Way back last summer I had an extremely fun Eastern Nebraska / Western Nebraska / Fort Collins vacation and while we were wandering around in Fort Collins, I picked up this wonderfully covered collection of short stories by Gordon R. Dickson called Mutants (1970). It finally migrated up to the top of my very slow-moving reading pile, and I'm happy to announce that the contents are just as great as the cover.
While some of the stories are a little dated, there are some very strong contenders included in this collection. One of my very favorites is the sci-fi / western story "Roofs of Silver," where a group of scientists from the home planet check in on a community of settlers who colonized a new mining planet 100 years ago and have been living as a closely knit group since then. One of the scientists "goes native," marries a settlers daughter, and leads the group to believe that he is a rehabilitated "wild one" -- one of the humans on the planet who is not part of the settled community. When the scientists' scans show that the community is becoming inbred and unstable, our protagonist refuses to believe the evidence and tries to conduct his own experiments to prove that the instability is in the wild people on the planet, and not in his new family.
Other stories include galactic space opera style battles, small environmental morality tales, and a prim and proper spinster who is given super human powers by a chance visitation from a little dude from a different dimension who makes her clock strike 13.
Dickson is particularly great at the first few sentences of his stories:
But you know, I could sense it coming a long time off. It was a little extra time taken in drinking a cup of coffee, it was lingering over the magazines in a drugstore as I picked out a handful. It was a girl I looked at twice as I ran out and down the steps of a library. ["Of the People"]
Reru did not like to see humans eat. So he was waiting in the living room while Taddy and his parents finished breakfast. ["Listen"]
The last dog on Earth was dying. ["By New Hearth Fires"]
Miss Lydia Prinks was somebody's aunt. Not the aunt of several somebodies, but the aunt of one person only and with no other living brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, or nieces to her name. A sort of singleton aunt. It would be possible to describe her further, but it would not be in good taste." ["Miss Prinks"]
Well, it was about four in the afternoon. You know how it is that time of day at Savannah Stand, with most of the day-charter flyers back in the ranks. All the hanging around and talking and the smell of cigarette smoke in the air, and the water stains drying back to the pale color of the concrete from the flyers that have just been washed down. You know what a good time of day that is. ["Home from the Shore"]
And it isn't just the beginnings of these stories that are good -- Dickson was a prolific and widely published science fiction writer, and there is no doubt that the man could write a solid story. While I have a slight preference for science fiction short story anthologies by a variety of authors, the stories in this collection are each unique and make up a very lovely book. With a very amazing cover.
[As an aside: My copy was printed in 1978 and it looks like it was printed last week. Maybe they used some super-special science fiction acid free buffered paper here, or maybe it came to Fort Collins from the fourth dimension!]