Here we have stories which, in the science fiction mode, exemplify and illustrate each of the Seven Deadly Sins, and give each a dimension perhaps not thought of by Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Title: The Seven Deadly Sins of Science Fiction
Editors: Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg
Rating: 2/5 stars
When I read an anthology, I like it to have a fairly solid unifying theme, something all the stories have in common to justify their inclusion together within the pages of a single book. I mean something a little more specific and meaningful than the numerous “best of” or “treasury of” volumes floating around out there (I can’t ever see any reason why one should be picked over another). So Asimov, Waugh, and Greenberg had the right idea when they put together this group of stories to illustrate the Seven Deadly Sins; it’s an interesting enough concept to serve as a focus point. After all, there’s gotta be some juicy stuff going on in a bunch of stories about sin, right?
On the other hand, this volume suffers from a weakness inherent in many anthologies: the fact that the stories were not written specifically for this volume, but were already-published stories chosen after-the-fact to fit the editors’ needs. Consequently, the match between the stories and the stated theme is not always as close as you might wish for, and is sometimes downright tenuous. For instance, we have “Sail 25” by Jack Vance, representing Sloth; “Peeping Tom” by Judith Merril, representing Lust; “The Invisible Man Murder Case” by Henry Slesar, representing Envy; and Isaac Asimov’s “Galley Slave” representing Pride. While these stories did indeed contain some characters engaging in sloth, lust, envy, and pride, this behavior felt almost incidental. These stories didn’t seem to be centrally about sloth, lust, envy, or pride. No, it seems to me that the editors simply chose whatever stories they could think of that sorta kinda vaguely fit the theme, rather than making an effort to find more relevant examples.
Then again, some of the stories were closer to the mark. Zelazny’s “Divine Madness” was my favorite of the group. It’s a compelling and stylish tale of the consequences that follow from one single moment of thoughtless Anger. Gluttony, fittingly enough, is the only of the Seven Sins to get not one but two stories devoted to it: “The Midas Plague” and “The Man Who Ate the World,” both by Frederick Pohl. I found the first of those to be much superior to the latter, but both are powerful satires about our modern gluttonous, consumer-driven society, and Pohl envisions some rather extreme consequences. Poul Anderson’s “Margin of Profit” demonstrates the sin of Avarice; it’s an interesting story, but oddly, and unlike the other stories, this one shows the sinner benefiting from the sin, rather than suffering the consequences.
One last story was “The Hook, the Eye and the Whip,” by Michael G. Coney, representing Covetousness. (The mathematically inclined will note this makes eight, not seven, deadly sins; the editors note that different versions alternate between Avarice and Covetousness, and so they chose to include both.) To tell the truth, this story was so mind-numbingly boring I didn’t even finish it, so I can’t even say if it aptly demonstrates its chosen sin or not.
But leaving aside the question of whether or not these stories met the criteria of the anthology, and taking them strictly on their own terms, there were few that I liked very much. The pieces by Zelazny and Pohl were the standouts here, but none of the other stories did much for me.
So….. this was an intriguing concept for an anthology, but the bottom line is that it really needed better stories to pull it off.