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THE QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS and Other Stories
1973

Book cover artist not credited.
Review © 1997 by Thomas M. Wagner.

As Anderson states in his introduction, the six stories in this collection — mostly culled from the mid-to-late '60's — are unified by the theme of knowledge: how much does the universe hold for us, and will we act wisely when we get it. Most of the tales feature premises in which the Earth has become overpopulated, uninhabitable, etc., and humanity must try its luck amongst the stars, in struggling off-world colonies. On the whole it's a pretty decent little bunch of shorts, though Anderson really only shows his stuff in about half of them. Definitely worth digging up in a used bookstore for rainy-afternoon reading.

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 it is 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, though not great, with too much exposition near the end. Still, a Hugo & Nebula winner, which inexplicably appears in no fewer than three Tor collections, The Armies of Elfland, Winners and New America.

HOME
"Home" is a moving story, with a chilling climax, about what happens when a long-established colony of humans living on an inhabited world — which they have come to consider home — are suddenly ordered back to Earth by authorities who are mothballing all space exploration. A harsh criticism of certain political factions prevalent in the '60's who saw the space race as a frivolous exercise, "Home" gains its emotional resonance through the inner turmoil suffered by the apparent antagonist, who is actually sympathetic to the colonists but who nonetheless has orders to obey.

THE ALIEN ENEMY
A survey ship from Earth investigates a colony on a distant world that appears to have been the victim of a tragic and deadly bombardment by alien spacecraft. Some good scenes, nifty twist at the end.

THE FAUN
I didn't care for "The Faun," but its triteness is probably due to the fact it's a juvenile (it was originally published in Boys Life, the official Boy Scouts magazine). This didactic yarn about respecting life and nature is painted in annoyingly broad strokes and features a "surprise" ending that's downright smarmy. But I guess it could be okay reading for pre-teens.

IN THE SHADOW
Hard science adventure about an Earth expedition encountering an invisible sun that's drifted into the Solar System. Really quite dated in terms of its storytelling technique and formula (with a protagonist who's just a bit too much the square-jawed alpha-male), but has the nostalgic likability of Campbell-era talespinning. Good premise.

TIME LAG
Action-packed far-future story in which a small, peaceful human colony on a bucolic world is invaded by colonials from another world, grossly overpopulated, overindustrialized and militaristic. However, due to the 30-year intervals between invasions (good hard SF at work here; no faster-than-light silliness for Anderson), the good guys have time to develop warcraft. At first the lines between black-hat/white-hat seem simplistically drawn to the point of banality, but the characterizations end up being quite good, the final battle sequence is exciting and the story resolution not entirely as sentimental as it threatens to be.