Review: “The Norton Book of Science Fiction”


“The Norton Book of Science Fiction” cover art

A little while ago, I checked out The Norton Book of Science Fiction from the library because it contained the late Mike Resnick’s classic SciFi short story Kirinyaga. I reviewed that story, but went on to read some of the other tales the book contains.

First of all, it was edited by the legendary Ursula K Le Guin and Brian Attebery, who back in 1993, were both young. I got a kick out of Attebery being in Idaho, which isn’t where a lot of folks would think a SciFi guru and associate of Le Guin would be found.

The anthology features notable science fiction short stories published from 1960 to 1990, which is a nice cross section of the evolving genre.

Le Guin wrote what is no doubt an insightful but overly long introduction, which I skimmed through. I also didn’t read all of the stories, and skipped the ones I was already familiar with such as Harlan Ellison’s “Strange Wine” and Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Lucky Strike.”

I was absolutely baffled by Damon Knight’s “The Handler” (1960) and David R. Bunch’s “2064, or Therabouts” (1964) wondering why these were even stories.

Avram Davidson’s “The House the Blakeney’s Built” (1965) was nearly as confusing, but I managed to figure out what the point was supposed to be. So far, what tied these tales together wasn’t just the decade in which they were published, but how depressed I felt after reading them.

I love Roger Zelazny, and his story “Comes Now the Power” (1966) made more sense, but again, there was this deep sinking feeling in my stomach after finishing the read.

I skipped quite a few, including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Elbow Room” (1980), but in her case, it was for unique reasons.

I like Gregory Benford’s “hard science” approach to his stories, but “Exposures” may have been a little too “hard.” I had to work to keep up with his science explanations, and in the end, his mysterious benefactor and the cosmic threat he exposed (no pun intended) seemed too distant to really raise any concerns.

All that’s just scratching the surface, but it’s taking me too long to wade through the rest of the stories. I may revisit the anthology at some point, but there are other books in my queue demanding my attention, and I think I’ll need to get to them sooner rather than later. That said, I may read my next novel and save the occasional short story to provide variety to the flow.

As anthologies go, it’s good to get a perspective on thirty years of science fiction history and how “luminaries” change over time. I’ve seen over the past year or so how the “old guard” has fallen out of favor for the most part, in exchange for more 21st century “sensibilities”. I’m not sure what we’ve won, but I have a pretty good idea of what we’ve lost.

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