Culled from the most imaginative and provocative minds of the pas thirty years, these pieces demonstrate the vitality and diversity, the excitement and commitment of the writers who helped make science fiction what it is today.
“Suppose the war took a sudden turn for the worse from the scientific point of view? Suppose some bright scientist on the enemy side found a truly terrible weapon?” This was John Russell Fearn’s main premise for Aftermath, written two years before the end of the second World War.
Annihilating everything before it, a horde of monstrous space travellers were advancing through the stars. And Earth lay in their route. To defend their home planets, the worlds that lay in the path of the monsters created a super defence force, asking each planet to contribute one especially talented warrior to help turn the invaders away. Miles Vander was Earth’s man, but when he arrived at the rendezvous point he found that he was included in the special task force of the less civilized defenders. But in the contest of advanced nuclear weaponry and computer strategy, it turned out to be Vander’s group that had the special independent qualities and the raw courage to meet the challenge most effectively.
Trapped in 1877, a historian writes an account of an alternate history of America in which the South won the Civil War. Living in this alternate timeline, he was determined to change events at Gettysburg. When he’s offered the chance to return to that fateful turning point his actions change history as he knows it, leaving him in an all too familiar past.
In A.D. 2043 the world seemed doomed to suffer the impact of total war on a hitherto undreamed-of scale. The horrors of titanic bombardment and the searing ravages of electronic ray assault were slowly simmering up to a point when the Controllers themselves could not turn back. But it was only a handful of men and women, living and working in the underground dumps of destructive force, who fully appreciated the danger. They feared for their fellow beings; but when the war itself was due to start the blow came, not from a mortal enemy but from a far more terrible foe…
Once the world was not as it has since become. Once it worked in a way different from the way it works now… Pierce Moffett is a teacher and historian who at midlife feels himself to be standing at a great turning point in the history of the world. As a child, Pierce was no stranger to magic, but those revelations faded with time. Now Pierce’s search for a secret history of the world – one in which magic works and angels speak to humankind – has begun again. Pierce finds clues offered to him in the unfinished last novel of a writer named Fellowes Kraft and in the real-life histories of the doomed Renaissance heretic Giordano Bruno and the Elizabethan magus John Dee. He will also find the secret history pervading his present in his involvement with two Roses: Rosie Rasmussen, guardian of the dead Kraft’s legacy, and Rose Ryder, who will soon become his lover.
The sea has always been a symbol of uncontrolled power and infinite movement. Its rhythms are the rhythms of Life itself… for Life began in the primeval oceans… Roger Adams was a man who dreamt of the untold wealth lying beneath the inscrutable waves of the Atlantic deeps. His mind filled with visions of Lost Continents, sunken galleons and the limitless possibilities of undersea farming. He same his meagre capital into a neck-or-nothing gamble and fought desperately against time and rude to turn his dreams into reality. The unexpected stowaway added to his problems and then his diving began to pay dividends. The Atlantic Deeps gave up some of their secrets… but each enigma led to greater riddles. Then came the discovery that pointed to world-shaking consequences. Hidden beneath the great rollers lay supernatural forces so immense that the Kraken and other monsters of popular mythology were harmless toys beside it. The force which had submerged continents was stirring once more…
Parallel Worlds! Earth, cerated out of universal chaos, and the Dreamlands, spawned of the dreams of men. But where dreams turn to nightmares, Death is the only crossing-point… Ex-waking worlders David Hero and Eldin the Wanderer are now sellswords in that ephemeral dimension called Deramland. Once a talented artist of the fantastic, now Hero’s art is the wizardry of his swordplay. Once a lecturing professor, now Eldin professes a knowledge of the dark, mysterious Dream Realms second to none. A formidable pair! But face to face with Yibb-Tstll and the Gaunts of Night, the Eidolon Lathi and her brood, and the mad, alien First One who plots to set free dreaming Cthulu from eon-old imprisonment…what can mere men do? Take up arms with the Heroes of Dreams and laugh in the face of the world’s worst nightmare!
British Science Fiction award winner Ian Watson graces us here with a brilliant new collection of short stories and essays. Though he dazzles the reader with his footwork in the kaleidoscope intensity of his vision, each piece is plainly the work of a master craftsman. Whether he is dealing with a future culture where whales control us (“The Culling”) or taking a hilarious poke at the matter of government funding (“The President’s Not for Turning”), his concepts are clear and undeniably logical. True to the highest ideal of science fiction, Watson carries present tendencies of our society to possible conclusions in “Roof Gardens under Saturn,” and points a warning finger at the consequences of alienation from the environment. In an innovative style which borders on the experimental, Watson explores in “The Pharaoh and the Mademoiselle” the horrors of fascism. Ian Watson’s writing stays with us. He entertains and he makes us think. If in some future and better world politicians were to take advice form writers, Watson should be one of them.
In the domed city of Atlanta, after the breakup of the United States, a young writer named Julian Cawthorn is in trouble. Because he insulted the daughter of a public official, Cawthorn is out of work, and virtually unemployable. He begs a temporary job on the city newspaper and finds himself assigned to cover the first public appearance of the aliens Cygnusians, travelers from outer space who have been living in seclusion in Atlanta while visiting Earth. A Christian revivalist dictatorship rules Atlanta; church services are as much social as they are religious events. When one of the aliens chooses to appear at a church service, Julian watches as the first alien from space stands up and is “saved”. The alien’s voluntary salvation is taken as a sign that the state religion is indeed the one true religion, and minority groups, previously tolerated, are attacked by gangs, leaving Atlanta in turmoil. The service is a turning point in Julian’s life. He is hired by Fiona Bitler, hostess to and protector of the aliens; at her invitation he goes to work in the secret alien enclave. In this environment Julian comes to know the fascinating aliens. He is mystified by the aliens’ interest in his personal life and cannot understand how they have acquired so many oddly human characteristics in their brief period on Earth.