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Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction
edited by Robert Silverberg
Avon EOS Books, 482 pages


Amy Halperin
Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction
Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg was born in New York City in 1935. In 1949, he started a science fiction fanzine called Spaceship, and made his first professional sale to Science Fiction Adventures, a non-fiction piece called "Fanmag," in the December 1953 issue. His first professional fiction publication was "Gorgon Planet" in the February 1954 issue of the British magazine Nebula Science Fiction. His first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, was published in 1955.

In 1956, he graduated from Columbia University with a major in Comparative Literature, and married Barbara Brown. After many sales, he earned a Hugo Award for his promise (the youngest person ever to do so). In the summer of 1955, he had moved into an apartment in New York where Randall Garrett, an established science fiction writer, lived next door; Harlan Ellison, another promising young novice, also lived in the building. Garrett introduced Silverberg to many of the prominent editors of the day, and the two collaborated on many projects, often using the name Robert Randall. He divorced his first wife in 1986 and married writer Karen Haber the following year. He now lives in the San Francisco area.

ISFDB Bibliography
Robert Silverberg Tribute Site
SF Site Review: Sorcerers of Majipoor
SF Site Review: The Alien Years
SF Site Review: The Avram Davidson Treasury
SF Site Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame
SF Site Review: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Robert Silverberg returns with a new anthology, similar in form to 1998's well-received Legends. While the previous book featured 11 stories by well-known fantasy writers, working in their famous "worlds", this volume features 11 stories by well-known science fiction writers, again working in their famous "worlds".

A few comparisons are interesting. The only two women writers to be featured in Legends return in this book (McCaffrey and Le Guin), along with one more woman, Nancy Kress. The other repeaters are Silverberg himself, and Orson Scott Card. Science Fiction versus Fantasy definitional questions arise as well. I was puzzled to see that McCaffrey is represented in Far Horizons by a story from her Ship Who Sang series: this is hardly her best known "universe"; indeed she only wrote one novel in the series back in 1970, before resurrecting it for 4 collaborative efforts in the early 90s. And I've always thought of her Pern books as science fiction (although it's a canonical "borderline" case), but McCaffrey has a Pern story in Legends. Much the same could be said of Silverberg's choices for his own work. The Majipoor books could also be called science fiction with a loose enough definition, but he chose to include a Majipoor story in Legends, so this book features another novelette in his ongoing series of alternate history pieces set in a world where the Roman Empire survived until our present day.

The fantasy book was also rather longer: the stories were all novellas (or as the subtitle had it, "Short Novels"), while this book includes 6 novelettes and 5 novellas. Perhaps this is just another reflection of the modern fantasy marketing trend towards "Fat Fantasy Novels" -- even the short stories are Fat -- while in SF we still see relatively compact work.

I have some mild misgivings about the concept behind these books. I tend to think that we do well to encourage writers to branch out in new directions, to invent new universes. A book like this guarantees that the writers will be rehashing old territory. I also prefer to see anthologies feature a mix of established talent and new writers, partly because I'm interested in seeing what new voices have to say, and partly because I think it helps new writers to have venues in which to publish their work which will be promoted, as it were, by the presence of big names alongside them. But I emphasize that these are quibbles, and that a book like this is still an attractive package -- and most of the series involved do have plenty of room for interesting further explorations.

Nevertheless, I was mildly disappointed by the final results. Perhaps given the list of authors, I was simply expecting too much. Most of the stories are pretty good, but not one of them quite bowled me over, although the Simmons and Le Guin pieces came close.

Dan Simmons' entry, "Orphans of the Helix," is set in the universe of his Hyperion Cantos. Some centuries following the events of that series, a "spinship" carrying frozen colonists looking for a new world to settle detects a distress signal. A few of them are wakened, and they deal with a desperate problem involving an ancient colony of "Ousters" (space-adapted humans) and some unusual aliens. The plot is not the interesting part of this story: Simmons is having fun with a passel of big, Space Opera ideas. Simmons' reputation is as a somewhat literary writer, and I think this obscures his impressive SFnal imagination at times. This story considers Ringworld-sized forests, some very odd humans indeed, some interesting political speculation, aliens living inside a sun, a really big, really scary spaceship, and several more sense-of-wonder inducing ideas.

Le Guin's story, on the other hand, is much quieter in tone. It's another story set on Werel, the setting of her collection of linked novellas, Four Ways to Forgiveness. "Old Music and the Slave Women," like the previous Werel stories, treats of the revolution against the long-established slave-owning societies on Werel. The protagonist, called Old Music, is a Hainish diplomat, that is a representative of the interstellar organization called the Ekumen. As war rages, the Ekumen has been prevented from gaining information about conditions on Werel, and Old Music jumps at a chance to speak to the rebels. But he is betrayed, and ends up at a compound of slave-holding loyalists. As the war rages back and forth across this area, he learns at first hand a great deal about this culture. It's a fine story, and it fits in very well with the other stories in its series, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised to see Le Guin re-issue her collection including this story: Five Ways to Forgiveness, anyone?

Many of the other stories are fairly entertaining, but in the nature of things they tend to be sidelights to the existing series of which they are parts. For instance, Joe Haldeman contributes "A Separate War," which follows the adventures of Marygay Potter during the Forever War, while she was separated from her husband William Mandella, narrator of The Forever War. It's a pretty good story, but it ends exactly where the previous novel did. The good news is that Haldeman apparently plans a direct sequel.

Nancy Kress' "Sleeping Dogs" is set early in her Sleepless future, and it deals with a woman who vows revenge on the unscrupulous people who sold her father dogs engineered not to require sleep, without caring about the unforeseen consequences. It's not a bad story, but it's really not about her central idea of sleeplessness, but rather about revenge, and how the desire for it can harm people. As such, the connection with the Sleepless trilogy is more ornamentation than anything else.

Gregory Benford's "A Hunger for the Infinite," from his Galactic Centre series, is quite interesting in portraying more clearly the motivations of the inimical Mech called the Mantis. Frederik Pohl is a compulsively readable writer, and "The Boy Who Would Live Forever" is no exception. But this story, engaging as it is, doesn't really take the Gateway series anywhere new. To be sure, that's the problem when a writer returns to an essentially finished work.

In two cases herein, the writer is not trying to fit work into the interstices of an essentially finished series, but is clearly continuing with an ongoing effort. Thus, Silverberg's Roma Eterna series seems to be an ongoing project, detailing an alternate history in which the Jewish Exodus from Egypt never occurred, and one result is that the Roman Empire survives until the present day. (One presumes that a fixup "novel" is planned.) Previous stories have covered many different historical periods. The new one, "Getting to Know the Dragon," features an historian from about 1750 AD discovering some unpleasant truths about the heroic explorer Emperor Trajan VII, who sailed around the world. It's OK, but very static. David Brin's "Temptation" concerns the adventures of some dolphins on Jijo, setting of his latest Uplift trilogy. They encounter some relics of the previous inhabitants of Jijo, the Buyur, and are presented with a scary temptation.

The only series included here with which I'm not personally familiar are McCaffrey's Ship Who Sang stories, and Greg Bear's stories of the Way. Bear's "The Way of All Ghosts" is one of the better stories in this collection. The Way is some sort of strange artificial universe, 50 kilometres in diameter and infinitely long. Humans seem to be continually exploring farther reaches of the Way, and the latest exploration has caused a disaster, apparently impinging upon another universe where perfect order rules. A reincarnated human leads an expedition to try to rescue the "gate openers," or at least to contain the damage. I didn't fully understand what happened, but I was intrigued enough by the setting to wish to go back and read Bear's novels about this universe.

I can't say the same about Anne McCaffrey's "The Ship That Returned." (If it was the Ship who sang, why is the Ship now a that?) This follows the Ship, Helva, after her latest "Brawn" (male human companion) has died. Accompanied by a hologram of her Brawn, she investigates a pirate invasion of a world settled by the all-female religious order she had rescued in the first Ship book. Helva proceeds to observe the results. Yes, observe: there is no real story here, just a recitation of foreordained events. Moreover, it's very carelessly written.

The other story in the collection was also a disappointment. Orson Scott Card's "Investment Counselor" records Ender Wiggin's first meeting with the AI Jane. I'll confess beforehand that while I liked parts of the Ender series, I hated Jane, and perhaps I'm not the right person to comment on a story mostly about her.

All in all, this isn't a bad collection of stories, but it's not particularly spectacular either. I think given the collection of talent assembled, we might have hoped for spectacular. And I suggest the reason we don't get it is that asking writers to tack on to existing series isn't the best way to encourage special work.

Table of Contents

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Ekumen: "Old Music and the Slave Women"

Joe Haldeman

The Forever War: "A Separate War"

Orson Scott Card

The Ender Series: "Investment Counselor"

David Brin

The Uplift Universe: "Temptation"

Robert Silverberg

Roma Eterna: "Getting to Know the Dragon"

Dan Simmons

The Hyperion Cantos: "Orphans of the Helix"

Nancy Kress

The Sleepless: "Sleeping Dogs"

Frederik Pohl

Tales of the Heechee: "The Boy Who Would Live Forever"

Gregory Benford

The Galactic Centre Series: "A Hunger for the Infinite"

Anne McCaffrey

The Ship Who Sang: "The Ship That Returned"

Greg Bear

The Way: "The Way of All Ghosts"

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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