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Winners by Poul AndersonShort story collection

A simple concept behind the marketing of this collection: five of Anderson’s Hugo winners. That’s all, and Tor had itself another Anderson collection to add to its catalog. I think it’s a wonderful idea to keep quality short fiction in print, but some of these tales may well be overcollected, particularly “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” which appears everywhere but today’s newspaper. Also, don’t you find it ironic that a writer’s award-winning fiction is not always, strictly speaking, his best fiction? These are all decent tales to be sure, but Anderson has written many that are much better, even if these were the ones that brought home the rocketship.

NO TRUCE WITH KINGS ★★★½
Very good novella about civil war in a future America that has resorted to feudalism in the years following nuclear holocaust; a Hugo and Nebula winner. This story left me wishing Anderson had turned it into a novel, particularly in respect to a subplot which felt really underdone involving a race of aliens who are manipulating the war behind the scenes. Strong characterization triumphs as well over Anderson’s occasional reliance on cliché (family members battling on opposing sides). Whether or not one agrees with Anderson’s apparent theme here — that a feudal system would be better for humanity recovering from nuclear war than the restoration of a centralized government, and you can chalk me up as a big “nope!” — is, I suppose, a matter of one’s own political temperament. In all, a story I admired enough to wish there were much more to it. Reappears in many collections, among them Time and Stars; also published by Tor in the ’80s as a paperback flip-cover double with Fritz Leiber's “Ship of Shadows”.

THE LONGEST VOYAGE ★★★½
Absorbing account, set on an alien world whose medieval inhabitants are distant descendants of Earth colonists, of what happens when a group of seafaring explorers encounters a spacecraft and its single Terran survivor. Thematically solid, and even quite moving when all is said and done. But the climax of this 40-page novellette is too clumsily telegraphed no less than fifteen pages in advance. Still most worthwhile, even though the lost colony trope is considerably more hackneyed today than it was in 1960, when this tale appeared in Analog.

THE SHARING OF FLESH ★★★½
Startling story about a cannibalistic culture on a distant world. Revenge plot definitely works on a visceral level, while staying true to its SF roots with a fascinating explanation for the cannibalism itself. I guess I would have just preferred a darker ending, but maybe that’s the horror fan in me coming out. Also appears in the Tor collection The Long Night and Berkley’s The Dark Between the Stars.

THE QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS ★★★
Roland is a distant world with a burgeoning human colony, where both rural and urban cultures have taken root. One small problem exists, though: scattered reports over the years of infant kidnappings in outlying areas are, by some, attributed to the Outlings, an unseen indigenous species, possibly intelligent. The official line on the Outlings is that they are a myth, but when a young woman’s baby becomes the latest victim, and she takes her case to P.I. Eric Sherrinford after having been summarily blown off by the proper authorities, the two of them go on a personal trek to see if the Outlings exist once and for all, and if so, what they are up to. Are they deliberately keeping themselves, their civilization and artifacts hidden from humans? Are the baby-snatchings part of some campaign of terror, leading up to war itself? Believable and fascinating SFnal take on myth and folklore, though far from great, with too much exposition near the end. Still, a Hugo & Nebula winner, which appeared as the title story of a 1973 Signet collection shortly after its Hugo win. Generously it also appears in two other late 20th century Tor collections, The Armies of Elfland and New America.

GOAT SONG ★★★
Fascinating and lyrical religious allegory set in a distant future in which a vast computer has taken over management of the world and its people, and strictly controls population growth. Anguished over the untimely death of his lover, a rebellious musician turns against this electronic god and amasses a great following in order to free humanity from its slavery. If it sounds like a self-important, preachy exercise, well, that’s indeed what it becomes, despite a stimulating first half. Still, most worthwhile for those passages alone. Also won Anderson a Nebula.