Book Review: Far Orbit Anthology, Bascomb James, editor

Well, that was fun!

Late this afternoon, I bought Far Orbit, an anthology of “Speculative Space Adventures,” edited by Bascomb James, to keep me company over the three-day Labor Day Weekend. Short stories, after all. Easy to put down and pick up again. Now what? Because I just finished it, swallowing it in almost one sitting (there was that pesky interruption of dinner).

Thirteen short stories, and not a clinker in the bunch. The book begins with an open letter from Elizabeth Bear to SF, reminding the genre that it’s okay to have a sense of humor, to “…have a little pleasure again.” And then the rest of the book goes on to prove just how good that can be.

The collection encompasses hard science to space opera, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. They all have memorable–some are downright sticky–characters. “Open for Business” by Sam S. Kepfield–a lawyer’s eye-view of the risks and rewards of private space ventures–is a strong opener. Along the way we encounter an assassin-cellist; a lost-in-time Space Command Commander who learns the fine art of Southern Barbecue; and dumb bunnies who get an unexpected evolutionary assist. Julie C. Frost contributed “Bear Essentials,” continuing the saga of Captain Fisk, his grown daughter, their small crew, and their marginally profitable freighter…and an intelligent bear destined for godhood and sacrifice. (It was Frost’s “Illegal Beagles” that prompted me to buy the anthology.)

Editor Bascomb James provides insightful and articulate introductions to the stories, celebrating their place in the best traditions of SF. And when I put the book down, I was struck by how all of them captured the one thing that seems in such short supply today: Hope. 

The only problem I had with Far Orbit is that they were all short stories. In general, I agree with CS Lewis’s sentiments: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” But I’ll make an exception for a short story collection of this caliber.

Six Lines from Forge

The hero is having a Very Bad Day:

The cuff snicked open, revealing a gleaming yellow servband, two inches wide, embedded in his flesh. It itched. His stomach heaved. He tasted sour vomit, but he’d already emptied his abused belly into the holding cell’s toilet and had nothing left to retch. The servband reduced him to indentured servitude for a term of seven years. And he didn’t know why.

What did I do? But not even the beautiful woman had an answer.

Seven Lines from Page Seven WIP

From my current work-in-progress, Web of Destiny:

Nica Adair: “If I’d struck just a little harder and truer, Guaire Hunter would’ve died on my challenge knife six weeks ago. Instead, he commands the Royal Scotian Navy task force in the skies of Forge, while I cower in a hole in the ground. Clan Adair has a duty to defend this planet—the Realm!—from the enemy. I have pledged my life to the purpose of Keir’s rescue.” She reclaimed her hands and glared at Rory. “I would further both aims if I finished what I started and sheathed my challenge knife in Hunter’s black heart.”

Finally feeling like I’ve broken through the ice dam on this one…

Marvel’s Feminist Astigmatism

OK. Full disclosure here. I grew up reading comic books, and my preference was for Marvel. Until my sophomore year in college (a/k/a the prehistoric era).

In fairly short order (or so it seemed to me) they turned Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, into the Phoenix, and then the sun-eating-killing-billions-of-people-monster Dark Phoenix. Then Storm, also known as the African semi-goddess Ororo, became leader of the X-Men…and thereafter got her weather-control powers taken away by a mutant-power-neutralizing gun. They messed with my two favorite characters. I was, to put it mildly, Very Upset.

These story lines prompted my one-and-only letter to Marvel, accusing them of not being able to handle women with real power. Let ’em be able to go toe-to-toe with the men, and suddenly they were somehow too big for their britches and needed to be cut down.

I pretty much stopped reading comics after that. Yeah, maybe I was Very, Very Upset.

So now, after more years than I care to think about, Marvel is making headlines about the “New Thor”…who’s a woman.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this decision disses Thor himself as a hero. He is somehow “unworthy” for his hammer, Mjolnir (which he’s only honorably wielded for, like, a millenia?)

Who it really disses are the female super-heroes, already on the job. Doing the same job as the boys–in high heels and backwards, as Ginger Rogers famously remarked. But everybody gets excited because “finally” women will get some new level of respect, because one takes over a man’s name. Like Ginger would be any better, if we called her Fred Astaire?

Ororo–who later went on to wield Thor’s hammer during the time she’d lost her mutant abilities–really doesn’t need it to be herself. Don’t ever make the mistake of calling her Thor. Her name stands on her own merits.

I think there’s a lesson in there. Too bad the Marvel folks just don’t get it.