Posted by: Mish | January 12, 2008

Utopia or Dystopia?

When I saw the torn and tattered 1980 Annual World’s Best SF on the shelf I automatically picked it up. DAW Books is my favourite publisher, one that truly goes for quality not quantity. They’ve published several authors that I really enjoy, like Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey, or who are on my reading list. Excitement grew as I read the table of contents: Steven Barnes, Tanith Lee, and Orson Scott Card, etc. The editor and publisher, Donald A. Wollheim, says in the introduction:

“Utopianism is a strong part of science fiction’s heritage, but utopias must be tempered with understanding of human nature- and human nature is violent, argumentative, fallible, and given to endless fantasizing”.

I found many of the stories thought provoking. Some completely blew me away. I think the best way to share this anthology is to share some of the questions it conjured. Wollheim asks:

“Will we break away from the deeply entrenched heritage of our millions-years ancestry? If so, how? How will men reconcile the philosophies of today with the conditions of a vast tomorrow?”

(5/5) George R.R. Martin’s the Way of Cross and Dragon brings to question faith and how a religion’s word comes to be absolute. How or why does interpretation change? Lukyan asks of the Inquisitor sent to fell a heretical religion:

“Can you really know what happened three thousand years ago? You have one Judas, I have another. Both of us have books. Is yours true?”

(5/5) In Somtov Sucharitkul’s the Thirteenth Utopia, Ton Davaryish’s job is to travel to different utopias and find their flaws. Can there really be a perfect world? What’s the catch? It questions faith of a different sort than the previous story.

(3/5) John Varley’s Options could be considered ahead of its time. Today, sex changes involve a lot of time, red tape, and money. What if they didn’t and were as common as a new haircut? How would that change society, relationships, or sex roles?

(5/5) Orson Scott Card’s Unaccompanied Sonata really digs into society’s best interest. In a utopia shouldn’t everyone be happy? Wollheim says of the truly creepy short:

“Here’s a future for humanity which creates a contented and perfectly functioning world by means which are not only unprecedented but positively frightening. The gooseflesh thing about this new political concept is that it might work.”

(5/5) Richard Wilson’s the Story Writer brings to mind the strength of the pen and the written word. Physicists state that nothing is fixed or absolute. What about history and life? Are they scripted in the first place?

(1/5) Daisy, in the Sun by Connie Willis is about what would happen if the sun went nova. It was an all right read and I think the least impressive in the anthology.

(5/5) My favorite of the lot is the Locusts by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. I have to wonder if technology is limited and if earth’s inhabitants will eventually be forced to relocate. What makes family or humanity? Is unconditional love truly unconditional? Because I don’t want to tell the story and Wollheim says it so well:

“What is the proper adjustment of humanity to its planet? Maybe our troubles are caused by having too large a brain for the environment in which we dwell. Or maybe that large brain is for the purpose of emigrating elsewhere so that the readjustment of humanity can take place under uncrowded conditions just like those at the dawn of time. Utopia, no. Not to our way of thinking. But peace and a full mind- possibly yes. Nature’s way is not necessarily all art and beauty.”

(3/5) Tanith Lee’s the Thaw theorizes on “what befalls a soul trapped for years, centuries, in a living, yet statically frozen body”. Should a body’s natural shelf-life be tampered with? Is cryogenics worth the possible outcomes?

(5/5) Richard Cowper’s Where the Big Ships Go is very Tao (or is it Zen?) . One of the thoughts in Taoism is action through non-action, which is mentioned in one form or another. Regarding perception, Roger asks himself:

“How could red be blue? Even if everyone called it blue, it would still be red. Or would it?”

(4/5) Can These Bones Live? by Ted Reynolds brings into question humanity. If given the chance to bring back humankind from extinction, would you? If so, everyone? Would it be worth the price? What makes one species better, or of more value, than another? 4/5

(4/5) The Extraordinary Voyages of Amélie Bertrand by Joanna Russ is another example that nothing is fixed or absolute. Travel may not follow the rules of time and space as we know them, but bend to its own rules.

I highly recommend this anthology, any anthology, or any book that DAW‘s published for that matter. Among the 37 years-worth of fantasy and science-fiction, there’s bound to be something for everyone.



  1. Is this hard to find? I’ve been poking around in a couple of libraries and have been disappointed . . .

  2. I happened to randomly find it on a shelf in my friend’s café. Because it’s “so old” I doubt it’ll be in any libraries. It is available used and/or new through Amazon or AbeBooks.

  3. (ponders)

  4. *chuckling at your pondering*

  5. I know I’m a bit late on the commenting, lol. But I had to chime in (duh). I adore the DAW anthologies, particularly those compiled by Martin H. Greenberg (His “If I Were An Evil Overlord” is my absolute favorite, and he did one called “Once Upon a Galaxy that was interesting – fairy tales in space). In general, I enjoy sci-fi / fantasy anthologies because I’m exposed to authors I might not otherwise read. I shall have to see if I can find this one! ~ L

  6. Heya. Better late than never. This edition is among the favorite of anthologies I’ve read. I think I read some Greenberg at one time or another. I’ll keep a look out for those. Thanks for the recommendation and for coming over from Read More.

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