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Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester

"Dazzlement and enchantment are Bester's methods. His stories never stand still a moment."
--Damon Knight, author of Why Do Birds

Alfred Bester took science fiction into hyperdrive, endowing it with a wit, speed, and narrative inventiveness that have inspired two generations of writers. And nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories--two of them previously unpublished--that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time.

Read about the sweet-natured young man whose phenomenal good luck turns out to be disastrous for the rest of humanity. Find out why tourists are flocking to a hellish little town in a post-nuclear Kansas. Meet a warlock who practices on Park Avenue and whose potions comply with the Pure Food and Drug Act. Make a deal with the Devil--but not without calling your agent. Dazzling, effervescent, sexy, and sardonic, Virtual Unrealities is a historic collection from one of science fiction's true pathbreakers.

"Alfred Bester was one of the handful of writers who invented modern science fiction."
--Harry Harrison

Contents:

  • ix - Introduction (Virtual Unrealities) - (1996) - essay by Robert Silverberg
  • 3 - Disappearing Act - (1953) - short story
  • 22 - Oddy and Id - (1950) - short story
  • 38 - Star Light, Star Bright - (1953) - short story
  • 56 - 5,271,009 - (1954) - novelette
  • 91 - Fondly Fahrenheit - (1954) - novelette
  • 112 - Hobson's Choice - (1952) - short story
  • 127 - Of Time and Third Avenue - (1951) - short story
  • 136 - Time Is the Traitor - (1953) - novelette
  • 159 - The Men Who Murdered Mohammed - (1958) - short story
  • 173 - The Pi Man - (1959) - short story
  • 191 - They Don't Make Life Like They Used To - (1963) - novelette
  • 225 - Will You Wait? - (1959) - short story
  • 233 - The Flowered Thundermug - (1964) - novelette
  • 273 - Adam and No Eve - (1941) - short story
  • 287 - And 3½ to Go - short story
  • 292 - Galatea Galante - (1979) - novelette (variant of Galatea Galante, The Perfect Popsy)
  • 334 - The Devil Without Glasses - novelette

The Illustrated Man

Ray Bradbury

He was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voiced murmuring, small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body.

Ray Bradbury brings wonders alive. A peerless American storyteller, his oeuvre has been celebrated for decades--from The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 to Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury --a collection of tales that breathe and move, animated by sharp, intaken breath and flexing muscle. Here are eighteen startling visions of humankind's destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin--visions as keen as the tattooist's needle and as colorful as the inks that indelibly stain the body.

The images, ideas, sounds and scents that abound in this phantasmagoric sideshow are provocative and powerful: the mournful cries of celestial travelers cast out cruelly into a vast, empty space of stars and blackness ... the sight of gray dust settling over a forgotten outpost on a road that leads nowhere ... the pungent odor of Jupiter on a returning father's clothing. Here living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets.

Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth, widely believed to be one of the Grandmaster's premier accomplishments: as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.

Psychoshop

Alfred Bester
Roger Zelazny

Half finished upon Bester's death, and completed by Zelazny, "Psychoshop" envisions a commercial establishment that attracts customers ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to a sorcerer intent on fabricating the Beast of Revelations.

Isle of the Dead

Gregg Press Science Fiction Series: Book 31

Roger Zelazny

Centuries in the future, Francis Sandow is the only man alive who was born as long ago as the 20th century. His body is kept young and in perfect health by advanced scientific methods; he has amassed such a fortune that he can own entire planets; and he has become a god. No, not a god of Earth, but one of the panetheon of the alien Pei'ans: he is Shimbo of Darktree, Shrugger of Thunders. Yet he doesn't believe that his personality has merged with the ancient consciousness of Shimbo, that he really can call down the skies upon his enemies. The time comes, however, when Francis Sandow must use these powers against the most dangerous antagonist in the universe: another Pei'an god -- Shimbo's own enemy, Belion. And Belion has no doubt whatever of his own powers....

The White Dragon

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy: Book 3

Anne McCaffrey

Never had there been as close a bonding as the one that existed betweenthe daring and adventurous young Lord Jaxom and his extraordinary whitedragon, Ruth. Pure white and incredibly agile, Ruth was a dragon of manytalents, though almost everyone on Pern thought he was a runt that wouldnever amount to anything.

But Jaxom knew better, knew he could teach his dragon to fly and todestroy the deadly silver Threads that fell from the sky. Disobeying allrules, Jaxom and Ruth trained in secret. Their illicit flights seemedbut a minor disobedience -- until they found themselves in the path ofdanger and in a position to prevent the biggest disaster of all!

Dreamsnake

Snake

Vonda N. McIntyre

This is the haunting story of an extraordinary woman and her dangerous quest to reclaim her healing powers. Revered healer Snake must undertake a journey in search of the dreamsnake, whose bite eases the fear and pain of death.

The Practice Effect

David Brin

Dennis Nuel is a physicist who, during his research, develops a machine that allows him to explore alternate realities, each of which sport some very strange scientific properties.

Sirius: A Fantasy Of Love And Discord

Olaf Stapledon

Sirius is the titular character and a 1944 science fiction novel by the British philosopher and author Olaf Stapledon.

Scientist Thomas Trelone creates a super-intelligent dog, named Sirius. He is the only dog to have attained a humanlike intelligence. Other dogs of the same breed Trelone created, have an intermediate intelligence (they are above the dog's average intelligence, but they cannot master human language and complex analytic thinking as Sirius does. A sense of existential questioning suffuses the book, as the author delves into every aspect of Sirius's psyche. The novel deals with a lot of human issues through Sirius and his experiences, his unusual nature, his ideas and his relationships with humans, showing a very gloomy, intelligent, obscure, sad, and complex tale, whose significance and depth cannot be fully understood, and is often misinterpreted.

Zodiac

Neal Stephenson

Sangamon Taylor's a New Age Sam Spade who sports a wet suit instead of a trench coat and prefers Jolt from the can to Scotch on the rocks. He knows about chemical sludge the way he knows about evil -- all too intimately. And the toxic trail he follows leads to some high and foul places. Before long Taylor's house is bombed, his every move followed, he's adopted by reservation Indians, moves onto the FBI's most wanted list, makes up with his girlfriend, and plays a starring role in the near-assassination of a presidential candidate.

Closing the case with the aid of his burnout roomate, his tofu-eating comrades, three major networks, and a range of unconventional weaponry, Sangamon Taylor pulls off the most startling caper in Boston Harbor since the Tea Party. As he navigates this ecological thriller with hardboiled wit and the biggest outboard motor he can get his hands on, Taylor reveals himself as one of the last of the white-hatted good guys in a very toxic world.

Mostly Harmless

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Book 5

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams is back with the amazing, logic-defying, but-why-stop-now fifth novel in the Hitchhiker Trilogy. Here is the epic story of Random, who sets out on a transgalactic quest to find the planet of her ancestors.

The Dream Master

Gregg Press Science Fiction Series: Book 48

Roger Zelazny

Charles Render is a shaper, one of a small number of psychotherapists qualified, by his granite will and ultra-stability, to use the extraordinary device that enables him to to participate in, and control, his patients' dreams. But this is a dangerous therapy for the therapist and only his armour-plated integrity protects Render from too deep an involvement in the mental worlds of the damaged people he seeks to help. But then, Eileen Shallot, another therapist who is blind, asks him to help her 'see' by transferring from his mind to hers a world of colour and light. Render agrees but suddenly finds himself obsessed with Eileen and drawn into fantasies which, she controls.

City of Illusions

Hainish Cycle: Book 3

Ursula K. Le Guin

Falk was a fully grown man, alone in the dense forest, with no trail to show where he had come from and no memory to tell who - or what - he was.

The forest people took him in and raised him almost as a child, teaching him to speak, training him in forest lore, giving him all the knowledge they had.

But they could not solve the riddle of his past, and finally he had to set out on a perilous quest to Es Toch, the City of the Shing, the Liars of Earth, the Enemy of Mankind.

There he would find his true self - and a universe of danger....

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern

Pern: Book 1

Anne McCaffrey

An air of pleasant anticipation hung so thickly over the Halls, Holds, and Weyrs of Pern that it had affected even the businesslike ways of Moreta, the Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr. Her dragon, Queen Orlith, would soon clutch; spring had made a glorious debut; the Gather at Ruatha Hold was extremely merry; and Moreta was enjoying the attentions of Alessan, the new Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold.

With only eight Turns remaining before the deadly Thread would cease to Fall, all seemed well on Pern.

Then, without warning, a runnerbeast fell ill. Soon myriads of holders, craftsmen, and dragonriders were dying; and the mysterious ailment had spread to all but the most inaccessible holds. Pern was in mortal danger. For, if dragonriders did not rise to char Thread, the parasite would devour any and all organic life it encountered.

The future of the planet rested in the hands of Moreta and the other dedicated, selfless Pern leaders. But of all their problems, the most difficult to overcome was time...

A Wind in the Door

Time Quintet: Book 2

Madeleine L’Engle

It is November. When Meg comes home from school, Charles Wallace tells her he saw dragons in the twin's vegetable garden. That night Meg, Calvin and C.W. go to the vegetable garden to meet the Teacher (Blajeny) who explains that what they are seeing isn't a dragon at all, but a cherubim named Proginoskes. It turns out that C.W. is ill and that Blajeny and Proginoskes are there to make him well – by making him well, they will keep the balance of the universe in check and save it from the evil Echthros.

Meg, Calvin and Mr. Jenkins (grade school principal) must travel inside C.W. to have this battle and save Charles' life as well as the balance of the universe.

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land

Connie Willis

Jim is in New York City at Christmastime shopping a book based on his blog--Gone for Good-- premised on the fact that "being nostalgic for things that have disappeared is ridiculous." Progress decides for people what they need and what's obsolete. It's that simple. Of course, not everyone agrees. After Jim bombs a contentious interview with a radio host who defends the sacred technology of the printed, tangible book, he gets caught in a rainstorm only to find himself with no place to take refuge other than a quaint, old-fashioned bookshop.

Ozymandias Books is not just any store. Jim wanders intrigued through stacks of tomes he doesn't quite recognize the titles of, none with prices. Here he discovers a mysteriously pristine, seemingly endless wonderland of books--where even he gets nostalgic for his childhood favorite. And, yes, the overwhelmed and busy clerk showing him around says they have a copy. But it's only after Jim leaves that he understands the true nature of Ozymandias and how tragic it is that some things may be gone forever...

This novella originally appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, November-December 2017. It was published in chapbook edition in 2018.

Dream Park

Dream Park: Book 1

Larry Niven
Steven Barnes

They were all playing games.... but one of them was playing for keeps.

Chet Henderson was playing at revenge, an to boost his flagging reputation as a Lore-master.

Richard Lopez was playing to prove this his earlier successes as a Gamemaster were no fluke.

Ollie and Gwen and Mary-em and Tony were playing because it made them feel alive.

Alex Griffin was playing to protect Dream Park's darkest secret.

In Dream Park, everyone plays. But if some win, some have to lose. And losing can be a matter of life or death.

Job: A Comedy of Justice

Robert A. Heinlein

After he firewalked in Polynesia, the world wasn't the same for Alexander Hergensheimer, now called Alec Graham. As natural accidents occurred without cease, Alex knew Armageddon and the Day of Judgement were near. Somehow he had to bring his beloved heathen, Margrethe, to a state of grace, and, while he was at it, save the rest of the world....

Thorns

Robert Silverberg

Duncan Chalk's six-hundred-pound frame is nearly as large as his media empire. Beneath the depths of his immense rolls of flab, the fabulously wealthy mogul wields the editorial power to deliver his programming across the solar system to billions of viewers. His newest real-life romance drama is between a starman who survived painful surgical experimentation while in alien captivity, and an emotionally scarred 17-year-old virgin. When the arranged relationship takes off on a whirlwind tour of the antarctic and out to the moons of Saturn, the viewers are swept up in the romance, but Chalk's true motives are revealed when the doomed relationship begins to unravel... and Chalk can feed on the emotional anguish of the two lost souls.

Cards of Grief

Jane Yolen

This is the story of the Anthropologists Guild who travel across galaxies in ships and study other planets' peoples.