Life on Earth was intolerable – and yet Man had stayed there, his dreams and potential suffocating under the dead weight of bureaucracy.
The stars were attainable – thanks to the Infall Drive – but only a few heard the call of deep space. Some had already gone to colonise a new world. The second ship was ready at last. Ready to escape the Earth’s prison; ready to seek refuge in deepest space. But it wasn’t only freedom that awaited it…
Utopia had been completely separated from the rest of the galaxy for 300 years. It had taken six decades to finalise the agreement and conditions that would permit a visitor from the Other Worlds to come there. Hardy Cronyn from Washington IV was the first arrival.
The sensuous, young beauty who was to be his guide greeted him with a kiss. But it only took moments for Cronyn to learn the rules: no marriage. It was illegal. The two million inhabitants of Utopia were immortal. If there were marriage, there would be the desire for children, and that was seldom allowed.
The only deaths were accidental; petty crime was non-existent. Cronyn believed Utopia was paradise – until he discovered one paralyzing fear that consumed them all – PAIN! For if life was eternal pain would last a long, long, time…
An introductory note seems called for to explain to the reader the origin of the following strange document, which I have received from a friend with a view to publication. The author has given it the form of a letter to myself, and he signs himself with his nickname, “Cass,” which is an abbreviation of Cassandra. I have seldom met Cass since we were undergraduates together at Oxford before the war of 1914. Even in those days he was addicted to lurid forebodings, hence his nickname.
My last meeting with him was in one of the great London blitzes of 1941, when he reminded me that he had long ago prophesied the end of civilization in world-wide fire. The Battle of London, he affirmed, was the beginning of the long-drawn-out disaster.
Cass will not, I am sure, mind my saying that he always seemed to us a bit crazy: but he certainly had a queer knack of prophesy, and though we thought him sometimes curiously unable to understand the springs of his own behaviour, he had a remarkable gift of insight into the minds of others. This enabled him to help some of us to straighten out our tangles, and I for one owe him a debt of deep gratitude. He saw me heading for a most disastrous love affair, and by magic (no other word seems adequate) he opened my eyes to the folly of it. It is for this reason that I feel bound to carry out his request to publish the following statement. I cannot myself vouch for its truth. Cass knows very well that I am an inveterate sceptic about all his fantastic ideas. It was on this account that he invented my nickname. “Thos,” which most of my Oxford friends adopted. “Thos,” of course, is an abbreviation for Thomas, and refers to the “doubting Thomas” of the New Testament.
Cass, I feel confident, is sufficiently detached and sane to realize that what is veridical for him may be sheer extravagance for others, who have no direct experience by which to judge his claims. But if I refrain from believing, I also refrain from disbelieving. Too often in the past I have known his wild prophesies come true.
The head of the following bulky letter bears the address of a well-known mental home.
“Variety is the soul of pleasure,” And variety is what this comprehensive new collection of Connie Willis is all about. The stories cover the entire spectrum, from sad to sparkling to terrifying, from classics to hard-to-find treasures with everything in between – orangutans, Egypt, earthworms, roast goose, college professors, mothers-in-law, aliens, secret codes, Secret Santas, tube stations, choir practice, the post office, the green light on Daisy’s dock, weddings, divorces, death, and assorted plagues, from scarlet fever to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And a dog.
Famous for her “sure-hand plotting, unforgettable characters, and top-notch writing,” Willis has been called, “the most relentlessly delightful science fiction writer alive,” and there are numerous examples here. Among them, Willis’s most famous stories – the Hugo- and Nebula-Award-winning “Fire Watch” and “Even the Queen” and “The Last of the Winnebagos” – along with undiscovered gems like Willis’s heartfelt homage to Jack Williamson, “Nonstop to Portales.” Her magical Christmas stories are here, too, from “Newsletter” to “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know…” which last year was made into the TV movie, Snow Wonder, starring Mary Tyler Moore.
We’ve collected stories from throughout Willis’s career, from early ones like “Cash Crop” and “Daisy, in the Sun,” right up to her newest stories, including the wonderful “The Winds of Marble Arch.” There’s literally something for everyone here. If you’re a diehard Willis fan, you’ll be delighted with hard-to-find treasures like the until-now uncollected, “The Soul Selects Her Own Society…” If you’ve never read Connie Willis, this is your chance to discover “A Letter from the Clearys” and, well, “Chance.” To say nothing of, “At the Rialto,” the funniest story ever written about quantum physicists. And Willis’s chilling, “All My Darling Daughters.”
And…oh, there are too many great stories here to list and pleasures galore. So enjoy!
A whodunnit in the best blood-tingling tradition, which keeps the reader gasping and guessing till the last page.
Although Julian Prentice is a small-time crook, his theft of a car hardly seems to warrant someone’s very deliberate attempt to kill him on the day he is released from prison.
The final roll-call of suspects comes to six, with six apparently foolproof alibis. Yet someone is lying. It falls to Detective-Superintendent Simon Manton to work out who …
The beautiful Dedo Nyneve’s innocent tales of a land called Camelot have spawned a real-life cast determined to choose their own fates, yet each move draws them closer to catastrophe. And as the many happentracks of the universe narrow to a dangerous few, the actions of every sorcerer, man, and living creature will determine whether the great god Starquin lives or dies.
For the first time in remembered history, humans and gnomes find themselves sharing the same Earth happentrack. But King Arthur has larger concerns as he watches the society he rules spiralling toward ultimate destruction. Little does he know that the evil Mogan Le Fay has been working her treacherous magic to split the happentracks wide open – a deadly betrayal that could spell the end of Camelot.
With the ma possible futures swiftly shrinking to one last destiny too awful to contemplate, courageous Fang the gnome joins forces with Arthur and Nyneve to manipulate history in a final confrontation of wills and worlds. The last move is Fang’s, as he unravels the strands of time to keep his clan from the brutal vision of Starquin’s end.
THE CALL OF THE WELL
For uncounted eons, the Well World had regulated and given order to the universe, and throughout the eternity, Nathan Brazil had been the guardian of the Well of Souls, where the universe’s master control lay. Forever wandering and alone, returning to the Well in times of Danger, Brazil had destroyed and re-created the cosmos several times over. But even he wearied of his endless watch, and had enlisted the aid of space pilot and high-tech thief Mavra Chang the last time the universal order required resetting.
But now the universe faced a threat more grave than mere destruction. An unnamed and utterly alien entity had somehow been released from its ancient prison and was bent on the corruption of the Well World itself. If successful, it would cause chaos beyond mortal understanding.
The Well World needed Brazil and Chang. But when it found them, would they once again answer the call? And though Brazil was immortal, could he even fight the force threatening the Well? For the force was not of this universe – and it had plans for Nathan Brazil…
The final chapter of humanity’s future has begun and one man, Nigel Walmsley, has been alive through it all. An ancient scientist from the distant past, Walmsley had been marooned inside an anomaly of time and space. From here he recalls Earth’s desperate struggle against the mechs, a violent artificial intelligence dedicated to total annihilation.
In a strange space-time continuum called the Esty, the last few survivors from humanity’s ravaged planets have taken refuge, readying themselves for a final stand against their ruthless executioners.
Three generations of men stand between the mechs and total oblivion for the human race: Toby Bishop, a young warrior-in-training; Killeen Bishop, Toby’s father and leader of the last remnants of humanity; and Killeen’s own father, long believed dead, but now mysteriously returned to his family.
As the mechs continue to carve their swathe of destruction through the galaxy, these three men hold the sole hope for the survival of the human race.
‘My name is Oonagh, granddaughter of the Countess Oona von Bek.’
While Elric, the last Sorcerer Emperor of Melniboné, hangs crucified above the deck of an enemy ship, his mind quests across worlds for the return of his sorcerous black sword Stormbringer.
In another universe, his daughter, Oona, follows her granddaughter through the multiverse, seeking to keep her from their enemy, Gaynor the Damned, and his allies
‘Oonagh, meanwhile, will require the help of Elric, his counterpart Ulric von Bek, and as many manifestations of the Eternal Champion as she can call upon, for Gaynor’s plan goes far beyond a simple kidnapping. If Oonagh can be forced to lead them to Elric’s albino son, Gaynor will be able to use him to summon the Runestaff. And that mystical artefact, in the hands of Gaynor and the Dark Empire of Granbretan, could threaten the entire multiverse, and the existence of the Cosmic Balance, itself …
A collection of John Sladek’s hilarious SF satires, including:
The Last of the Whaleburgers
Great Mysteries Explained!Red Noise
The Brass Monkey
The Island of Dr Circe
Breakfast with the Murgatroyds
The Next Dwarf
An Explanation for the Disappearance of the Moon
How to Make Major Scientific Discoveries at Home in Your Spare Time
The Kindly Ones
Calling All Gumdrops!
For millennia, humankind and the other intelligent races had studied the bizarre and unfathomable constructs of the legendary beings known as Builders. But for all that study, they were still no closer to figuring out who – or what – the Builders had been, or where they had gone. Then, on the world called Quake, in the midst of the violent planetary upheaval that was Summertide, a small group of humans and aliens witnessed the culmination of all those years of watching and waiting: the planet Quake opened up, and something came out – and it looked as if, at long last, the discovery of the Builders themselves was at hand.
All her life, Darya Lang had dreamed of finding the Builders, whose artifacts she had single-handedly catalogued for the rest of the universe. Troubleshooter and adventurer Hans Rebka had his own dreams of unraveling the mystery of those artifacts. To Louis Nenda and the Cecropian Atvar H’sial, the Builder artifacts represented a once-in-a-lifetime shot at untold wealth. And close behind them came the others: Councilor Julius Graces, who did not trust anyone to make first contact unassisted; the slavesJ’merlia and Kallik, who craved only a reunion with their masters; and the embodied computer E.C. Tally, charged with finding out just what the rest were up to.
The trail that began at Quake led to unexpected Builder artifacts full of traps for the unwary and answers for those who knew how to ask the questions. But the biggest question of all would remain an enigma, while their search unleashed the greatest threat to civilization ever imagined…
For millennia, the alien union called the Weave had been at war with the Amplitur. But only in the handful of centuries since Earth had joined the Weave had the tide of the battle been slowly turning in the Weave’s favour. Then an elite unit, raised from childhood in dedication to the Amplitur Purpose and designed to match perfectly the Humans they were to fight, came of age – and it looked as if at last the Amplitur might prevail against the Weave.
But when one of the elite unit, a warrior called Ranji, was captured by the Weave, a horrible truth was revealed: Ranji was in fact Human, a subject of the Amplitur’s vile genetic manipulations.
The Weave promised to reverse the effects and help Ranji rescue other altered Humans from the clutches of the Amplitur. But neither Ranji nor his new allies could have know that the proposed cure would result in an abomination that could tear the Weave alliance apart – and brand Ranji and his kind as the most despicable creatures in the galaxy…
She called herself Reee and she was the last human being on Earth. This was the one thing she was sure of. Because Earth was not a dead planet, not by a long way. There were all manner of strange plants and bizarre animals, and there were the blue boys who insisted they were human – but she always set fire to them.
There was however Indigo, the all-devouring protoplasmic ocean that was literally gobbling up everything in the world. And there was the enigmatic Emeroo to whom she owed her continued existence. There were also the so-called Martians – humans who had fled to Mars and only came back to Earth to scout for survivors and vent their futile furies on the inhospitable homeworld.
Amon VanRoark heard the prophet speaking in the market place of the decaying city. He called men to the wars, to the fabled Meadows where the armies of Good would meet the forces of Evil in one final Armageddon that would decide the fate of a world already doomed and dying.
VanRoark followed the prophet to the Meadows and there he witnessed the last cataclysmic battle between humanity and the dark powers of Salasar.
In the waning years of the Middle Ages, before Christendom had completely scoured the world of magic, both Faery and Man lived on Europe’s shores. This is the story of those last days: of the halfling children of the Liri king, who were of both realms but chose the one we call the other; of how they schemed and fought for survival, hounded from the Baltic to the ice caves of Greenland to the Mediterranean coast; of how they loved and how they died. It is the epic master piece, the adventure at once erotic, violent and magnificently sad, that Poul Anderson has always wanted to write.