This collection assembles in one volume five works by Kate Wilhelm, masterful fantasist and one of science fiction’s premier storytellers: In ‘Children of the Wind’, identical twins J-1 and J-2 play subtle games with their parents’ lives. Are the boys just precocious, or are they far more strange – and powerful? ‘The Gorgon Field’ finds Charlie and Constance caught in a mystery of mystical proportions in the Arizona desert. ‘A Brother to Dragons, a Companion of Owls’ depicts a future in which survival may not be merely enough – it may be too much, whilst ‘The Blue Ladies’ studies a disabled woman’s abilities to share his vision. ‘The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky’, winner of the Nebula Award for best novelette, weaves a dreamy tale of love, death and an old piano amid the Kansas plains. These five tales present luminous, absorbing visions of the world as it could be and as it is.
Shon knew that the Taken must die. Death had touched them, and the evil spirits which issued from Death’s Place to the east beyond the valley Took away the souls of the living. It was the law of Shon’s people, who seldom ventured far from their simple huthouses in Pine Walk, except to hunt boar in the forest. And even the forest was not completely safe, for across the river at its eastern edge lay Crow Mork, Death’s Place, and in the stories Crow himself, who was Death, rode there with Crow’s People, Death’s children, on strange four-legged beasts shod with white metal and swift as the wind. Lost in the dark forest, Shon encountered Death’s Children. ‘Don’t go home,’ the dead girl told him – he was almost sure it was a girl, though her face was a black void in the night. But there was nowhere else to go. They would kill him, of course; being Taken, they would have to. Yet Shon escaped that death – though he was to meet Death in Death’s Place, and learn the extraordinary truth about it.
Ladies from Hell contains five long stories. “The Shack at Great Cross Halt” describes a Britain dominated by motorways, juggernauts and a tyranny, in which the unfortunates of society eke out a miserable existence scavenging items that fall off lorries. “The Ministry of Children” shows comprehensive schools having become terrifying battlegrounds dominated by vicious gangs. “The Big Fans” concerns an experiment in wind-powered electricity which accidentally unleashes an apocalyptic storm of effects. “Our Lady of Destruction” ironically depicts a future in which a Stalinist British government taxes ‘non-productive’ people (i.e. artists) at over 100% and assigns them individual Overseers to regulate their work. “Missa Privata” shows an opera singer in a communist-dominated Britain making a defiant individual gesture which will bring about her own ruin. These are not stories of spaceships and alien worlds; rather they are studies of imminent social change, written out of passionate concern about the directions in which our society may be heading – stories, in fact, in the great Orwellian tradition. Most importantly, they are stories about people: believable, defiant individuals struggling against oppressive forces.