The premise of this book is that Asimov writes a 1-paragraph idea for a story, then pawns it off on another writer to actually write the story. The themes all deal with a future in which the problem of overpopulation has been dealt with in some way. The cover touts the stories as "4 short novels," but I wouldn't even really classify them as novelettes - they're short stories:
Ishmael into the Barrens - R.A. Lafferty
OK, you won't hear me get much harsher than this. I really HATED this story.
It's written in that weird 70's style that I've never liked (and have never been able to effectively communicate exactly what it is I'm talking about and WHY I don't like it, so this is definitely just a personal thing...)- but in this case it goes further, into an out-and-out Absurdist style. Lots of bizarre surreal stuff that doesn't make any sense on a logical level, which I personally find irritating.
The premise of the story is that the hippies are now in control of the world. (OK, this book is, by now, a little bit out of date (written in 1971)). Due to overpopulation, people are only allowed to have one child, and they must apply for an expensive permit to have that child. Partying and drugs are enforced by law, everyone must "conform to nonconformity," but for some unknown reason, no one is allowed to go out in the early morning, when licensed hunters roam the streets and kill illegal people.
Our heroes are a couple who illegally fall in love, find a Catholic priest, and get married and have an illegal child. Lafferty has his priest mouth dogmatic platitudes such as "there is no such thing as overpopulation because every life is intended by God and God will provide for every life." (paraphrase).
I really really really personally can't stand people who use religion as an excuse for the destruction of our planet.
(Lafferty was indeed a devout Catholic - the story got me to look it up.)
I also can't stand people who completely and intentionally misrepresent the goals of their political opponents.
Oh, and I'm in favor of having to apply for a permit to have children.
Oh, and I also happen to like guitar-based music, and thought all the negative comments about how horrible guitars are were rather gratuitous.
So, out of date or not, this story still managed to piss me off.
Brave Newer World - Harry Harrison
Someone's been committing sabotage in the genetics lab, killing bottled embryos. Who could it be?
It doesn't really matter, because the main point of this story really seems to be that the capable female researcher needs to realize that the reason her husband is acting like a jerk and cheating on her is that she's been too involved in her work, and she needs to remember to wear some makeup, do her hair, and dress in a 'feminine' way, because men are very threatened in their masculinity by the 'liberated' woman. Once she pays attention to the male counselor who tells her this, we're set for a happy ending.
At this point, I'm like, c'mon Asimov, you're letting me down!
How Can We Sink When We Can Fly - Alexei Panshin.
Hey, I always thought this guy was a Russian, but he's American. Ya learn something new every day.
Maybe Asimov felt he needed to balance out the Lafferty story, 'cause this piece is from the hippie perspective. While I was reading it, I thought it was really a self-indulgent piece of writing, but thinking back on it, I think I rather liked it.
Most of the story is about Alexei hanging out with his friends thinking about what he's going to write for this anthology. Only the last quarter of it is 'the story,' but it does tie back to the first part. The theme is on how the future will judge us.
Enjoyable, but mostly for the insight into the author.
Going - Robert Silverberg
Silverberg is by far the most accomplished writer of this lot, and it shows almost instantly.
In a future where medical technology can extend life well into the average person's second century, assissted suicide has become an accepted way of dying. The story follows a successful 136-year-old composer on his decision-making process to bow gracefully out of his life.
A thoughtful, professionally-written piece.