Silverberg, Robert (ed). Strange Gifts: Eight Stories of Science Fiction.

Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1975.

This is one of the more successful of the eight or ten thematic SF anthologies Silverberg produced for Nelson in the ’70s, each of them concentrating on stories from an earlier time. In this case, the theme is unusual gifts and talents and the publication dates range from 1948 to 1961.

Most of the authors should be familiar, too. “The Golden Man” is one of Philip K. Dick’s earliest (and therefore less strange) pieces, about what sort of mutation is likely to produce a new human species capable of replacing us, as Homo sapiens did the Neanderthals — but don’t assume that means intellectual superiority. “Danger–Human!” is classic Gordon Dickson, about what essential trait makes the human species capable of taking over the galaxy. (It’s species-ist, but it dates from a pre-space-race time when anything still seemed possible.) R. A. Lafferty is something of an acquired taste, but “All the People” might help you do just that. It’s about a young man who one day discovers he knows everyone, absolutely everyone, in the world, not just their names but intimate information about them and what they’ve been up to lately. Alfred Bester has always been one of my favorite authors and “Oddy and Id” is one of his best yarns, about Odysseus Gaul, who is the opposite of accident-prone. Whatever he wants, consciously or not, the universe will see that he gets it. It’s a good thing he’s one of the good guys — sort of. Not many fans today under the age of forty will ever have heard of H. L. Gold, one of the most important editors of the Golden Age (he founded Galaxy), but, like all SF editors, he began as a writer himself. Having said that, “The Man with English” is kind of a lightweight effort with an O.-Henry-twist ending. And since we’ve learned a great deal about psychoneurology in the past sixty years, it’s also not entirely fictional anymore. Silverberg’s own contribution (editor’s privilege) is “To Be Continued,” a consideration of what it might be like to live for ten thousand years — with the proviso that physical maturation takes the usual proportion of that time. Frank Belknap Long is another of the Grand Masters who is now mostly forgotten, probably because his style of ’30s space opera simply hasn’t worn well. “Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall” tells of a boy who can create real worlds out of fairy tales; an interesting idea but it just didn’t do much for me. Finally, the best piece in the book, long an underground classic but not often republished, is “Bettyann,” by Kris Neville, who started out strongly, exiled himself from the field, eventually came back to it, and then died much too young. It’s the coming-of-age story of a not-quite human girl, accidentally abandoned, who suspects she’s different but tries hard to fit in anyway, and almost completely succeeds — until her people come looking for her. The humanely poetic narrative style is very reminiscent of Theodore Sturgeon at his best. You should hunt this book down for this story alone.

Published in: on 17 July 2013 at 5:56 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm, must pick this one up.

  2. I really should read something by Kris Neville…. What do you recommend?

    • His best-known SF novel is Bettyann (1970), the long version of the short story in this anthology. There was a sequel called Bettyann’s Children (1973). Both are quite good and both are pretty hard to find. (Try Interlibrary Loan.) He wrote three or four other novels before he abandoned the field — none of which I’ve read, I confess.

      • Yeah, I’ve heard of Bettyann — but didn’t know there was a sequel. As an academic, I have access to a massive Interlibrary Loan network — although the book might already be in the library… But then again, I also buy old sci-fi online occasionally. Thanks!

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