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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nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories--two of them previously unpublished--that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time.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

City of Blades

The Divine Cities: Book 2

Robert Jackson Bennett

A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.

Now, the city's god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.

So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh -- foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister -- has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.

At least, it makes the perfect cover story.

The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world -- or destroy it.

The trouble is that this old soldier isn't sure she's still got what it takes to be the hero.

Seven Surrenders

Terra Ignota: Book 2

Ada Palmer

In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war... a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end. For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed location, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds.

And yet the balance is beginning to give way. Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.

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.

Isle of the Dead

Gregg Press Science Fiction Series: Book 30

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!

The Will to Battle

Terra Ignota: Book 3

Ada Palmer

"For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known..."

-- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan XIII.

The world of Terra Ignota has been upended. War is inevitable. But after three centuries of peace, how does a war begin? With every world ruler friends with every other, how do the nations pick sides? How can war begin when every nation already has surrendered? Genius convict Mycroft Canner has completed the history started in Too Like the Lightning and concluded in Seven Surrenders. Now he begins his chronicle of the guideless search for an order to the conflict as the world slouches toward war, while a living myth contends with a celebrity assassin, a corrupt priestess and a captive god to shape the conflict and the world to come.

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.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land is the epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers - telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others - and complete innocence regarding the mores of man.

After his tutelage under a surrogate-father figure, Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.

Heinlein won his third Hugo award for this novel, sometimes called Heinlein's earthly "divine comedy."

Maze of Death

Philip K. Dick

Fourteen strangers came to Delmak-O. Thirteen of them were transferred by the usual authorities. One got there by praying. But once they arrived on that planet whose very atmosphere seemed to induce paranoia and psychosis, the newcomers found that even prayer was useless. For on Delmak-O, God is either absent or intent on destroying His creations.

Also published as A Maze of Death.

The Goblin Reservation

Masters of Science Fiction: Book 32

Clifford D. Simak

En route to an interplanetary research mission, a scientist is abducted by a strange, shadowy race of aliens and taken to a previously uncharted planet, a storehouse of information that would be invaluable--even to an Earth so advanced that time travel allows goblins, dinosaurs, even Shakespeare to coexist.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The Riverworld Saga: Book 1

Philip José Farmer

All those who ever lived on Earth have found themselves resurrected--healthy, young, and naked as newborns--on the grassy banks of a mighty river, in a world unknown. Miraculously provided with food, but with no clues to the meaning of their strange new afterlife, billions of people from every period of Earth's history--and prehistory--must start again.

Sir Francis Bacon would be the first to glimpse the incredible way-station, a link between worlds. This forbidden sight would spur the renowned 19th-century explorer to uncover the truth. Along with a remarkable group of compatriots, including Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the Victorian girl who was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), an English-speaking Neanderthal, a WWII Holocaust survivor, and a wise extraterrestrial, Burton sets sail on the magnificent river. His mission: to confront humankind's mysterious benefactors, and learn the true purpose--innocent or evil--of the Riverworld...

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....

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.

The Fabulous Riverboat

The Riverworld Saga: Book 2

Philip José Farmer

Resurrected on the lush, mysterious banks of Riverworld, along with the rest of humanity, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) has a dream: to build a riverboat that will rival the most magnificent paddle-wheelers ever navigated on the mighty Mississippi. Then, to steer it up the endless waterway that dominates his new home planet--and at last discover its hidden source.

But before he can carry out his plan, he first must undertake a dangerous voyage to unearth a fallen meteor. This mission would require striking an uneasy alliance with the bloodthirsty Viking Erik Bloodaxe, treacherous King John of England, legendary French swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac, Greek adventurer Odysseus, and the infamous Nazi Hermann Göring. All for the purpose of storming the ominous stone tower at the mouth of the river, where the all-powerful overseers of Riverworld--and their secrets--lie in wait...

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...

Crystal Line

Crystal Singer: Book 3

Anne McCaffrey

When Killashandra Ree joined the mysterious Heptite Guild, she knew that she would be forever changed. Crystal singing brought ecstasy and pain, near-eternal life...and gradual loss of memory. What she hadn't counted on was the loneliness she felt when her heart still remembered what her mind had forgotten. Fortunately, someone still cared enough to try to salvage what was left of Killashandra's mind. But she would have to learn to open herself--to another person, and to all her unpleasant memories.

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....

The Dark Design

The Riverworld Saga: Book 3

Philip José Farmer

Years have passed on Riverworld. Entire nations have risen, and savage wars have been fought--all since the dead of Earth found themselves resurrected in their magnificent new homeworld. Yet the truth about the Ethicals, the powerful engineers of this mysterious "afterlife," remains unknown. But a curious cross-section of humanity is determined to change that situation... at any cost.

Intrepid explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton leads the most remarkable voyage of discovery he has ever undertaken. Hot on his heels are Samuel Clemens, King John of England, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Spurred by the promise of ultimate answers, they chart a course across the vast polar sea--and toward the awesome tower that looms above it. But getting there will be more than half the battle. For death on Riverworld has become chillingly final...

The Magic Labyrinth

The Riverworld Saga: Book 4

Philip José Farmer

The answers behind the enigmatic origins of Riverworld lie at last within reach, as the remarkable gathering of Earthlings--including Sir Richard Francis Burton, Samuel Clemens, Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the real-life Alice in Wonderland), Cyrano de Bergerac, Ulysses S. Grant, and Baron Von Richtoven--finally breaches the stronghold of Riverworld's extraordinary super-race.

But answers would lead to more enigmatic questions...

Who is the Mysterious Stranger who taunted the Riverworld resurrectees with hints of the truth? What is the key to the gargantuan computer that wields the power of life and death? The astonishing secrets lie within the Dark Tower--but only for those brave enough to seek them and wise enough to decipher them...

Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world--and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators? Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world's motor--and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story.

Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life--from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy--to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction--to the philosopher who becomes a pirate--to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph--to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad--to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels.

You must be prepared, when you read this novel, to check every premise at the root of your convictions. This is a mystery story, not about the murder--and rebirth--of man's spirit. It is a philosophical revolution, told in the form of an action thriller of violent events, a ruthlessly brilliant plot structure and an irresistible suspense. Do you say this is impossible? Well, that is the first of your premises to check.

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.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Kai Ashante Wilson

Critically acclaimed author Kai Ashante Wilson makes his commercial debut with this striking, wondrous tale of gods and mortals, magic and steel, and life and death that will reshape how you look at sword and sorcery.

Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labeled a sorcerer. With his ancestors' artifacts in hand, the Sorcerer follows the Captain, a beautiful man with song for a voice and hair that drinks the sunlight.

The two of them are the descendants of the gods who abandoned the Earth for Heaven, and they will need all the gifts those divine ancestors left to them to keep their caravan brothers alive.

The one safe road between the northern oasis and southern kingdom is stalked by a necromantic terror. Demane may have to master his wild powers and trade humanity for godhood if he is to keep his brothers and his beloved captain alive.

The Gods of Riverworld

The Riverworld Saga: Book 5

Philip José Farmer

Thirty-five billion people from throughout Earth's history were resurrected along the great and winding waterways of Riverworld. Most began life anew--accepting without question the sustenance provided by their mysterious benefactors. But a rebellious handful burned to confront the unseen masters who controlled their fate--and these few launched an invasion that would ultimately yield the mind-boggling truth.

Now Riverworld's omnipotent leaders have been confronted, and the renegades of Riverworld--led by the intrepid Sir Richard Francis Burton--control the fantastic mechanism that once ruled them. But the most awesome challenge lies ahead. For in the vast corridors and secret rooms of the tower stronghold, an unknown enemy watches and waits to usurp the usurpers...