DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

   #7. TANITH LEE “A Madonna of the Machine.” Short story. First published in Other Edens II, edited by Christopher Evans & Robert Holdstock (Unwin, UK, paperback; no US publication). Collected in Forests of the Night (Unwin, US, hardcover, 1989).

   During her lifetime — she died in 2015 at the age of 67 — Tanith Lee produced perhaps 90 novels and over 300 works of short fiction. She came to my attention in a big way, along with lots of other SF and fantasy fans, with the publication of her “Birthgrave” trilogy, all paperback originals from DAW: The Birthgrave (1975), Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (1978), and Quest for the White Witch (1978).

   What struck me the most about these novels was how she was able to take what on the face of them were pulp-oriented sword-and-sorcery books and give them a solid science fictional background. This wasn’t revealed until the end of the first book, and it fair knocked my socks off.

   “A Madonna of the Machine” takes a standard SFnal idea — that of a dreary super-regulated future in which the inhabitants have no future — and creates a tale in which visions of a rose-angel-goddess begins to appear to several main characters. They have never experienced anything in their lives like this before.

   Told in a lyrical, poetic and eventually magical or even surreal style, style, the effect is almost that of a fantasy tale than science fiction. Tanith Lee was a master of this, and if she hadn’t written more stories than I could ever read, I’d love to have read more of them.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH “Skin Deep.”