have been expensive or impractical, but it does diminish the subtitle “North American Science Fiction”. The editors clearly disclosed this criteria (North American SF written in English), but I am still disappointed.

Just as there were some stories here that are classics to me (“Day Million” and such), there were some stories where I really wondered why the editors had included them. This may just be an artifact of my personal tastes and interests. Sometimes my reaction was, “That’s an odd choice for that author”, and I was left wondering if some of these were selected for a “very short story by a famous author” goal to allow more stories and authors to be included and to sell more books. I’m not against either of those things, but some of these choices were very surprising to me. Stories that fell into this category for me, including some I liked, were:

  1. “Feather Tigers”, a 1973 short story by Gene Wolfe.
  2. “Making It All The Way Into The Future on Gaxton Falls of the Red Planet”, a 1974 short story by Barry N. Malzberg.
  3. “Night-Rise”, a 1978 short story by Katherine MacLean.
  4. “The Private War of Private Jacob”, a 1974 short story by Joe Haldeman.
  5. “A Few Things I Know About Whileaway”, a 1974 short story/fiction by Joanna Russ.
  6. “Homelanding”, a 1989 short short by Margaret Atwood.
  7. “The Bob Dylan Tambourine Software & Satori Support Services Consortium, Ltd.”, a 1985 short story by Michael Bishop.

I was also quite disappointed there were no story introductions. What material there was of this nature was included in very (sometimes only a phrase) brief narrative form in the Introduction. While it read well and perhaps saved space, it was a pain to search out for a story and was too brief. For me, this just works better in an anthology when the story introduction is with the story.

All in all, I’m really glad I read it. I recommend it wholeheartedly, although I do have some quibbles.

DETAILED REVIEWS/COMMENTS (SPOILERS FOLLOW!!, presented in order of TOC):

  1. “The Handler”, a 1960 short story by Damon Knight. An unlikely but great story of a man/robot/android and his handler (who lives/works inside him) at a party. I rated this 3.8/5. (Published in Rogue, August 1960. Note that I am including the original publication information on all of these stories in parentheses at the end of the entry.)
  2. “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard”, a 1961 novelette in Cordwainer Smith’s The Instrumentality of Mankind. I’m guessing I first read this in the 1970 edition of the “You Will Never Be The Same” collection. As the intro states, ‘”Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is a brilliant and typical part of Professor Linebarger’s vision.’ After 12,000 years of predictable lives, the Instrumentality has decided that humans need chaos, fear and danger in order for life to have meaning. The historical safety nets have relaxed, with consequences. A man meets and then loses his own true love, after visiting a strange and ancient machine. He survives due to a kindness to birds, and is rescued by C’Mell. A great story, and unique as normal for the author. Hugo Award honorable mention. I rated this 4.1/5. (Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1961)
  3. “Tandy’s Story”, a 1961 novelette by Theodore Sturgeon. Wow. This one snuck up on me. Early on, I had no damn idea what the story was about or where this story was going. A little girl, the middle child, has behavior that is different. Life goes on, she gets a perfect report card, and we conclude she and her siblings are all exposed to a symbiote that encourages joy. A Hugo Award honorable mention but not finalist. Not very many reprints, but a great story. Rated 4/5. (Published in Galaxy Magazine, April 1961)
  4. “2064, or Thereabouts”, a 1964 Moderan short story by David R. Bunch. A great story, of a partly artificial/cyborged roaming artist, who visits a Hold and seeks to paint the Master. Unfortunately, this Master is imperfect and flawed, and things do not go well. Rated 3.8/5. (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, September 1964)
  5. “Balanced Ecology”, a 1965 short story by James H. Schmitz set in his Hub universe. I have read this many times, as a big fan of James H. Schmitz, both in Analog and various other collections and anthologies. A pair of young cousins own a very valuable diamondwood grove. They have grown up with an understanding of the ecology and various species present. An uncle conspires with off world businessmen to harvest the grove against their wishes. The grove and the intelligence behind it help to dispose of the conspirators, and all is well, and the local ecology, grove, flora, fauna and humans return to a balance. I love this story. Nebula Award nomination (granted, in a year when there was no limit on number of Nebula nominees), reprinted in “Nebula Award Stories 1965” and “Analog 5“. Rated 3.8/5. (Analog Science Fact -> Science Fiction, March 1965)
  6. “The House the Blakeneys Built”, a 1965 short story by Avram Davidson. Did Not Finish. I like a lot of Avram Davidson, but I bounced off of this one. Rated 2/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1965)
  7. “Over the River and Through the Woods”, a 1965 short story by Clifford D. Simak. A great story of visitors from the future to a rural time that is revealed to be in the 1890s. Simak does this so well. Heartbreaking. Nebula nomination. Reprinted in the Carr/Wollheim anthology “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1966“. Rated 4/5. (Amazing Stories, May 1965)
  8. “How Beautiful with Banners”, a 1966 short story by James Blish. An interesting story of a scientist who encounters an alien on Titan that is not unlike her space/survival suit. The alien perceives her , in her space suit, to be a reproduction partner. She dies, and the alien is revealed to be a philanderer of a sort. I rated this 3/5. (Orbit 1)
  9. “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”, a 1966 short story by R. A. Lafferty. I found this interesting and a good read. I certainly enjoyed his use of words, and found it pretty manic. But for all that, I was a bit disappointed in it. I found the names to be my favorite aspect of this. I got to the end and was underwhelmed, although I had enjoyed the story until then. Lafferty did not stick the landing on the ending for me. To quote or paraphrase Frank Herbert, “No froolap” (from the story “You Take The High Road” by Frank Herbert, Astounding May 1958, later as part of the fix-up novel, “The Godmakers “). Reprinted in the Carr/Wollheim anthology ” World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967“. I rated it 3.2/5. (If, February 1966)
  10. “When I Was Miss Dow”, a 1966 short story by Sonya Dorman. I read this in Lisa Yaszek’s “The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, From Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin” anthology originally. An amazing story of rather amorphous, protean shape changing aliens. One of them becomes Miss Dow for a while. First ballot Nebula Award nominee, reprinted in the Aldiss/Harrison anthology, “Nebula Award Stories 1967“, Judith Merril’s “SF 12” anthology, the Pamela Sargent anthology “Women of Wonder, the Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1940s to the 1970s“. I rated this 4/5. (Galaxy Magazine, June 1966)
  11. “Comes Now the Power”, a 1966 short story by Roger Zelazny. A telepath is out of contact with other telepaths, and has lost the power. He finds a dying 13 year old, who reawakens his power as she dies. This is a very good short short. Hugo Award finalist. I rated it 3.7/5. (Magazine of Horror, Winter 1966/67)
  12. “Day Million”, a 1966 short story by Frederik Pohl. Great story, a classic future love story, in Day Million, by two lovers who exchange analogues but will never see each other again in person, perhaps made by the use of first person authorial voice. Love it. Inclusion in the 1967 Carr/Wollheim “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967”. I rated this 4.8/5. (Rogue, Feb/March 1966)
  13. “The Winter Flies”, a 1967 short story by Fritz Leiber. An interesting story of identity and hallucinations and reality and a family. Reprinted in “SF 12” by Merril. I rated this 3.8/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1967)
  14. “High Weir”, a 1968 novelette by Samuel R. Delany. A great story of academics on a Mars expedition, finding a Martian sculpture with very advanced hologram image storage in the eyes. One of them is going crazy. I rated this 3.8/5. (If, October 1968)
  15. “Kyrie”, a 1968 short story by Poul Anderson . I assume I read this outstanding story of exploration of a nova, of interspecies (human and telepathic plasma intelligence), love and loss, before in the Cramer/Hartwell “The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF“. I don’t remember it. Still, one of the best Anderson stories I have read. Nebula Award nominee. Reprinted in Carr/Wollheim “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1969”. Rated 3.9/5. (The Farthest Reaches)
  16. “For the Sake of Grace”, a 1969 novelette by Suzette Haden Elgin. Wow. A great story by an author new to me. A father and family head in a very patriarchal society (perhaps Islam based?) is called home from his affairs on Earth. He discovers his wife in disgrace and his daughter has applied to take the poetry exam; if she fails, which very likely, she will spend the rest of her life isolation. She passes at the highest level. When she returns home before taking up studies, she informs the family only that her aunt, who failed and is mad after 16 years of isolation, must be made sane to understand that her niece succeeded. Reprinted in the Carr/Wollheim “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1970”. Used as a prolog to her novel, “At the Seventh Level”. I rated this 4/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1969)
  17. “As Simple as That”, a 1971 short story by Zenna Henderson. Wow. A great non-People story of trying to accept the Torn Times without explanation. I have this in her “Holding Wonder” collection, but don’t remember it. Rated 3.9/5. (Holding Wonder)
  18. “Good News from the Vatican”, a 1971 short story by Robert Silverberg. I read this recently in “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” anthology by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. I dearly love this story of the elevation of a robot pope, and the amusing personalities of those waiting for the result. Nebula Award winner. Reprinted in del Rey’s 1972 anthology “Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year“. I rated this 3.9/5. (Universe 1)
  19. “Gather Blue Roses”, a 1972 short story by Pamela Sargent. Wow. A great, understated story of a child of a Holocaust survivor, who feels what others feel, even more than her mom does. Reprinted in “Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction“. Rated 3.8/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1972)
  20. “The Women Men Don’t See”, a 1973 novelette by James Tiptree, Jr. I probably first read this in Tiptree’s “Warm Worlds and Otherwise” collection. A great story of women, existing in the cracks of the world and taking a chance to leave with aliens to be free of men. The narrator is probably some kind of spy or operative, who is stunned by what happens. Reprinted in a number of places, including “Arbor House”, and the Terry Carr “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3” and the Aldiss/Harrison “Best SF: 1974” anthologies. I rated this 4/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1973)
  21. “Feather Tigers”, a 1973 short story by Gene Wolfe. I like this story. Aliens are investigating various aspects of vanished humans on Earth; it’s not clear to me if the aliens were involved in the disappearance. Feather tigers, a mythical beast, may still be present. I do find this a rather odd Wolfe choice by the editors. Reprinted in the Wolfe “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories” collection. Rated 3.6/5. (Edge, Autumn/Winter 1973)
  22. “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn”, a 1974 short story by Vonda N. McIntyre. An aging alien, of a winged species, is the lone remnant of those who launched a space ship. Arriving at their destination, their destination is smaller and more massive, with higher gravity, and the younger crew decides to stay ship bound. She leaves to die on the world, and her younger partner joins her. She dies of old age, and her partner returns to the ship, hoping to convince others to land. Very well done. Included in del Ray’s “Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection“. Rated 3.8/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1974)
  23. “The Private War of Private Jacob”, a 1974 short story by Joe Haldeman. This feels like a commentary on the insanity of war, combined with entertainment or gambling. Not one of Haldeman’s best. Barry N. Malzberg did this better in “Final War.” Another odd choice by the editors. Rated 3.3/5. (Galaxy, June 1974)
  24. “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons”, a 1974 short story by Eleanor Arnason. I love this story, but it is perhaps more speculative fiction than science fiction. An author spends a lot of time writing a story about the Warlord of Saturn’s Moons, and she really loves one of her characters. I believe this is the 2nd story she had published. Nebula Award nomination. Reprinted in “Women of Wonder”. Rated 3.8/5. (New Worlds 7)
  25. “Making It All the Way into the Future on Gaxton Falls of the Red Planet” a 1974 short story by Barry N. Malzberg. This is a compelling short short. A man and his girlfriend are on Mars, visiting a recreation of a a 1974 American city. They enter an exhibit, which proves to be a man or android , an iconoclast, taking the outmoded and untrue position that space exploration is a waste and failure. The man argues this point, and he is somehow transformed into the iconoclast and arguing with the people who come in. I do find this a somewhat odd choice, but perhaps the editors like the short short length. Rated 3.6/5. (Nova 4)
  26. “The New Atlantis”, a 1975 novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin . I have really mixed feelings about this story. I absolutely feel that there had to be a Le Guin story in this anthology; it would be a travesty not to, given the anthology’s goals and parameters, and her accomplishments in the field. I know that Le Guin was recused from the choice of her own story, as noted in the Introduction. I really like the near-future, oppressive government state and how the characters deal with it. I like the somewhat confusing continents sinking thing. That said, the deeps/ocean segments bore me and seem excessive and not well connected to the story. This story is a Locus Award winner, a Hugo Award runner-up and a Nebula finalist, so I appear to be in the minority opinion on that. Reprinted in Terry Carr’s “The Best Science Fiction of the Year 5“. Rated 3/5. (The New Atlantis and Other Novellas of Science Fiction)
  27. “A Few Things I Know About Whileaway”, a 1974 short fiction by Joanna Russ. I am not sure how to characterize this. A narrative with a plot it is not; it is more of a smattering of different tidbits about Whileaway and those who live there. Interesting, but I wonder at the editors selection of this story for Russ. Rated 3/5. (The New Improved Sun)
  28. “Strange Wine”, a 1976 short story by Harlan Ellison. A great short short story, and one by Ellison I did not remember reading. A man suffers through a fairly horrible life, thinking he is an alien who has been sent to Earth to live as human as a punishment. He finally commits suicide. After that, he wakes up on his home planet as an alien, and finds out that Earth is the best of all possible worlds, and that he was blessed to have been sent there. It’s a twist ending, but Ellison nails it. Rated 3.9/5. (Amazing Science Fiction, June 1976)
  29. Lollipop and the Tar Baby” a 1977 novelette by John Varley in his “Eight Worlds” universe. I have read this before, as I am a pretty big Varley fan. I did not remember much. A great story of an illegal clone of a possibly insane blackhole hunter, and her meeting and talking with a black hole. She cannot know how much of what the blackhole tells her is true, as they both have goals that differ. Her clone mother dies, killed by the blackhole, and she survives but hates life back on Pluto, and she buys a new ship and heads back out. Reprinted in Terry Carr’s “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #7“. Rated 4/5. (Orbit 19)
  30. “Night-Rise”, a 1978 short story by Katherine MacLean. A drunken reporter finds and reports on a resurrected Thuggee cult of Kali. He gets drunk again and falls victim to them. I am not sure this is genre, but I sure don’t see it as SF. I get choosing Katherine MacLean; she deserves to be here, but this is another questionable choice by the editors for me. Rated 3.6/5. (Cassandra Rising)
  31. “Frozen Journey”, a 1980 short story by Philip K. Dick. A great story by Dick, of a man who emigrates to another planet under cryogenics. The ship finds out the man’s brain is awake. He will go crazy due to sensory deprivation if nothing is done. The ship tries to save his mind by feeding him his own memories. It is better than nothing, but not great. The ship attempts to help him by arranging for his ex-wife to meet him at the planet. This is good, but he has been changed and he still struggles. Reprinted in Terry Carr’s “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #10“. Rated 3.9/5. (Playboy, December 1980)
  32. “Precession”, a 1980 short story by Edward Bryant. A man struggles with time and entropy. The story structure is too experimental or non-traditional for my taste. Rated 2.8/5. (Interfaces)
  33. “Elbow Room”, a 1980 novelette by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A great story of a woman on an asteroid station that commands/operates the Vortex, which sends me ships elsewhere. She is a loner with a very small staff, or perhaps a disassociative personality. This is mostly an internal story, but works anyway and well. Perhaps my favorite MZB story so far; I am not that familiar with her short fiction. Reprinted in the Saha/Wollheim “The 1981 Annual World’s Best SF“. Rated 3.8/5. (Stellar #5: Science-Fiction Stories)
  34. “Tauf Aleph”, a 1981 novelette by Phyllis Gotlieb. A great story by an author I am not very familiar with. The last Jew in the universe has sent messages yearly to Galactic Federation Central, “Kindly send one mourner/gravedigger so I can die in peace.” They send an obsolete mining robot who has learned a substantial amount of Jewish knowledge. The old man recovers from serious illness, but is vexed by a local species that have learned from him and want to become Jewish. The robot perseveres. Rated 4/5. (More Wandering Stars)
  35. “Exposures”, a 1981 short story by Gregory Benford. A lovely story of an astronomer discovering images in his network memory space of astronomical plates that are not his plates, with no history of how they got to there or from who. Looking at the details, he concludes they are from an intelligence closer to the galactic core. This is well integrated with a story of his son’s development. Probably read this before in the Cramer/Hartwell “The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF” anthology. Rated 3.8/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 6, 1981)
  36. “The Gernsback Continuum”, a 1981 short story by William Gibson. Most recently read in “The Time Traveler’s Almanac” anthology by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. I love this story, but I don’t find it a time travel story at all. A professional photographer is sent on a tour of American futuristic 30s buildings for an ad campaign. He seems to slip into the Gernsback Continuum, where it all looks like pulp magazine covers by Frank R. Paul. I do not remember this, but I have read two books it appears in, the Gibson collection “Burning Chrome” and the Bruce Sterling “Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology” so I assume I have previously read it. Rated 3.8/5. (Universe 11)
  37. “The Start of the End of the World”, a 1981 short story by Carol Emshwiller. A great story by one of my favorite authors, who can tell stories that appeal to me that no one else could pull off. An aging, divorced woman takes up with aliens who love our planet but need the people to be gone, and who hate cats. Rated 3.8/5. (Universe 11)
  38. “Schrödinger’s Plague”, a 1982 short story by Greg Bear. Probably read before, in Bear’s “Tangents” collection. An amazing story of a physicist’s qualms about quantum uncertainty, and a diabolical experiment he sets in motion with an experimental virus. Rated 3.9/5. (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, March 29, 1982)
  39. “‘…The World As We Know’t.’”, a 1982 short story by Howard Waldrop. Wow. A Waldrop story new to me, and a great one. In the Colonies after a failed/reconciled American Revolution. An American scientist with his black partner set out to do a Grand Experiment to confirm his theory of the nature of phlogiston. They are joined by an eminent English scientist. The experiment succeeds beyond their wildest dreams, and the phlogiston which is truly present everywhere sets the atmosphere on fire. They and most life on Earth die as the burning atmosphere spreads with the winds rotating around the Earth. This is not unlike what some scientists were afraid of with the atomic bomb development before it was tested. I have read a fair amount of Waldrop, but I am not sure I have ever read this before. Rated 3.9/5. (Shayol, #6 Winter 1982)
  40. “The Byrds”, a 1983 short story by Michael G. Coney. A great story of a future society with antigrav belts, where first Grandma and then a lot more people decide they are birds. Body paint, no clothes, the antigrav belt, and they move to the trees. There are different theories about all of this. At the end, they all fly south for the winter. I am not very familiar with Michael G. Coney, so I am not sure where this fits into his overall oeuvre, but I really like it. Rated 3.8/5. (Changes)
  41. “Speech Sounds”, a 1983 short story by Octavia E. Butler. A great story, and the first Hugo Award winner by Octavia Butler. A woman ventures away from her house, and we gradually learn that people have lost most of the means of communicating, whether it be loss of speech, reading and writing, or what. Life is very, very, very difficult and different. Needless to say, the loss of communication has had a dramatic negative effect on people and civilization. Great characters and story. Among other places, reprinted in “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” and the Sheila Williams anthology “Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction“. I rated this 4.3/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Mid-December 1983)
  42. “Distant Signals”, a 1984 short story by Andrew Weiner. A great story from an author new to me, of a washed up, alcoholic actor with a very brief career and an unfinished TV show about a man searching for a man who killed his wife. An investor talks him and the writer to finish the show. He does, and the killer is revealed to be his brother (he was given up for adoption as an infant). The investor loves it. The actor reveals that the investor is from a civilization 20 light-years away, with a different aesthetic, who think this is the peak of art, and will be very happy. Rated 3.9/5. (Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, May-June 1984)
  43. “The Lucky Strike”, a 1984 novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson. Recently read in “Sense of Wonder”. Great alternate history of a USAF bombardier who decides dropping the first bomb on Hiroshima is immoral, and misses on purpose. The next bomb misses also, due to weather. He is executed, but no bombs are dropped on cities and nuclear disarmament works. Locus, Hugo, and Nebula Award nominations, reprinted by Dozois in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection” and “Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year” (1985). Rated 4/5. (Universe 14)
  44. “The Life of Anybody”, a 1984 short story by Robert Sheckley. A great short short, of one couple’s surprise appearance (random, like everyone on the TV show “The Life of Anybody”. Not much happens, but their life gets a lot more interesting as they hope for a repeat appearance. Rated 3.8/5. (Is That What People Do?)
  45. “Interlocking Pieces”, a 1984 short story by Molly Gloss. A very good story of a politician/Minister who needs a new cerebellum. She decided she must meet the donor. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection” by Gardner Dozois. Rated 3.7/5. (Universe 14)
  46. “The War at Home”, a 1985 short story by Lewis Shiner. A fantasy/horror short short story about the Vietnam War coming home to the US. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” by Dozois. Rated 3.3/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May 1985)
  47. “The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things”, a 1985 short story by Karen Joy Fowler. Karen Joy Fowler deserves to be here; I assume the selection was by Le Guin and Attebery. An interesting story of a woman trying a form of reality/simulation therapy to help with feelings of guilt over the death and prior abandonment of a college age lover who died in Vietnam. Her lover reappears even when she is not in the simulation. Reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection“. Rated 3.5/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, October 1985)
  48. “Snow”, a 1985 short story by John Crowley. A great story of memory and an artificial system of recording and playing back someone’s life to an heir, on random access. Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award finalist, reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” and the “Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year #15” anthologies. Rated 3.9/5. (Omni, November 1985)
  49. “After the Days of Dead-Eye ‘Dee”, a 1985 short story by Pat Cadigan. A wonderful and sad story of a woman, Dead-Eye Dee, who was a sharp shooter when she was young but whose life has passed her by. An alien comes, and she is hoping it will be take her away, or that she will take it to it’s home. It wants to be home in her instead, and she blows it to pieces. Definitely at the horror/SF nexus. Rated 3.7/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May 1985)
  50. “The Bob Dylan Tambourine Software & Satori Support Services Consortium, Ltd.”, a 1985 short story by Michael Bishop. A good and ironic story of Bob Dylan and finding God via software. I don’t think I had read this before. I liked it, but I felt that it was partially selected due to the short length. Aside from original Interzone publication, only one other reprint, in Bishop’s “Close Encounter with the Deity” collection. There are a lot more great Bishop stories, although more at novelette and novella length. Rated 3.6/5. (Interzone, #12 Summer 1985)
  51. “His Vegetable Wife”, a 1986 short story by Pat Murphy. Wow. Eloquent and horrific short short of an isolated and unpleasant man. He orders and grows a vegetable wife, and eventually regrets it. Reprinted in the John Clute, Simon Ounsley, and David Pringle “Interzone: The 3rd Anthology“. Rated 3.8/5. (Interzone, #16 Summer 1986)
  52. “The Brains of Rats”, a 1986 short story by Michael Blumlein. Originally read in the Ann & Jeff Vandermeer “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection“. I struggled with the story. I loved the story “Paul and Me” by Blumlein. However, perhaps this story is so postmodern that I could not enjoy it or understand it. It appears to focus on gender and identity. Also reprinted in the John Clute, Simon Ounsley, and David Pringle “Interzone: The 2nd Anthology“. Rated 2.7/5. (Interzone, #16 Summer 1986)
  53. “Out of All Them Bright Stars”, a 1985 short story by Nancy Kress. I have read this a few times, in “The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction: A 40th Anniversary Anthology” and in the Dozois “Best Of” anthology. Great short story and Nebula Award winner of a woman who really needs her waitress job, when an alien comes in. One of my favorite stories of encounters with an alien. Also reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection“, the “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” and the Kristine Kathryn RuschWomen of Futures Past” anthology. Rated 4.1/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 1985)
  54. “Rat”, a 1986 short story by James Patrick Kelly. Wow. A great story about a sentient rat drug runner in NYC, with a zombie ecstasy drug, on the run from the feds and a “helper”. They all catch up in the supposedly secure bunker. The septuagenarian cabbie is a hoot. Locus, Hugo & Nebula Award finalist. Rated 3.9/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1986)
  55. “America”, a 1987 novelette by Orson Scott Card. A great story of a young heretic Mormon and a middle aged indigenous woman in the Amazon. They both have true dreams. Their son becomes the new Quetzalcoatl, and the Americans take America back from the Europeans. Reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection” and Saha/Wollheim “The 1988 Annual World’s Best SF” anthology. the Rated 3.9/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, January 1987)
  56. “Schwarzschild Radius”, a 1987 short story by Connie Willis. First read in “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection”. A very good story about an academic interviewing a doctor that may have seen and talked to Scharwzschild during WWI at the Russian Front when Scharwzschild may have formulated theories about black holes. The flashback narrative has a lot of black hole elements on the Russian Front. A Nebula Award finalist, I rated this 3.7/5. (The Universe)
  57. “Stable Strategies for Middle Management”, a 1988 short story by Eileen Gunn. Probably previously read in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Sixth Annual Collection“, the Dozois “The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction“, or “Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology” by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. An outstanding story on the subject of the title, with corporate management types signing up for genetic engineering with insect characteristics hoping for advancement. A Hugo Award SS finalist and a substantial number of reprints. I am not very familiar with her fiction; I need to read more by her. Rated 3.8/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1988)
  58. “Kirinyaga”, a 1988 novelette by Mike Resnick. A great story, perhaps his first story of kirinyaga, a created world occupied by the transplanted Kikuyu, hoping for a return to traditional ways. An infant is killed by the mundumugu (witch doctor) as traditional Kikuyu practices deem a baby born as it was, with feet first, to be a demon. Maintenance begins a conflict with the mundumugu over this. Today, there would be discussion of cultural appropriation about this story. A Hugo Award winner, Nebula Award finalist, and Locus Award runner-up. A lot of reprints. Rated 3.9/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1988)
  59. “A Midwinter’s Tale”, a 1988 short story by Michael Swanwick. It was great to discover a Swanwick SF tale, as I think I have seen more fantasy than SF recently. A very memory damaged soldier in the far future tells a Christmas story of his childhood, with an embedded story of how the larl and the new humans connected. Great characters and plot. I rate this 4/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, December 1988)
  60. “(Learning About) Machine Sex”, a 1988 short story by Candas Jane Dorsey. I first read this in “The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women” (1995, Viking). A good story about a computer programmer and machine sex, and people. Reprinted in “The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women” (edited by Richard Glyn Jones, and A. Susan Williams). Rated 3.1/5. (Machine Sex and Other Stories)
  61. “We See Things Differently” a 1989 novelette by Bruce Sterling. A Muslim travels to a failed US, where the world economic system no longer favors the US. Pretending to be a journalist, he takes actions that will kill a major American rock star/political figure. A good story, a Locus Award nominee, and reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection“, and “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction“. Rated 3.7/5. (Semiotext[e] SF)
  62. “Half-Life”, a 1989 short story by Paul Preuss. A story of Madame Curie and her family, with most eventually dying of radioactivity exposure. Her visions of the future render it SF. A very good story. Rated 3.7/5. (The Microverse)
  63. “Homelanding”, a 1989 short story by Margaret Atwood. A vignette of a human talking to an imaginary alien; charming but slight. I do not know if Atwood has written other short SF or not, but I find this a “let’s include this important author who says she does not write SF with a very short entry so we can fit more in” choice. Rated 3.2/5. (Elle, 1989)
  64. “And the Angels Sing”, a 1990 short story by Kate Wilhelm. A pair of small-town newspaper people on the Oregon coast find and shelter a humanoid alien for a while. They conclude there is a covert search for the alien. One of them, the narrator, lets it go, missing a career breaking story for both of them. Great characters by an author who knows the area. Locus Award finalist, reprinted in the Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection“. Rated 3.9/5. (Omni, May 1990)
  65. “Aunt Parnetta’s Electric Blisters”, a 1991 short story by Diane Glancy. For me, the title is the best part of this. Although this feels familiar, it also feels like a folk tale that does not really go anywhere I find interesting. A refrigerator dies, and the new one is threatening. From reading about this story there are subtexts I did not get, but I am underwhelmed by having to do extra research to understand a story. Rated 3.2/5. (Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short Stories)
  66. “Midnight News”, a 1990 short story by Lisa Goldstein. I might have read this before in Pamela Sargent’s “Women of Wonder, the Contemporary Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1970s to the 1990s”. A great story of the news coverage of an old lady in a nursing home who is picked by aliens to decide the fate of Earth. Rated 3.8/5. (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, March 1990)
  67. “Invaders”, a 1990 novelette by John Kessel 2021. Rather postmodern story involving the Pizarro conquest of the Inca’s, an alien visit by very trashy aliens (Krel) looking for thrills, and a “current space/time” person talking about writing SF, etc. A man uses a Krel time machine to go back in time and warn the Inca’s, to a very different result in that timeline. I really liked this. Locus Award nominee, Dozois “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection“, “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction“. Rated 3.8/5. (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1990)

One response to “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990”

  1. […] Science Fiction, 1960-1990” (1993, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Atterbery editors, refer to my blog post about it). I enjoyed a lot of that one, I agreed with the goals of the editors, and I’m glad I read […]

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