The Furthest Horizon: SF Adventures to the Far Future

The Furthest Horizon: SF Adventures to the Far Future

by Gardner Dozois

It is the essence of science fiction to chart the possibilities of the future, but it takes the hand of a master to capture the farthest reaches of time--futures almost unimaginably distant. The Furthest Horizon collects seventeen of the most inventive and audacious visions of the future by many acclaimed writers, including:

* Brian Aldiss * Paul

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It is the essence of science fiction to chart the possibilities of the future, but it takes the hand of a master to capture the farthest reaches of time--futures almost unimaginably distant. The Furthest Horizon collects seventeen of the most inventive and audacious visions of the future by many acclaimed writers, including:

* Brian Aldiss * Paul Anderson * Avram Davidson * Joe Haldeman * Alexander Jablokov * Paul J. McAuley * Ian McDonald * Michael Moorcock * Frederik Pohl * Robert Reed * Keith Roberts * Robert Silverberg * Cordwainer Smith * James Tiptree, Jr. * Jack Vance * Walter Jon Williams * Gene Wolfe

Editorial Reviews

Science Fiction Weekly
A variety of authors, writing styles and topics are included in this entertaining anthology, and Dozois provides insightful notes before each story.
Kirkus Reviews
Seventeen stories, 1950-98, arranged chronologically. First up is a classic yarn from Jack Vance's early masterpiece, The Dying Earth. Also among the early masterpieces: Brian W. Aldiss's poignant `Old Hundredth,` Frederik Pohl's eerily prophetic `Day Million,` Robert Silverberg's second fall of Rome, `Nightwings,` and Gene Wolfe's tale from the New Sun, `The Map.` The more recent entrants include Walter Jon Williams, Paul J. McAuley, and Poul Anderson's `Genesis,` whose first sentence gives you fair warning of difficulties ahead: `No human could have shaped the thoughts or uttered them.` Diverse and remarkable speculations on futures so remote as to be all but beyond conjecture.

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The Furthest Horizon

SF Adventures to the Far Future

By Gardner Dozois

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-27153-4


Guyal of Sfere


Here's one of the classic visions of the far future, from Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, taking us millions of years into the future, to the Earth at the end of time, when the sun is growing cold and the world is on the brink of being plunged into eternal Night, grues and deodands creep through the haunted forests, and technology has (as per Arthur C. Clarke's famous dictum) become indistinguishable from magic ...

Born in San Francisco in 1920, Jack Vance served throughout World War II in the U.S. Merchant Navy. Most of the individual stories that would later be melded into his first novel, The Dying Earth, were written while Vance was at seahe was unable to sell them, a problem he would also have with the book itself, the market for fantasy being almost nonexistent at the time. The Dying Earth was eventually published in an obscure edition in 1950 by a small semi-professional press, went out of print almost immediately, and remained out of print for more than a decade thereafter. Nevertheless, this slender little volume of stories became an underground cult classic, and was of immense evolutionary importance to the development of both modern fantasy and modern science fiction, as well as being one of the keystone works in the development of the hybrid form sometimes referred to as science-fantasy. Although it itself was clearly influenced by earlier work such as Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, the effect of The Dying Earth on future generations of writers is incalculable: for one example, out of many, The Dying Earth is one of the most recognizable influences on Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. (Wolfe has said, for instance, that The Book of Gold, which is mentioned by Severian, is supposed to be The Dying Earth.) Vance returned to this milieu in 1965, with a series of stories that would be melded into The Eyes of the Overworld, and, in the early eighties, returned yet again with Cugel's Saga and Rhialto the Marvellous—taken together, The Dying Earth and the three volumes of Cugel stories represent one of the most impressive achievements in science-fantasy.

Vance is also a towering ancestral figure in science fiction proper, where he has produced some of the very best work of the last forty years. His most famous SF novels—The Dragon Masters, The Last Castle, Big Planet, Emphyrio, the five-volume Demon Princes series (the best known of which are The Star King and The Killing Machine), Blue World, The Anome, The Languages of Pao, amongmany othersas well as dazzling short works such as "The New Prime," "The Miracle Workers," "The Last Castle," and "The Moon Moth" have had such a widespread impact that writers describing distant worlds and alien societies with strange alien customs write inevitably in the shadow of Vance: no one in the history of the field has brought more intelligence, imagination, or inexhaustible fertility of invention to that theme than he has, a fertility that shows no sign of slackening even here at the end of the nineties, with recent books such as Night Lamp as richly andlushly imaginative as the stuff he was writing in the fifties; even ostensible potboilers such as his Planet of Adventure series are full of vivid and richly portrayed alien societies and bizarre and often profoundly disturbing insights into the ways in which human psychology might be altered by immersion in alien values and cultural systems.

Vance has won two Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, two World Fantasy Awards (one the prestigious Life Achievement Award), a Grandmaster Nebula Award for Life Achievement, and the Edgar Award for best mystery novel. His other books include The Palace of Love, City of the Chasch, To Live Forever, The Dirdir, The Pnume, The Gray Prince, The Brave Free Men, Space Opera, Showboat World, Marune: Alastor 933, Wyst: Alastor 1716, Lyonesse, The Green Pearl, Madouc, Araminta Station, Ecce and Olde Earth, and Throy, among many others. His short fiction has been collected in Eight Fantasms and Magics, The Best of Jack Vance, Green Magic, Lost Moons, The Complete Magnus Ridolph, The World Between and Other Stories, The Dark Side of the Moon, and The Narrow Land. His most recent books are an omnibus volume, Alastor, collecting three of his Alastor novels, and the new novels Night Lamp and Ports of Call.

Guyal of Sfere had been born one apart from his fellows and early proved vexation for his sire. Normal in outward configuration, there existed within his mind a void which ached for nourishment. It was as if a spell had been cast upon his birth, a harassment visited on the child in a spirit of sardonic mockery, so that every occurrence, no matter how trifling, became a source of wonder. Even as young as four seasons he was expounding such inquiries as:

"Why do squares have more sides than triangles?"

"How will we see when the sun goes dark?"

"Do flowers grow under the ocean?"

"Do stars hiss and sizzle when rain comes by night?"

To which his impatient sire gave answers:

"So it was ordained by the Pragmatica; squares and triangles must obey the rote."

"We will be forced to grope and feel our way."

"I have not verified this matter; only the Curator would know."

"Never. The stars are above the rain, higher even than the highest clouds, and swim in a rarified air where rain can never breed."

As Guyal grew to youth, this void in his mind, instead of dwindling becoming sedimented with wax, throbbed with a more violent ache. And so he asked:

"Why do people die when they are killed?"

"Where does beauty vanish when it goes?"

"How long have men lived on Earth?"

"What is beyond the sky?"

To which his sire, biting acerbity back from his lips, would respond:

"Death is the heritage of life; a man's vitality is like air in a bladder. Poinct this bubble and away, away, away, flees life, like the color of fading dream."

"Beauty is a luster which love bestows to guile the eye. Therefore it may be said that only when the brain is without love will the eye look and see no beauty."

"Some say men germinated in the soil like grubs in a corpse; others aver that the first men desired residence and so created Earth by sorcery. The question is shrouded in technicality; only the Curator may answer with exactness."

"An endless waste."

Guyal pondered and postulated, proposed and expounded, until he found himself the subject of surreptitious humor. The demesne was visited by a rumor that a gleft, coming upon Guyal's mother in labor, had stolen part of Guyal's brain, which deficiency he now industriously sought to restore.

Guyal therefore drew himself apart and roamed the grassy hills of Sfere in solitude. But ever was his mind acquisitive, ever did he seek to exhaust the lore of all around him, until at last his father in vexation refused to hear further inquiries, declaring that all knowledge had been known, that the trivial and useless had been discarded, leaving only that residue necessary to a sound man.

At this time Guyal was in his first manhood, a slight but erect youth with wide clear eyes, a penchant for severely elegant dress, a firm somewhat compressed mouth.

Hearing his father's angry statement, Guyal said, "One more question, then I ask no more."

"Speak," declared his father. "One more question I grant you."

"You have often referred me to the Curator; who is he, and where may I find him?"

A moment the father scrutinized the son whom he now considered past the verge of madness. Then he responded in a quiet voice, "The Curator guards the Museum of Man, which antique legend places in the Land of the Falling Wall—beyond the mountains of Fer Aquila and north of Ascolais. It is not certain that either Curator or Museum still exist; still it would seem that if the Curator knows all things, as is the legend, then surely he would know the wizardly foil to death."

Guyal said, "I would seek the Curator and the Museum of Man, that I likewise may know all things."

The father said with patience, "I will bestow on you my fine white horse, my Expansible Egg for your shelter, my Scintillant Dagger to illuminate the night. In addition, I lay a blessing along the trail, and danger will slide you by so long as you never wander aside."

Guyal quelled the hundred new questions at his tongue, including an inquisition as to where his father had learned these manifestations of sorcery, and accepted the gifts: the horse, the magic shelter, the dagger with the luminous pommel, and the blessing to guard him from the disadvantageous circumstances which plagued those who travelled the dim trails of Ascolais.

He caparisoned the horse, honed the dagger, cast a last glance around the old manse at Sfere, and set forth to the north.

He ferried the River Scaum on an old barge. Aboard the barge, and so off the trail, the blessing lost its cogency and in fact seemed to stimulate a counterinfluence, so that the barge-tender, who coveted Guyal's rich accoutrements, struck out suddenly with his cudgel. Guyal fended off the blow and tripped the man into the murky deep.

Mounting the north bank of the Scaum he saw ahead the Porphiron Scar, the dark poplars and white columns of Kaiin, the dull gleam of Sanreale Bay.

Wandering the crumbled streets, he put the languid inhabitants such a spate of questions that one in wry jocularity commended him to a professional augur.

This, a lank hermetic with red-rimmed eyes and a stained white beard, dwelled in a booth painted with the Signs of the Aumoklopelastianic Cabal.

"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously.

"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and decisive language; for ten I use a professional cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce I babble in an unknown tongue."

"First I must inquire, how profound is your knowledge?"

"I know all," responded the augur. "The secrets of red and the secrets of black, the lost spells of Grand Motholam, the way of the fish and the voice of the bird."

"And where have you learned all these things?"

"By pure induction," explained the augur. "I retire into my booth, I closet myself with never a glint of light and, so sequestered, I resolve the mysteries of the world."

"Controlling such efficacy," ventured Guyal, "why do you live so meagerly, with not an ounce of fat to your frame and miserable rags to your back?"

The augur stood back in fury. "Go along with you! Already I have wasted fifty terces of wisdom on you who have never a copper to your pouch. If you desire free enlightenment," and he cackled in mirth, "seek out the Curator." He sheltered himself in his booth.

Guyal took lodging for the night, and in the morning went on his way. The trail made a wide detour around the haunted ruins of Old Town, then took to the fabulous forest.

For many a day Guyal rode toward the north. By night he surrounded himself and his horse in the Expansible Egg, a membrane impermeable to thew, claw, pressure, sound, and chill, and rested at ease despite the avid creatures of the dark.

The dull sun fell behind; the days grew wan and the nights bitter, and at last the crags of Fer Aquila showed as a tracing on the north horizon. In this region the forest was a scattering of phalurge and daobado; these last, massive constructions of heavy bronze branches clumped with dark balls of foliage. Beside a giant of the species Guyal came upon a village of turf huts. A group of surly louts appeared and surrounded him with expressions of curiosity. Guyal, no less than the villagers, had questions to ask, but none would speak till the hetman strode up—a burly man in a shaggy fur hat, a cloak of brown fur, and a bristling beard, so that it was hard to see where one ended and the other began. He exuded a rancid odor which displeased Guyal, although from motives of courtesy, he took pains to keep his distaste concealed.

"Where go you?" asked the hetman.

"I wish to cross the mountains to the Museum of Man," said Guyal. "Which way does the trail lead?"

The hetman pointed out a notch on the silhouette of the mountains. "There is Omona Gap, which is the shortest and best route, though there is no trail. None comes and none goes, since when you pass the Gap, you walk an unknown land. And with no traffic there manifestly need be no trail."

The news did not cheer Guyal.

"How then is it known that Omona Gap is on the way to the Museum?"

The hetman shrugged. "Such is our tradition."

Guyal turned his head at a hoarse snuffling and saw a pen of woven wattles. In a litter of filth and matted straw stood a number of hulking men eight or nine feet tall. They were naked, with wax-colored faces, shocks of dirty yellow hair and watery blue eyes. As Guyal watched, one of them ambled to a trough and noisily began to gulp gray mash.

Guyal said, "What manner of things are these?"

The hetman guffawed at Guyal's ignorance. "They are oasts, naturally." He indicated Guyal's white horse. "Never have I seen a stranger oast than the one you bestride. Ours carry us more easily and appear to be less vicious; in addition, no flesh is more delicious than oast properly braised and kettled."

Standing close he fondled the metal of Guyal's saddle and the red and yellow embroidered quilt. "Your deckings however are rich and of superb quality. I will therefore bestow you my large and weighty oast in return for this creature with its accoutrements."

Guyal politely declared himself satisfied with his present mount, and the hetman shrugged his shoulders.

A horn sounded. The hetman looked about, then turned back to Guyal. "Food is prepared; will you eat?"

Guyal glanced toward the oast-pen. "I am not presently hungry, and I must hasten forward. However, I am grateful for your kindness."

He departed; as he passed under the arch of the great daobado he turned a glance back toward the village. There seemed an unwonted activity among the huts. Remembering the hetman's covetous touch at his saddle, and aware that no longer did he ride the trail, Guyal urged his horse forward and pounded fast under the trees.

As he neared the foothills the forest dwindled to a savanna, floored with a dull, jointed grass that creaked under the horse's hooves. Guyal glanced up and down the plain. The sun wallowed in the southwest; the light across the plain was dim and watery. Another hour, then the dark night of the latter-day Earth. Guyal twisted in the saddle, looked behind him. Four oasts, carrying men on their shoulders, came trotting from the forest. Sighting Guyal they broke into a lumbering run. With a crawling skin Guyal wheeled his horse and eased the reins; the white horse loped across the plain toward Omona Gap. Behind ran the oasts, bestraddled by the fur-cloaked villagers.

The sun touched the horizon. Guyal looked back to his pursuers, bounding now a mile behind, then turned his gaze to the forest ahead. An ill place to ride by night, but where was his choice?

The foliage loomed above him; he passed under the first gnarled daobados. He changed directions, turned once, twice, a third time, then stood his horse to listen. Far away a crashing in the brake reached his ears. Guyal dismounted, led the horse into a deep hollow where a bank of foliage made a screen. Presently the four men on their hulking oasts passed across the afterglow, black double-shapes in attitudes suggestive of ill-temper and disappointment.

The thud and pad of feet dwindled and died.

The horse moved restlessly; the foliage rustled.

A damp air passed down the hollow and chilled the back of Guyal's neck. Darkness stood in the hollow like ink in a basin.

Guyal urged his horse up to the height and sat listening. Far down the wind he heard a hoarse call. Turning in the opposite direction he let the horse choose its own path.


Excerpted from The Furthest Horizon by Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 2000 Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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