Time travel spelled problems for the couriers of the Time Service. Shuttling backwards and forwards over the centuries they had to be wary of creating paradoxes – like meeting themselves watching the sack of Rome, or sleeping with their own ancestors. Of course, it also gave them the chance to amass wealth by the discreet use of their prior knowledge. The penalties were fierce and the Time Police implacable in their pursuit of lawbreakers. But it was still worth taking the risk. Jud Elliot took it when he met the marvellous transemporal paradox called the Pulcheria. He couldn’t resist her charms – the effects spanned generations, and set the Time Police on his trail!
The planet Kerim must have been Utopia – once. All its inhabitants had to do when they wanted something was to pray out loud for it – and what they wanted would materialise before their eyes. But by the time Jack Waley crashed on it, its best days had long been gone – and its future was strictly limited. Which was typical Jack Waley luck. He had bungled and blundered his way across the space lanes, messing up everything he tried and being castaway on Kerim looked like the end of the line. For Kerim’s people were now bands of confused savages and its cities crumbling ruins. And this time Waley knew that he’d have to change a whole world’s luck if he wanted to save his own neck one more time.
Far out on the frozen outer limits of the thranx/humanx Commonwealth, on the permafrosted plant of Tran-ky-ky, lay the chilly trading outpost of Brass Monkey. Inward bound on the interstellar transport Antares, Ethan Frome Fortune, space travelling salesman with a neat line in perfumes, jewelled knick-knacks and up market gadgetry, ran into grizzled, galactic hell raiser Skua September for the first time. Kidnapped, knocked unconscious and crash landed – all quite accidentally – they were about to find out that life on the sub- zero wasteland was full of incident. Bored they would not be. Dead they might well be – particularly if Sagyanak, Chief of the nomadic Horde, could lay hands on them. The great adventure has just begun and early retirement was not an option.
Dirty Work? In a manner of speaking, perhaps, but certainly not along the lines of de Sade or Henry Miller. “Dirty” maybe because within this remarkable volume of short stories (a follow-up to her award-winning collection Patterns) author Pat Cadigan unflinchingly explores the implications of technology on modern and near-future societies, humorously challenges our perceptions of reality, and chillingly strips away our civilized facades to confront the bestial nature of our souls. With stories like “Home By the Sea,” “Dispatches from the Revolution,” “No Prisoners,” “50 Ways to Improve Your Orgasm,” and “Naming Names,” Pat Cadigan exhibits an enviable ability to tackle a variety of themes, moods, and perspectives. And makes it all seem easy. Featuring 18 stunning fictions (including the previously unpublished “Lost Girls” written especially for this book)-as well as intriguing author introduction to each story-Dirty Work is a thought provoking, often funny, never compromising collection by one of America’s most gifted authors. It doesn’t get any better than this.
When Commander Herries of the Space Line began to sell the water of Mars as a ‘potion’ for lengthening life he had no idea that he was going to create the world’s greatest thirst and produce havoc among the two social grades of Earth – the Inelligentsia and the Normals. But produce it he did. Among the confusion thus produced one man thinks clearly for his own ends – Vance Unthra, the leading scientist of the world – and he sees in the crisis which has hit Earth a way to be rid of all those who do not measure up to what he thinks as an intellectual standard. By his orders two synthetic worlds are created – Alpha and Omega – and to these are ruthlessly evacuated all the victims of the Martian water, there to rebuild there shattered fortunes and never cross the ‘Dark Boundaries’ which exist between those worlds and Earth. Despite his careful planning, however, Unthra makes one mistake. In destroying the power of the Martian water over the evacuated thousands he miscalculates the strength of cosmic radiation on Omega with the result that the leader – the Controllix – of this world, Sylvia Grantham, becomes a far greater power in the grand scheme of things than her former lover, Dexter Carfax. Through the machinations of the wily Unthra open hostility breaks out between Dexter Carfax and the girl, and eventually their worlds are destroyed through the influence of a deadly chain reaction ‘disease’ from the Great Red Spot of Jupoter. Both of them, however, through the various experiences they undergo, hold to one objective – to be avenged on Vance Unthra for his viciousness.
Ed Carter, a New York reporter on his way to his home town in Omaha for a short vacation, saw the missile in the last moments in its journey back to earth. A sweller on the brink, like all of us, he had no doubt about what it was; Oh God, he thought, this is it. The blast of the impact flung him some distance, and when he regained consciousness, his first reaction was one of surprised to find himself still alive, and not, it seemed, even badly hurt. Presumably the missile had been directed at the big Air Force base nearby, and should have destroyed everything and everyone within a radius of miles. Could it have failed to explode? Carter sees the remains of part of the missile in an adjacent field and hobbles over to it. A minute or two later several Air Force officers arrive. They examine the remains, and find the burned-up body of a pilot. In other worlds, the missile was not Russia’s first shot in the Third World War, but a failure to launch a man into space. But Carter knows that the Distant Early Warning line will have reported the missile; that the senior Air Force officers, in accordance with plan, will have taken to the air – in the country’s interest, their lives must, of course, be preserved if possible; that by now the retaliatory American bombers will have passed the point of no recall; and that the Third World War has begun. Not so, Colonel Ben Goldwater tells him: “I called the bombers back.” Goldwater, the man who had been left in command, has saved the world – for at least a little longer. So he becomes a world hero? Not a bit of it. On the contrary: a nightmare looms ahead both for him and for Ed Carter, and the reader watches it all with growing fury…