Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 12, 2015


Orbit 2 edited by Damon Knight (1967)

It's been a slow week for reading as other activities vied for my attention.  I thought it would be a food time to dip into Damon Knight's SF anthology series Orbit, reading and rereading some of the best SF stories of the 60s and the 70s.  I started with Orbit 2, the nearest on hand.

First, about Damon Knight, author, critic, editor, artist, teacher, and one of the shapers of modern science fiction:  He was a members of the Futurians,  An amorphous, left-thinking group of science fiction fans, most of whom went on to become highly influential professionals in the field.  Members included Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbuth, Donald A. Wollheim, John Michel, Judith Merril, Issac Asimov, James Blish, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Hannes Bok, Virginia Kidd, Dirk Wylie, and David Kyle, among others.  As an author, Knight is probably best known for his sharp, mordant stories such as "To Serve Man," "Not With a Bang," "Be My Guest," and so many others.  Knight was an unrelenting critic whose reviews were judged by an adherence to literary standards.  He was a co-founder of the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference and a major force in the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop.  Knight served as the first president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, an organization he had long espoused.  He translated a number of French science fiction stories, introducing those writers to the English-speaking world His work as a reprint anthologist resulted in some two dozen highly praised anthologies, including 100 Years of Science Fiction and A Century of Science Fiction.  He has been known to use his spoon to launch peas at unsuspecting people at banquets.  And he edited the Orbit series of original anthologies.

About Orbit:  From 1966 to 1980, Knight edited 21 volumes of what he termed "the best new science fiction."  The emphasis here should be on "new."  Literate and sophisticated, the stories Knight selected helped push the field to new heights in the 70s.  Orbit followed Frederik Pohl's Star Science Fiction as the seminal anthology series of its time.  The instant success of Orbit spurred the creation of many other anthologies and after Orbit 12 the series lost its original hardcover publisher, G. O. Putnam's & Sons.  Berkley, the series paperback publisher, brought out Orbit 13, the last of the series to appear in paperback.  The last eight volumes in the series saw hardcover printings only fr omHarper and Row.  The series ended on an anemic note, with Orbit 21 containing many stories by little-known or unknown writers, although, to its credit there were also stories by Carol Emshwiller, R. A. Lafferty, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Gordon Eklund.  Knight also edited a retrospective, Best from Orbit:  Volumes 1-10, a must-have collection;  the editor's comments are worth the price of admission alone.

Orbit 2 contains ten stories:

  • "The Doctor" by Ted Thomas, a time travel story that was later reprinted in Alpha One edited by Robert Silverberg), in Dawn of Time:  Prehistory through Science Fiction (edited by Silverberg, Joseph Olander, and Martin Harry Greenberg), The Young Oxford Book of Timewarp Stories (edited by Dennis Pepper), and Knight's The Best from Orbit:  Volumes 1-10.
  • "Baby, You Were Great" by Kate Wilhelm, a 1968 Nebula nominated story, later collected in the author's The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction and in the Wilhelm and Knight Collection Better Than One, as well as being reprinted in Silverberg's Alpha Five, Women of Wonder (edited by Pamela Sargent), Approaches to Science Fiction (edited by Donald L. Lawlor), The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women (edited by A, Susan Williams and Richard Glyn Jones). Future Media (edited by Rick Wilbur), and Knight's The Best from Orbit:  Volumes 1-10.
  • "Fiddler's Green" by Richard McKenna, a previously unpublished story by the late author of The Sand Pebbles.  It later appeared in McKenna's posthumous collection Casey Agonistes and Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories and was reprinted in Knight's Dimension X.
  • "Time Trap" by Gene Wolfe, which was later included in his collection Storeys from the Old Hotel.
  • "A Dimple in Draco" by astronomer Robert S. Richardson writing under his "Philip Latham" pseudonym and was reprinted in David G, Hartwell's The Science Fiction Century.
  • "I Gave Her Sack and Sherry" and "The Adventuress," the first two Alyx stories by Joanna Russ; both were collected in Russ' The Adventures of Alyx, with "I Gave Her Sack and Sherry" retitled as "I Thought She Was Afeared Till She Stroked My Beard."  Alyx, the tough time-traveling feminist icon would later appear in Russ' award-nominated first novel, Picnic on Paradise.  "I Gave  Her Sack and Sherry" was reprinted in Knight's The Best from Orbit:  Volumes 1-10; "The Adventuress" was reprinted in The Sword and Sorcery Anthology (edited by Jacob Weisman and David G. Hartwell).
  • "The Hole in the Corner" by R. A. Lafferty, which later appeared in Lafferty's collections Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Lafferty in Orbit, and The Man Who Made Models and was reprinted in Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow... (edited by Bonnie L. Heintz, Frank Herbert, Donald A. Joos, and  Agorn McGee), in Timegates (edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois), and in Knight's The Best from Orbit:  Volumes 1-10.
  • "The Food Farm" by Kit Reed, which later appeared in Reed's collections Other Stories and...The Attack of the Giant Baby, Weird Women, Wired Women, and The Story Unitl Now:  A Great Big Book of Stories, and was reprinted in SF12 (edited by Judith Merril), Voyages: Scenarios for a Ship Called Earth (edited by Rob Sauer), Sargent's Women of Wonder, Silverberg's Alpha 6, and The Science Fiction Weight-Loss Book (edited by Isaac Asimov, Greenberg, and George R. R. Martin).
  • "Full Sun" by Brian W. Aldiss, which was reprinted in The World's Best Science Fiction:  1968 (edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr), in Carr's Creatures from Beyond, and in Werewolf! (edited by Bill Pronzini).  (Surprisingly, "Full Sun" does not appear to have been included in any of Aldiss' English-language collections, although it was included in a 1979 Dutch-language collection.)
And not a turkey in the bunch!


  1. I read several of the ORBITS and remember enjoying them. I don't recall these stories particularly so I may not have read this one.

  2. A quibble...while the Futurians were largely leftist, never uniformly so--Dave Kyle might still be a Republican, and James Blish, probably influenced by his literary hero Ezra Pound, considered himself a supporter of Fascist theory in the early early source of arguments with the sole Trotskyist in the core group, Judith Merril.

    Did you see Algis Budrys's review of this one?