Edited by Damon Knight, "Orbit 4" is a 254-page anthology of nine stories. The subtitle on the title page boasts that they are "The Best New Science Fiction Stories of the Year." The back of the dust jacket explains the goals of the "Orbit" series, which aims to demand "new ideas and fresh approaches" while discarding "the taboos and conventions of magazine writing." The pieces in "Orbit 4" range in length from 11 to 62 pages long, and the collection has a copyright date of 1968.
The pieces in the book vary in effectiveness. I actually found the longest story, Charles L. Harness' "Probable Cause," to be one of the weaker efforts. The story concerns a presidential assassination case that comes before the U.S. Supreme Court. But this case has a twist--one involving the services of a clairvoyant. Although the story raises some compelling issues, it becomes tedious after a while. Among the stronger pieces in the book is Kate Wilhem's "Windsong," a genuinely horrific story about an experimental weapon called the Phalanx--one character boasts that it is "the final solution to the problem of modern warfare." The fact that this book was published during the Vietnam War gives the story, for me at least, an added poignancy.
Also strong is Vernor Vinge's "Grimm's Story," one of the longer pieces at 59 pages. With a grand scope and well-drawn characters, it really reads like a short novel. "Grimm's Story" focuses on a "publishing barge" that cruises the archipelagos of an alien world, distributing issues of a venerable science fiction and fantasy magazine. This is an adventure story, a suspense thriller, and a meditation on the role of science fiction in the development of a civilization--and it's great fun. But the real gem of this collection is Robert Silverberg's "Passengers." This is a disturbing, horrific tale in which Earth is infested by the Passengers of the title--beings who take frequent temporary possession of human bodies. Silverberg explores the "new tribal mores" that humans have evolved to deal with this phenomenon. In just 15 pages of spare, chilling and poetic prose, he gives us a compelling picture of a radically altered global society. This story alone makes the book worth tracking down.
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Panther (1972)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0586036601
- ISBN-13: 978-0586036600
- Boxed-product Weight: 503 g
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