One star-chained evening in a Manhattan bathroom, Carl Schirmer spontaneously combusts! His body transforms into light, mysteriously snatched from his banal life by an alien intelligence 130 billion years in the future. There, all spacetime is collapsing into a cosmic black hole, the Big Crunch – and a bold, cosmic destiny awaits Carl. Rebuilt from the remnants of his light by extraterrestrials for a cryptic purpose, he awakens in time’s last world, the strangest of all – the Werld.
At the edge of infinity, Carl discovers the Foke, nomadic humans who travel among the floating islands of the Werld. The Foke teach him how to live – and love – at the end of time, and he loses his heart to his plucky guide, the beautiful Evoë. Their life together in this blissful kingdom that knows no aging or disease brings them to rapture – until Evoë falls prey to the zotl, a spidery intelligence who hunt the Foke and eat the chemical by-products of their pain. In order to save his beloved from a gruesome death, Carl must return to Earth – 130 billion years earlier – where he is shocked to discover that the Earth he’s come back to is not the one he left.
Can he meet the harsh demands of his task before the zotl find him and begin ravishing the Earth?
Author’s Note: The volumes of this series can each be read independently of the others. The feature that unifies them is their individual observations of science fiction’s sub-genre: “space opera,” which the editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer define as “colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”
“If it pleased Ruethen of the Long Hand to give a feast and ball at the Crystal Moon for his enemies. He knew they must come. Pride of race had slipped from Terra, while the need to appear well-bred and sophisticated had waxed correspondingly. The fact that spaceships prowled and fought, fifty light-years beyond Antares, made it all the more impossible a gaucherie to refuse an invitation from the Mersian representative. Besides, one could feel delightfully wicked and ever so delicately in danger.”
It is the common fate of empires to grow old and jaded: Rome, Byzantium, Britain, America, and so on to the Empire of Terra itself, each has near the end succumbed to the same weary “sophistication” that allows a warlord of Merseia to make a mock of a race whose star-conquering ancestors found the Merseians a race of pre-technic barbarians huddled in stone piles – and saved them from extinction. Flandry himself has come to understand that there is no more point to all his victories than that a few trillion of his fellow creatures may live out their lives before the coming of the Long Night of galactic barbarism. That he will not have shortened that coming Dark Age one bit – only postponed it. That the barbarians always win in the end, and are always followed by a new round of civilisation.
Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon – better known to the world as science fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr – produced just two novels, in a glittering but tragically short career. Gollancz is delighted to present them together in this omnibus edition:
UP THE WALLS OF THE WORLD
A secret US navy research project is founded to investigate the existence of paranormal powers, bringing together a variety of men and women who have shown indications of telepathic ability. As a result of the experiment they make mental contact with the Tyrenni, strange alien beings resembling winged squids who dwell in the upper atmosphere of their tempestuous world.
The aliens’ world, Tyree, is being threatened by a huge being, the Destroyer, which is moving inexorably towards them, obliterating whole solar systems in its path. When the Tyrenni realise that it threatens to exterminate life on Tyree, they are forced into the decision – contrary to all their moral beliefs – to take over the bodies of their human contacts in order to preserve their race.
BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR
Sixteen humans have come together on Damien, a distant world where once, dreams were stolen and atrocities took place. They have gathered to view the last rising of a manmade nova, the testament to a war none can forget.
Soon, time will warp and masks will fall. Soon, violence will erupt anew – along with treachery, horror, murder, release and love.
Soon, some will find justice . . . and others, judgement. Soon.
Now, sixteen humans have gathered – to await the light of the Murdered Star.
In a distant future, on an Earth populated by a scant few hundred thousand humans, the Atkins’s Thomas performs without question the duties for which he was genetically bred. Called “Soldier” by one and all, he is a man of honor and ability, responsible for keeping the peace, for maintaining the status quo . . . and, most important, for guarding the great Book House on the hill – a vast repository of Last Culture knowledge presided over by Libary, Soldier’s mentor, the most senior of the mystic Celibate scholars.
Such is Thomas’s life in the serene, semi-primitive world without nations and cities and governments – until the night the starship comes home. Having fled a dangerously overcrowded Earth years before the Collapse and the Twilight that followed, for seven centuries the men and women of the space-going vessel Search have been combing the galaxy for inhabitable planets – their aging processes dramatically slowed by the relative magic of light speed travel and cryogenic sleep. And now, lonely and frustrated, the weary voyagers have returned to a homeworld unrecognizably altered by the relentless tides of time – a world that does not want them back.
A bitter welcome awaits the Searchers, as old Libary gathers Earth’s Ordinands and Elders together to tap the terrifying power of the collective unconscious – in preparation of the Carnival night when they will sweep the helpless intruders back to their lonely sky in the name of Holy Science. And it is Soldier who stands in the middle, silent and alone – bound by duty to evict the homesick star-travelers . . . yet cursed by a preordained genetic destiny that has decreed their eviction will mean Soldier’s death.
This book contains four striking novellas, and the author’s own philosophy of fiction writing expressed in her speech as a guest of honour at the 38th World Science Fiction Convention.
“The Winter Beach” turns what might be a spy story into suspense of a far different order.
“Julian” begins when its youthful hero trains his telescope on nearby earth rather than the stars and sees a woman who rules the rest of his life.
“With Thimbles, with Forks and Hope” seems to be the dramatic story of a holiday fishing trip, but once on the ocean we are gripped by a different reality.
“Moongate”, set in the mountains of the Northwest, takes its two men and one woman through many dimensions in time and space.
“The Uncertain Edge of Reality” casts a new light on Kate Wilhelm’s many books and short stories. “This is my subject matter when I write,” she says. “I am asking, What actually do we mean by reality, and are we stuck with the one we have? This is what I mean by reality fiction, and usually it is also called science fiction…We are more than simple animals using sophisticated tools in our search for food, security and mates. We are something new on the earth…We can change reality.”
Kate Wilhelm’s writing always has meaning on many levels. Listen, Listen provides a feasts for fans and new readers alike.
“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!