Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Big Book of Science Fiction

As this book has been chosen as a "Group Read" at the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction FaceBook Group, I'll be adding synopses here as the book progresses.

Amazing Stories, June 1926

“The Star” (1897, H.G. Wells)

A giant, glowing object approaches the solar system and collides with Neptune. Humanity is fascinated by the spectacle but one mathematician calculates that it will cause the end of the world. The object seems to be headed only for Jupiter, but Jupiter’s gravity well causes it to change trajectory towards Earth. It nearly misses the Earth, but its approach causes massive tidal waves and earthquakes. Oblivious to the great loss of life on Earth, aliens on Mars observe the episode and remark that the Earth has been mostly spared, since the continents have not changed much in their shape.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

"Sultana's Dream" (1905, Rokheya Shekhawat Hossain)

Sultana is an Indian woman who lives in a society where men dominate and all women are veiled and kept in seclusion, with their only responsibilities being knitting and cooking. One night, Sultana has a dream in which she is transported to "Ladyland", a utopian city where women rule and men are instead kept in seclusion. At one point in the past, female scientists had developed advanced technology allowing them to manipulate solar energy and control the weather, and using this had defeated an invading army while the men had been either killed in battle or hid in barricades. After this conflict, the women had maintained control and now live in a technological paradise, complete with anti-gravity air-cars. Eventually Sultana awakens from her dream. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

(Tibor Csernus, "Le Triomphe de la mécanique")
"The Triumph of Mechanics" (1907, Karl Hans Strobl)

A company run by two men, Stricker and Vorderteil, produces amazing mechanical toys invented by a man named Hopkins. One day, Hopkins asks for a raise, but is refused. He quits, intending to go into business for himself. However, Stricker and Vorderteil convince the Mayor to reject all of Hopkins' construction requests. Hopkins confronts the Mayor and threatens to unleash a billion mechanical rabbits on the town. The Mayor scoffs at the imagery, but soon the city is inundated with indestructible white rabbits, which appear from every corner and can even reproduce asexually. Eventually, Hopkins demands that he be allowed to build his new factory or he will unleash rabbits which eat. He holds up a rabbit which begins eating some vegetation. Fearful of the consequences, the Mayor relents and approves Hopkins' application. Later, it is revealed that the rabbit Hopkins had used to make his final threat was actually a live rabbit, and that his threat was essentially a bluff.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The New Overworld”, from the collection Astrale Novelletten (1911, Paul Scheerbart)

Two species live on the side of Venus facing the Sun: the turtle-like Unhurried (who prefer contemplation) and the many-legged Dynamic Ones (who enjoy an active lifestyle dominated by walking). Due to the lack of room on the surface of Venus, the Dynamic Ones feel penned in by the unmoving Unhurried. Knax, an inventive member of the Dynamic Ones, develops hot air-driven aerial balloon-cities on which the Dynamic Ones can walk on. However, the balloon-cities soon begin to obscure the sunlight, causing the Unhurried to complain about the overabundance of shade. Eventually, the balloon-cites are extended high up into the atmosphere to allow for more sunlight to reach Venus' surface.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Elements of Pataphysics”, from Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911, Alfred Jarry)

  1. Definition: Pataphysics is defined as "the science of imaginary solutions" (i.e., the study of supernatural phenomenon based on observable facts and the use of "symbolic language" to describe them). The text then goes on to ridicule the traditional approach to science in a comically-naive way. 
  2. Faustroll Smaller Than Faustroll: Dr. Faustroll shrinks himself (by force of will) to the size of a water droplet in order to examine its unique properties up close.
  3. Ethernity: Faustroll sends a telepathic message to his friend Kelvin explaining that his astral body is in a region beyond time and space, and that "Eternity appears to (him) in the shape of unmoving ether". 
  4. Pataphysics and Catachemy: Man and God are described through three-sided shapes.
  5. Concerning the Surface of God: Based on the assumption that God is an equilateral triangle, the author comes to the conclusion that "GOD IS THE TANGENTIAL POINT BETWEEN ZERO AND INFINITY".

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Mechanopolis” (1913, Miguel de Unamuno)

Lost in the desert, the speaker comes across a mysterious train which quickly transports him to a city named Mechanopolis. Mechanopolis is seemingly a technological utopia, with every imagined want catered to through automation. However, it is apparently no longer populated (by people). The speaker finds a newspaper reporting on his own arrival in Mechanopolis, predicting that the visitor will soon have a mental breakdown. Sure enough, the speaker goes mad with loneliness and begins to suspect that the machines themselves have souls. After he throws himself in front of a train, he wakes up in the desert and later finds a Bedouin encampment. Overjoyed at being reunited with fellow humans, he now feels trepidation whenever he finds himself amidst machines, and cultivates a fear of "progress".

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

 “The Doom of Principal City” (1918, Yefim Zozulya)

Airborne invaders drop flowers into the streets of Principal City and make loud celebratory music. No troops enter the city, but at night many advertisements are illuminated in the sky above. A small detachment of citizens try to fight the enemy forces outside the city but are captured and "civilized". An enemy envoy enters the city and informs the President of Principal City that the conquerors plan to build an "upper city" above Principal City, and to keep the lower city preserved for its cultural value. Unfortunately, the citizens of Principal City will not be allowed in the Upper City, and will have to live under artificial lighting. When the citizens try to rebel, the city is targeted by giant amplifiers emitting loud, inhuman laughter. As the weeks pass, the citizens become indifferent, self-destructive and depressed. Although professing love and hope for the citizens of Principal City, the conquerors are nonetheless very heavy-handed towards rebellious factions. After the Upper City is eventually built, a tense peace is maintained. However, one day the citizens of Principal City mount a final rebellion and begin setting off explosives all over the lower city. Both Upper and Principal Cities are destroyed, but the surviving inhabitants of Principal City rejoice in the return of sunlight to their streets. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The Comet” from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920, W. E. B. Du Bois)

A black man named Jim Davis is sent to the basement of his New York City office to retrieve some old records. When he emerges, he discovers that fumes from a passing comet have caused death to come to everyone in sight. As he searches through the city he only finds one other living being: a wealthy white woman named Julia, who had spent the night of the comet's passing working in a darkroom developing photos. Although at first taken aback by the color of Jim's skin, Julia gradually overcomes her class-consciousness and begins to accept a future with Jim as the new Adam and Eve of the world. However, they are eventually found by other survivors, who inform them that only those in New York had been affected by the comet's passing. Julia returns to her grateful father (who also hands Jim a fistful of money). Jim is relieved to reunite with his wife, another survivor (although their child has died).

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Amazing Stories, June 1927, Frank R. Paul
“The Fate of the Poseidonia” (1927, Clare Winger Harris)

In the year 1994, a man named George Gregory attends a lecture on Mars where he is startled by the strange bearing (and appearance) of another attendee named Martell, who expresses concern for the vanishing seas on Mars. Weeks later, Martell has stolen away Gregory's girlfriend, Margaret. Jealous and suspicious, Gregory spies on Martell's apartment and discovers a strange cube-like device (a two-way video receiver) connecting the operator to various locales occupied by odd-looking humanoids. At one point, he tunes into a scene showing the launch of a fleet of spherical spaceships from an alien world (presumably Mars). Unfortunately, before Gregory can expose Martell as a "Martian spy", Martell has Gregory put in an insane asylum. There, Gregory learns that an ocean liner named the Poseidonia has gone missing just after reporting on a fleet of spherical spaceships hovering above the ocean. Even worse, the world's sea-level has dropped. Eventually, Gregory receives a package containing Martell's communication device, showing a visual feed from a verdant Mars now replenished by water stolen from Earth (he also sees the Poseidonia held hostage by a gigantic Martian gyroscope). Finally, he connects with Margaret who has been kidnapped and taken to Mars by Martell, but reassures Gregory that Mars now has enough water and will no longer need to steal from Earth. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Weird Tales, Feb 1929
“The Star Stealers” (1929/1965, Edmond Hamilton)

  1. A Federation of Stars battle-cruiser commanded by the human Ran Rarak lands on Neptune for a briefing. There, he and his crew are given a new mission: Lead a group of Earth ships to investigate the appearance of a massive "dark star" approaching from inter-galactic space, heading on a possibly-disastrous course towards Earth.  
  2. After navigating through a maelstrom of deadly "ether currents", the Earth expeditionary force soon arrives at the dark star discovers it to be a luminescent planet, hundreds of times larger than the Sun. Shortly after spotting pyramidal cities on the surface of the glowing world, the Earth fleet is attacked by black cones ("etheric bombs"). Ran Rarak's battle-cruiser manages to destroy a few of the explosive cones with decoherence rays, but is eventually shot down. They appear to be the only surviving ship of the expedition.
  3. On the planet surface, Ran Rarak leads a few of his crew towards a nearby city where they see black, cone-shaped creatures on tentacles moving about towering pyramids. When a loud horn signals a "sleep cycle" for the native populace, Ran Rarak's force explores the city and discovers a pit filled with glowing orbs. However, they are soon spotted and, after a brief battle, captured by the cone creatures.
  4. Several weeks go by, in which the Earth-men learn that the tentacle creatures had once lived on a planet orbiting the dark star, but as the star cooled, the creatures settled on the star itself. Now with the dark star nearly burned out, the creatures are using gravity waves (directed from the orb-pit) to alter the course of their careening star-world so that it will soon be able to catch Earth's Sun into it's orbit, and use it as an energy source. The humans decide to escape their prison before the Sun is stolen from the galaxy.
  5. While hanging from a prison window by a chain, the humans are spotted by one of the creatures from above. Ran Rarak climbs back up the chain and throws the tentacled Star Stealer down to its death.

    While racing back to their ship, the humans are nearly caught by pursuing Star Stealers but Ran Rarak's ship comes out to meet them. After boarding, Ran Rarak is informed that the ship's weapons systems are offline and therefore cannot blast the gravity condensor in the middle of the city. Even worse, Star Stealer etheric bombs begin converging on the ship. Fortunately, the Federation Fleet arrives and engages the Star Stealers in battle. With only minutes to spare, Ran Rarak uses his own ship as a battering ram to destroy the control antenna for the gravity condensor, sending the dark star careening away from Earth's Sun.
  6. Ran Rarak eventually learns that one of the ships from his exploratory expedition had earlier managed to escape the Star Stealers' etheric bombs and return to the Solar System. It had then summoned help from the Federation Fleet, leading to their sudden appearance at the critical moment. After many celebrations, Ran Rarak and his crew return to space to rejoin the fleet of the Federation of Stars.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Wonder Stories, April 1931
“The Conquest of Gola” (1931, Leslie F. Stone)

The planet Gola (Venus) is ruled by a race in which the female of the species dominates over the males. Over time they have developed advanced technology and mental abilities. When visitors from Detaxal (Earth) arrive, the Golans patronize the "barbarians", but after they tire of their antics they order them to return home. However, the Detaxalans state that they intend to force Gola to join their "Federation" and engage in trade and tourism with the other planets of their interplanetary alliance. When the Golans mock the Detaxalans' demands, the Detaxalans return to their ship and start bombing Golan cities. Using their advanced technology (force fields, matter transporters, paralyzing tractor beams, etc.) the Golans destroy the Detaxalan ships and take captives. However, a short while later a second fleet of ships from Detaxal arrives and manages to inflame a rebellion amongst the Golan males. After a brief setback, the Golans overpower their would-be conquerors with their mind-control abilities and destroy them and their ships. Eventually, Detaxal stops sending ships to Gola. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Wonder Stories, July 1934
“A Martian Odyssey” (1934, Stanley G. Weinbaum)

Jarvis, a member of a Martian exploration team, becomes stranded when his rocket crash lands far from his base. While heading back on foot, he rescues an ostrich-like alien from a black, tentacled creature and earns its trust. After naming his new friend “Tweel”, Tweel escorts Jarvis on his days-long odyssey home. On the way they encounter various Martian life-forms, including animated grasslands, silicon-based creatures who spend their lives building small pyramids, and a predatory creature which uses mental visions to lure its victims (Tweel’s original attacker). They later encounter a race of barrel-shaped creatures who gather surface detritus and sacrifice it to their giant underground grinding wheel. Near the grinding wheel is a strange crystal which apparently heals through some kind of radiation. The barrel creatures chase Jarvis and Tweel to the surface and are about to kill them when they are saved by the sudden arrival of an Earth ship. Tweel returns to his own people, while Jarvis reveals that he now possesses the healing crystal worshiped by the barrel creatures. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1936
“The Last Poet and the Robots” (or "Rhythm of the Spheres", from Chapter 11 of the Cosmos group serial, 1934, A. Merritt)

In the 30th century, several utopian-minded scientists from around the world pool their knowledge in order to create an underground wonderland in which they can pursue science and art unhindered by the rest of mankind. One day, a great disturbance occurs on the moon (in the original Cosmos serial this is from an attack by the "Wrongness of Space", but in the adapted stand-alone story the cause is attributed to a "space warper ray" invented by the Ruler of Robots). The leader of the scientist/artists, Narodny, contacts an Earth spacecraft and learns that robots have taken over the surface of the Earth (this part is omitted from the stand-alone version). After capturing a few robots, Narodny creates a device which will cause resonating vibrations in the robots and destroy them en masse. After the robots are all destroyed by this method, Narodny and his colleagues retreat back to their underground caverns, leaving mankind to pick up the pieces.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Thrilling Wonder Stories, Oct 1936
“The Microscopic Giants” (1936, Paul Ernst)

A copper mining operation reaches a depth of 40,000 feet underground, where mysterious, small footprints begin appearing. One of the workers reports seeing small beings inside the translucent walls. Frayter, the manager, and his foreman Belmont go down into the mine to investigate and are shocked when they see three 18-inch tall men approaching them from inside the depths of the translucent rock. Frayter reasons that these beings must be an evolutionary offshoot of humanity which had developed underground and eventually adapted their bodies to the extent that their atomic structure allows them to pass through solid matter found nearer the surface. The beings soon attack the two men with strange weapons, but due to the "low pressure" of the region, the beings are eventually forced to return back to the much lower depths in which they can exist more comfortably. Injured in the attack, Frayter blows up the mine and hopes the "microscopic giants" do not decide to invade the surface world anytime soon.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940, Jorge Luis Borges)

When the narrator's friend paraphrases an epigram about mirrors and copulation, a question about the quote's source leads to a hunt for information about the little-known city of Uqbar. Two years later, the narrator discovers a book about the mythical planet Tlön (also cited in some articles about Uqbar's literary mythology), possibly written by "Orbis Tertius". This world exists as a kind of metaphysical reality. A postscript describes the authorship of the book (actually an encyclopedia volume) by a cult (presumably Orbis Tertius), and notes that some aspects of this fictional reality have begun to enter the narrator's own world. The popularity of books about Tlön also begin to cause the philosophy of Tlön to take hold in the real world.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Astounding Science Fiction, Nov 1944
“Desertion” (1944, Clifford D. Simak)

On Jupiter, a bio-dome administrator named Fowler has men undergo a "conversion" process whereby they are remolded into Jupiter's native lifeform, the Lopers. Only in this fashion can mankind hope to eventually colonize Jupiter. Unfortunately, five men who have undergone the conversion and entered the Jovian atmosphere (as Lopers) have never returned. Uncomfortable with sending more men to their apparent doom, Fowler decides to undertake the mission himself, accompanied by his dog Towser. Once reconstituted as a Loper and outside in the Jovian atmosphere, Fowler feels a sense of health, pleasure and heightened intelligence. Additionally, Towser can speak to him telepathically. Unwilling to return to the protective dome and to be remade back into a man (and his pet), the two abandon the dome and go off in order to seek adventure in this new "paradise". 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The Martian” (1949/51, Ray Bradbury)


“Baby HP” (1952, Juan José Arreola)

“Surface Tension” (1952, James Blish)

“Beyond Lies the Wub” (1952, Philip K. Dick)

“The Snowball Effect” (1952, Katherine MacLean)

“Prott” (1953, Margaret St. Clair)

“The Liberation of Earth” (1953, William Tenn)

“Let Me Live in a House” (1954, Chad Oliver)

Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955
“The Star” (1955, Arthur C. Clarke)

A Jesuit priest joins an expedition to investigate a distant supernova which has destroyed an advanced civilization. His faith is shaken when he discovers that the date of the supernova reveals that it was in fact the Star of Bethlehem marking Christ’s birth.

“Grandpa” (1955, James H. Schmitz)

Galaxy Magazine, October 1955
“The Game of Rat and Dragon” (1955, Cordwainer Smith)

  • The Table: Because interstellar space holds deadly beings called "Dragons", spacecraft require telepaths ("Pinlighters") who can detect these creatures before they attack. However, since the Dragons are extremely fast, the human Pinlighters need Partners (cats who communicate telepathically through "Pinsets") who have much faster reflexes. To the Partners, the Dragons are "Rats".
  • The Shuffle: The four members of a Pinlighter team roll dice to see which cat they are paired with. A man named Underhill is pleased to be paired with an agreeable Persian cat named Lady May.
  • The Deal: After sending Lady May out in a drone capsule, Underhill dons his Pinset headset, which enables him to perceive millions of miles of space in his mind and to communicate with Lady May.
  • The Play: While skipping through space ("planoforming"), the ship encounters Dragons/Rats. When the human Pinlighters sense the Dragons, they send the drones holding their cat partners ahead, who trigger photonuclear bombs to disperse the creatures. In one battle, Underhill is slightly wounded by one of the creatures, but Lady May destroys it.
  • The Score: Recovering in a hospital after his shift in space, Underhill senses that the staff do not understand his relationship with his Partner.

 “The Last Question” (1956, Isaac Asimov)

“Stranger Station” (1956, Damon Knight)

“Sector General” (1957, James White)

“The Visitors” (1958, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)

“Pelt” (1958, Carol Emshwiller)

“The Monster” (1958/65, Gérard Klein)

“The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959, Theodore Sturgeon)

“The Waves” (1959,  Silvina Ocampo)

“Plenitude” (1959, Will Mohler)

“The Voices of Time” (1960, J. G. Ballard)

“The Astronaut” (1960, Valentina Zhuravlyova)

“The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink” (1962, Adolfo Bioy Casares)

“2 B R 0 2 B” (1962, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

“A Modest Genius” (1963, Vadim Shefner)

“Day of Wrath” (1965, Sever Gansovsky)

“The Hands” (1965, John Baxter)

“Darkness” (1972, André Carneiro)

Underwood Books, 1997, Rick Berry
“Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman” (1965, Harlan Ellison)

In the future, tardiness (or any kind of loitering) has been deemed the ultimate bane of society. To combat this problem, all wasted time is measured and automatically deducted from a person’s allotted lifespan by the “Ticktockman” (Master Timekeeer). When a person has wasted enough time amounting to the rest of his/her allotted lifespan, the Ticktockman deactivates that person’s implanted cardioplate, which causes instant death. A man named Everett rebels against this harsh, regulated existence and, disguised in a Harlequin outfit, roams around society causing mischief. In one instance, he floods the people-mover belts with jelly beans, causing delays all throughout the system. Eventually Everett is exposed by his wife Alice (who is tired of his nonconformist antics) and is captured by the Ticktockman. Although Everett refuses to repent, the Ticktockman decides not to execute him. Instead the Harlequin is brainwashed so that he "self-criticizes" himself publicly. However, in the end, the Ticktockman himself is then accused of having been late, although he vehemently denies it. 

“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966, R. A. Lafferty)

“Day Million” (1966, Frederik Pohl)

“Student Body” (1953, F. L. Wallace)

“Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967/70, Samuel R. Delany)

“The Hall of Machines” (1968, Langdon Jones)

“Soft Clocks” (1968/89, Yoshio Aramaki)

“No Cracks or Sagging” (1970, David R. Bunch)

“New Kings Are Not for Laughing” (1971, David R. Bunch)

“The Flesh Man from Far Wide” (1959, David R. Bunch)

“Let Us Save the Universe (An Open Letter from Ijon Tichy)” (1964, Stanisław Lem)

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (1971, Ursula K. Le Guin)

“Good News from the Vatican” (1971, Robert Silverberg)

“When It Changed” (1972, Joanna Russ)

“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side” (1972, James Tiptree, Jr.)

“Where Two Paths Cross” (1973, Dmitri Bilenkin)

“Standing Woman” (1974, Yasutaka Tsutsui)

“The IWM 1000” (1975, Alicia Yánez Cossío)

“The House of Compassionate Sharers” (1977, Michael Bishop)

“Sporting with the Chid” (1979, Barrington J. Bayley)

“Sandkings” (1979, George R. R. Martin)

“Wives” (1979, Lisa Tuttle)

“The Snake Who Had Read Chomsky” (1981, Josephine Saxton)

“Reiko's Universe Box” (2007, Kajio Shinji)

“Swarm” (1982, Bruce Sterling)

“Mondocane” (1983, Jacques Barbéri)

“Blood Music” (1983, Greg Bear)

“Bloodchild” (1984, Octavia E. Butler )

“Variation on a Man” (1984, Pat Cadigan)

“Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead” (1984, Sharon N. Farber, as S. N. Dyer)

“New Rose Hotel” (1984, William Gibson)

“Pots” (1985, C. J. Cherryh)

“Snow” (1985, John Crowley)

“The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” (1985, Karen Joy Fowler)

“The Unmistakable Smell of Wood Violets” (1991, Angélica Gorodischer)

“The Owl of Bear Island” (1986, Jon Bing)

“Readers of the Lost Art” (1996, Elisabeth Vonarburg)

“A Gift from the Culture” (1987, Iain M. Banks)

“Paranamanco” (1988,  Jean-Claude Dunyach)

“Crying in the Rain” (1987, Tanith Lee)

“The Frozen Cardinal” (1987, Michael Moorcock)

“Rachel in Love” (1987, Pat Murphy)

“Sharing Air” (1984, Manjula Padmanabhan)

“Schwarzschild Radius” (1987, Connie Willis)

“All the Hues of Hell” (1987, Gene Wolfe)

“Vacuum States” (1988, Geoffrey A. Landis)

“Two Small Birds” (1998, Han Song)

“Burning Sky” (1989, Rachel Pollack)

“Before I Wake” (1989, Kim Stanley Robinson)

“Death Is Static Death Is Movement” (from Red Spider White Web) (1990, Misha Nogha)

“The Brains of Rats” (1986, Michael Blumlein)

“Gorgonoids” (from Mathematical Creatures or Shared Dreams) (1992, Leena Krohn)

“Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ” (1992, Kojo Laing)

“The Universe of Things” (1993, Gwyneth Jones)

“The Remoras” (1994, Robert Reed)

“The Ghost Standard” (1994, William Tenn)

“Remnants of the Virago Crypto-System” (1995, Geoffrey Maloney)

“How Alex Became a Machine” (1997, Stepan Chapman)

“The Poetry Cloud” (2003, Cixin Liu)

“Story of Your Life” (1998, Ted Chiang)

“Craphound” (1998, Cory Doctorow)

“The Slynx” (excerpt) (2007, Tatyana Tolstaya)

“Baby Doll” (2002-2007, Johanna Sinisalo)