Saturday, July 17, 2010

Robert Silverberg (ed): Far Horizons

Robert Silverberg (ed): Far Horizons


Ursula K. Le Guin: "Old Music and the Slave Women"
(the Hainish and Ekumen series)

Joe Haldeman: "A Separate War" (the Forever Series)

Orson Scott Card: "Investment Counselor" (the Ender series)

David Brin: "Temptation"
(The Uplift Universe)

Robert Silverberg: "Getting to Know the Dragon" (Roma Eterna series)

Dan Simmons: " Orphans of the Helix" (the Hyperion Cantos)

Nancy Kress: "Sleeping Dogs" (the Sleepless)

Frederik Pohl: "The Boy Who Would Live Forever"
(the Gateway series)

Gregory Benford: "A Hunger for the Infinite" (the Galactic Center series)

Anne McCaffrey: "The Ship That Returned" (the Ship that Sang series)

Greg Bear: "The Way of All Ghosts" (the Way)

I just finished reading a interesting collection of short stories, or perhaps novella would be a better description. The collection is Far Horizons, edited by Robert Silverberg. It contains eleven stories, all written specifically for this collection which came out in 1999. In his introduction,
Silverberg writes

"What I have done in Far Horizons is to gather together most of today's foremost practitioners of the evolutionary science-fiction series and ask them to write a short story or novelette that explores some aspect of their famous series that they did not find a way of dealing with in the books themselves."

Unfortunately, some of the writers Silverberg would like to have included had died while others told him "that they had already said all they wanted to say. . ."

Silverberg defines "the evolutionary science-fiction series" as "the kind that carries the reader through an evolutionary progression of concept and (sometimes) insight into character." I guess it's a series in which the characters and the plot evolve over time, and in some cases the ending could never have been predicted from the first novel. Greg Benford's incredible "Galactic Center" series is a perfect example of this. One more point is that this is the type of series that should best be read in sequence.

The "template series," on the other hand, features a number of stories which are set in the same universe and which do not demonstrate any particular or significant change or development. Each work stands alone, even though set in a shared universe. In a template series, it usually makes little difference in the order in which the stories are read. I would guess that Andre Norton's "Witch World series" would be considered a template series in which there are a number of novels set on that planet, each of which is relatively independent of the others and shows little, if any at all, forward progression of plot or character.

Each of the eleven stories in Far Horizons is preceded by a 1-3 page introduction by the author. These very helpful introductions include a brief summary of the series and, usually, the place occupied by the short story within that series , and in some cases, the history behind the particular story.

For example, Joe Haldeman writes that people had always asked him about a sequel to The Forever War
(TFW), and he had always insisted that "the book is complete. . .But someday [he] would write a novella about what happened to the characters later in life."

So, he gladly accepted Silverberg's offer to write that novella for the collection. However, shortly after beginning to write the novella, he found he was writing the sequel that he said he would never write. So, he turned that into a proposal for a novel and sent it off. It was eventually published as Forever Free.

William Mandella and Marygay Potter are the two main characters in TFW and are separated in the last part of the novel, presumably forever. However, the two are almost miraculously reunited at the very end. This story, "A Separate War," tells of what happened to Marygay during the period of her separation from William, and as Haldeman writes, "it also serves as a sort of foreshadowing of the new novel."

Ursula K. Le Guin: "Old Music and the Slave Women" (The Hainish and Ekumen series)

Ursula K. Le Guin's "Old Music and the Slave Women" is set in her Ekumen universe, which includes her earlier "Hainish" novels, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions.
After the earth humans (descendants of the Hainish) and Hainish meet, a league is set up, the Ekumen. The novels set in this period are The Left Hand of Darkness (one of my top ten favorite SF novels), The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest, and Four Ways to Forgiveness.

In the fourth book, Four Ways to Forgiveness, Le Guin introduces two new worlds, Werel and Yeowe, recently contacted by the Ekumen. Werel is a slave planet, in which a slave revolt is initiated as a result of the contact by the Ekumen. This story tells of one incident during that rebellion in which the intelligence officer for the Ekumen does something very stupid.


Orson Scott Card: "Investment Counselor" (The Ender Series)

To quote Card, "During the three thousand years between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead . . . he somehow acquired a computer-based companion named Jane, who is second only to Ender in importance in the last three books of the series. The story now before you is an account of how they met." Fortunately for the human race, Jane is benevolent, as is Ender.


David Brin: "Temptation" (The Uplift Universe)

This story tells of events following Brin's second novel in the Uplift universe, Startide Rising. When the earth exploratory vessel Streaker takes off in a desperate attempt to escape the alien fleet, a number of dolphins are left behind on the planet Kithrip. This story doesn't just fill in the gap of what happened to them after being left behind, but it also provides a significant development that could affect the entire structure of the present political situation. Unfortunately, not having read any of the novels beyond the third one, I don't know whether anything ever came of this encounter on Kithrip.


Robert Silverberg: "Getting to Know the Dragon" (Roma Eterna series)

I hadn't known of this series before getting this collection. It's an alternate universe tale in which Silverberg's premise is that Moses never led the Hebrews out of Egypt. The Exodus never happened and therefore the Hebrews never settled in Palestine. Consequently Jesus of Nazareth did not exist and the Roman Empire remained pagan. The history of this world is generally the same until the 4th century (our time frame). The division between the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire therefore were strictly political, without any religious connotations. The quarrels were therefore reconcilable and the Roman Empire flourished.

The present story is set in 2503, by Imperial Time reckoning (1750 A. D.) and "fills in a gap in the series by depicting the Empire late in the Second Decadence, when the Emperor Demetrius II is about to come to the throne."

It looks like an interesting series, one that I think I may do some looking around for.


Dan Simmons: "Orphans of the Helix" (The Hyperion Cantos series"

This story appears to be set after the conclusion of the four books in the Cantos. An exploratory and colonizing ship, the Helix, encounters a group of humans and aliens who are under attack by a device that visits their home periodically and gathers up large quantities of whatever they need from that particular site, including people.

The Helix discovers that this may not be a deliberate attack by another race, but a means of survival by a race with minimal resources. The material the device brings back may be necessary for their survival. Therefore, destroying the harvesting device may result in the destruction of a race of beings. Continued depredations by the harvesting device, though, will result in the deaths of many beings. This is the dilemma faced by the people of the Helix.

Nancy Kress: "Sleeping Dogs" (The Sleepless)

This story is set in the same universe as Beggars in Spain, wherein genetic manipulation has permitted parents to specify the characteristics of their unborn offspring. The most radical changes are those that create the Sleepless, those who never sleep, thus giving them an extra 8 or more hours of consciousness.

"Sleeping Dogs" doesn't move the plot forward, but simply tells a story about one of the unexpected side effects of genetic manipulation on dogs. In this case, the dogs are modified to be sleepless and therefor make the perfect guard dogs. Unfortunately for Carol Ann's family, there's a problem with the modified dogs. The dogs were purchased for breeding purposes and intended to better the family's precarious financial situation. What they soon learn is that the dogs can not be trusted and they kill Carol Ann's sister. The story is Carol Ann's attempt to avenge her sister's death under the old Biblical adage--an eye for an eye. . .


Frederik Pohl: "The Boy Who Would Live Forever" (the Gateway Series)

Stan, who has dreamed for years of getting to Gateway and becoming unbelievably wealthy (or so his dreams went) finally gets sufficient funds to make the trip. Shortly after he arrives, and after only one trip, the guidance programs have been translated and the exploration missions are no longer necessary. The Gateway Project has been terminated.

But--not completely. Robinette Broadhead, the main character in the first and several subsequent "Gateway" novels has discovered where the Heechee have fled, to a dark hole. A five person ship is being outfitted to follow the Heechee into their lair. Stan, who hasn't given up on his dreams, volunteers to be one of the five.

This story seems to be a wrapup. The mystery behind Gateway has been the Heechee: who were they and why did they go and where did they go. This story and the last novel in the series seems to answer all the questions.


Gregory Benford: "A Hunger for the Infinite" (the Galactic Center series)

The "Galactic Center" series focuses on the conflict between the mechs, a machine society/ culture? directed by highly intelligent AIs, and all organic life, especially sentient beings, which the mechs see as their greatest enemy.

This story tells of an attempt by the Mantis (a recurring character in the last four of the six novels in the series) to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the way organic beings think. One of the mysteries which the Mantis and all the higher intelligences of the mech civilization can not crack is that of art. The Mantis' attempts at creating art are rejected universally by all humans who have viewed them. Not only do the humans reject them, the humans are disgusted and sickened by the Mantis' artistic endeavors for they consist of horrific blends of semi-live humans and mechanical parts.

The Mantis decides to try a radical experiment. He downloads part of his consciousness into a human embryo to become an observer. The theory is that the observer will then learn what it is to be human (an organic sentient life form) which will allow it to grasp the meaning and significance of art. Its plan fails, but not for the obvious reasons. It shows the gap between the mech AI-based intelligence and the organic thinking based on intelligence and emotions.

I've always been curious about the Mantis, and this story provides some interesting information about it.


Anne McCaffrey: "The Ship That Returned" (the Ship that Sang series)

In The Ship That Sang" we are introduced to Helva, the human intelligence that operates the ship. She is part of the ship, and the ship is an integral part of her. We meet her first partner, Jennan Sahir Silan, the "brawn" of the partnership, and her grief at his death, and her search for a new partner. She finally finds Niall Parollan. Subsequent novels tell of their adventures.

"The Ship That Returned" is the story of Helva who, in several ways, has now made a full circle. Niall Parollan, her long-time partner, has just died, and once again, she is on her way to begin another search for a compatible brawn at Central Administration on Regulus. However, before she gets to Regulus, she discovers a fleet of Kolnari on route to Ravel, obviously planning on raiding the planet and destroying as much as possible. Ironically it was on a mission to aid Ravel that her first partner, Jennan, was killed.

First, she sends off a warning to the nearest Administration base. She then goes to Ravel to warn the inhabitants of the horrors on the way to their planet. The inhabitants, however, seem unconcerned and respond to her warnings with reassurances that all will be well. Then the Kolnari arrive.


Greg Bear: "The Way of All Ghosts" (The Way series)

This story is part of the series that includes Eon, Eternity, and Legacy. Bear, in the inroduction, tells us --

"The Way, an artificial universe fifty kilometers in diameter and infinitely long, was created by the human inhabitants of an asteroid starship called Thistledown. They had become bored with their seemingly endless journey between the stars: the Way, with its potential of openings to other times and other universes, made reaching their destination unnecessary."

However, other beings discovered the Way, the Jart, and the humans barely held them at bay, for a time anyway. "The Way of All Ghosts" is the story of one of those exploratory expeditions to a world accessible by the Way. It also is a story about Olmy Ap Sennen, shortly after his first reincarnation. He is destined to "become a living myth, be forgotten, rediscovered, and made myth again. So many stories have been told of Olmy that history and myth intertwine."

Overall Rating: I would rate Benford's story the most interesting, followed by Le Guin and Brin. There really isn't a bad story among the rest, and considering the lineup of writers, one really wouldn't expect to find one.


  1. All these years later I still haven't read this collection. This is odd, considering I've read nearly all the other books in four of those series -- the ones by LeGuin, Haldeman, Pohl, and Benford -- and at least bits and pieces of the others. I really do need to read that Marygay Potter story…even though I wasn't keen on Forever Free, to say the least.

  2. RAB,

    I didn't know about this collection until last year when I learned that Benford had written a short story set in his "Galactic Center" series universe. I found _Far Horizons_ when I went searching for the short story.

    I had read all of the books in the series by Benford, Pohl, and Simmons, several by Le Guin, and the early ones by Card. In the others, I just read one or two. The one that I hadn't even heard of was Silverberg's "Roma Eterna" series.