March Books 15) Tomorrow’s Worlds

15) Tomorrow’s Worlds: Ten Stories of Science Fiction, ed. Robert Silverberg

A muscular collection this, of what was already old-fashioned sf when it was published in 1969 (presumably to cash in on the imminent moon landings): ten stories, set on each of the planets of the solar system plus the Moon. It’s a striking contrast to the two New Wave sf anthologies I recently read which were published around the same time, Dangerous Visions and England Swings SF. Includes two stories that I already knew, Clarke’s “Before Eden” (Venus) and Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam” (Mars). Looking the rest up in the isfdb, all the inner planets stories are in fact widely reprinted, whereas Silverberg obviously had to scrabble a bit harder for the outer planets (Panshin’s “One Sunday in Neptune” seems to have been published first in this volume).

There are a couple of things in here that sf writers would never write about now. First up, the concept of any actual manned landing on the gas giants is generally discounted these days (indeed, Panshin knew enough in 1969 to discount it then). It’s generally considered that the surface is very far down, possibly not even a meaningful concept due to the phase changes in the lower atmosphere, and it would be impossible to recover anyone from there. Harry Harrison has to use a matter transmitter for his characters to return from Saturn in “Pressure”, and even then there are problems; Panshin’s characters don’t even try to touch bottom. On the other hand the Jupiter of Simak’s “Desertion”, and the Uranus of Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt”, could basically be any hostile planet anywhere in the galaxy.

Second, and tying into a previous dicussion of Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”, we have the portrayal of women. The ten stories feature precisely three women characters between them. The narrator’s mother in Heinlein’s “The Black Pits of Luna” is straight out of Stereotype Central. Miss Stanley in Simak’s “Desertion” operates a machine that turns men into… something else. The central character, Fowler,

…wasn’t exactly afraid of her, but he didn’t feel quite comfortable when she was around. Those sharp blue eyes saw too much, her hands looked far too competent. She should be somebody’s Aunt sitting in a rocking chair with her knitting needles. But she wasn’t.

And in the end Fowler almost seems to be escaping from Miss Stanley as much as from humanity.

The third woman character is both the most interesting and from the oldest of the ten stories, Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt” which was first published in 1935. Pat Hammond (née Burlingame – she apparently hooked up with our hero, Ham Hammond, in a previous story, “Parasite Planet”) is an expert biologist, is deferred to on science issues by the men she shares the spaceship with, and works out the scientific puzzle on which the plot is based. Although admittedly she also bickers with her husband, wanders off and gets lost, and has to be rescued by the men, I was surprised to discover Weinbaum, whose brief career’s reputation rests much more on sensawunda than on social issues, writing such a strong female character, and frankly puzzled that none of the other nine authors managed to do so. Perhaps if Weinbaum had lived, he might have taken Astounding and science fiction as a whole in a completely different direction.

I’m sure there’s something to be written about attitudes to race (especially from Miller’s immigrant Mars in “Crucifixus Etiam”) and homosexuality (what are all these men locked up in spaceships doing to relieve tension?) but will have to leave that for others.

Spoilers below

Nine of the ten stories are basically about various displays of heroism in the process of planetary exploration. In Clarke’s “Before Eden” Man unwittingly destroys life on Venus. Man struggles with the alien world and overcomes it in Silverberg’s “Sunrise on Mercury”, Heinlein’s “The Black Pits of Luna” and (with the help of Woman) Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt”. The protagonists of Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam”, Simak’s “Desertion” and Niven’s “Wait It Out” accept that their destiny is to be Changed by their environment (Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto respectively) so that they are no longer human. The two most recently written stories, Panshin’s “One Day on Neptune” and Harrison’s “Pressure”, both interestingly take the much simpler line of looking at how planetary exploration will change the relationship of the explorers to one other – Harrison’s hero invokes the death of Yuri Gagarin (who was killed shortly before this anthology was published, 36 years ago last Saturday) in his self-sacrifice, and Panshin’s first man on Neptune loses his friendship with his colleague because he comes out with a memorable quote to describe their achievement (prophetic, that, in view of Buzz Aldrin‘s post-1969 problems).

The exception is Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Seeds of the Dusk”, in which a dying earth hosts a decadent and nasty post-human civilisation, intelligent wildlife and an invasion by Martian spores. It obviously owes a lot to H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds meets The Time Machine, perhaps) and in turn was very suggestive of Aldiss’ Hothouse stories. His pessimistic take on the future of humanity is more understandable since it was published in 1938, and apparently the author was teaching English to German refugees in Paris at the time he wrote it.

The best sentence from the best story in the book, starting off with boring detail and then ending in a quite unexpected alliterative lyricism:

The encampment was at the north end of the Mare Cimmerium, surrounded by the bleak brown and green landscape of rock and giant lichens, stretching toward sharply defined horizons except for one mountain range in the distance, and hung over by a blue sky so dark that the Earth-star occasionally became dimly visible during the dim daytime.

From Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam”, of course.

One thought on “March Books 15) Tomorrow’s Worlds

  1. I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s a lot of case law on what sorts of marks are and are not considered valid votes – for example, a smiley face is just as good as a cross – but it all comes down to whether or not the mark is unambiguous (and does not serve to identify the voter). I don’t have my agent’s manual any more, but my recollection is that 1, 2, etc would be a spoiled ballot, as there is ambiguity as to whether higher numbers mean a lower preference or a higher level of approval. But I may be misremembering – it’s been a few years.

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