New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future

New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future

by Ben Bova

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Overview

New Frontiers, fourteen startling visions of yesterday, today, and tomorrow from Ben Bova, six-time winner of the Hugo Award

Frontiers can be found in all directions. Frontiers of time and space, as well as frontiers of courage, devotion, love, hate, and the outer limits of the human spirit. This outstanding collection of stories by one of science fiction's premier talents spans the length and breadth of history and the universe, while exploring thought-provoking new ideas and dilemmas.

From the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights to a vast interstellar empire thousands of years in the future, from the Vatican to a one-man vessel drifting in the vast emptiness of the Asteroid Belt, from virtual reality duels to the subtle intricacies of time travel and a golf tournament on the Moon, here are tales of scoundrels and heroes, scientists and explorers, aliens and artificial intelligences, and even a young Albert Einstein. Each of them stands at the border of a new frontier and must venture out into unexplored territory—thanks to the limitless imagination of Ben Bova.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765376442
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 07/22/2014
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

BEN BOVA is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, former editorial director of Omni, and a past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Power Play, Farside, and New Earth. He lives in Florida.

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New Frontiers

A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future


By Ben Bova

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2014 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5136-8



CHAPTER 1

SAM BELOW PAR


"A GOLF COURSE?" I asked, incredulous. "Here on the Moon?"

"Yeah," said Sam Gunn. "Why not?"

"You mean ... outside?"

"Why not?" he repeated.

"It's crazy, that's why not!" I said.

We were standing at the far end of Selene's Grand Plaza, gazing through the sweeping glassteel windows that looked out on the harsh beauty of Alphonsus Crater's dusty, pockmarked floor. Off to our left ran the worn, slumped mountains of the ringwall, smoothed by billions of years of micrometeors sanding them down. A little further, the abrupt slash of the horizon, uncomfortably close compared to Earth. Beyond that unforgiving line was the blackness of infinite space, blazing with billions of stars.

The Grand Plaza was the only open area of greenspace on the Moon, beneath a vaulted dome of lunar concrete. Trees, flowers, an outdoor bistro, even an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a thirty- meter-high diving platform. The Plaza was a delightful relief from Selene's gray tunnels and underground living and working areas.

"Why not build a course under a dome?" I asked. "That'd be a lot easier."

"You'd need an awful big dome," said Sam. "More than ten kilometers long."

"Yeah, but —"

"No dome. Outside, in the open."

"You can't play golf out there," I said, jabbing a finger toward the emptiness on the other side of the window.

Sam gave me that famous lopsided grin of his. "Sure you could. It'd be a big attraction."

"A golf course," I grumbled. "On the Moon. Out there in the middle of Alphonsus."

"Not there," Sam said. "Over at Hell Crater, where my entertainment center is."

"So this is why you brought me up here."

"That's why, Charlie," Sam replied, still grinning.

I had heard of Sam Gunn and his wild schemes for most of my life. He'd made more fortunes than the whole New York Stock Exchange, they say, and lost — or gave away — almost all of them. He was always working on a new angle, some new scheme aimed at making himself rich.

But a golf course? On the Moon? Outside on the airless, barren surface?

Sam is a stumpy little guy with a round, gap-toothed face that some have compared to a jack-o'-lantern. Wiry, rust-red thatch of hair. Freckles across his stub of a nose. Nobody seems to know how old he really is: different data banks give you different guesses. He has a reputation as a womanizer, and a chap who would cut corners or pick pockets or commit out-and-out fraud to make his schemes work. He was always battling the Big Boys: the corporate suits, government bureaucrats, the rich and powerful.

I was definitely not one of those. I once had designed some of the poshest golf courses on Earth, but now I was a disgraced fugitive from justice, hounded by lawyers, an ex-wife, two women who claimed I'd fathered their children (both claims untrue), and the Singapore police's morality squad. Sam had shown up in Singapore one jump ahead of the cops and whisked me to Selene on his corporate rocket. S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited. I didn't ask why, I was just glad to get away.

I had spent the flight to Selene trying to explain to Sam that the charges against me were all false, all part of a scheme by my ex-wife, who just happened to be the daughter of the head of Singapore's government. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — or her mother.

Sam listened sympathetically to me during the whole flight.

"Your only crime," he said at last, "was marrying a woman who was wrong for you." Before I could think of a reply, Sam added, "Like most of them are, Charlie."

My family name happens to be Chang. To Sam, that meant my first name must be Charlie. From somebody else, I'd resent that as racism. But from Sam it was almost ... well, kind of friendly.

As soon as we landed at Selene Sam bought me a pair of weighted boots, so I wouldn't trip all over myself in the low lunar gravity. Then he took me to lunch at the outdoor bistro in the middle of the Grand Plaza's carefully cultivated greenery.

"Your legal troubles are over, Charlie," Sam told me, "as long as you stay at Selene. No extradition agreement with Earthside governments."

"But I'm not a citizen of Selene," I objected.

His grin widening until he actually did look like a gap-toothed jack-o'-lantern, Sam blithely replied, "Doesn't matter. I got you a work permit and Selene's granted you a temporary visa."

I realized what Sam was telling me. I was safe on the Moon — as long as I worked for S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited.

After lunch Sam took me for a walk down the length of the Grand Plaza, through the lovingly tended begonias and azaleas and peonies along the winding paths that led to the windows. I walked very carefully; the weighted boots helped.

"We can do it, Charlie," Sam said as we stood at the glassteel windows.

"A golf course."

"It'll be terrific."

"Out there," I muttered, staring at the barren lunar ground. "A golf course."

"It's been done before," Sam said, fidgeting a little. "Alan Shepard whacked a golf ball during the Apollo 14 mission, over at Frau Mauro." He waved a hand roughly northwestward. "Hit it over the horizon, by damn."

"Sam," I corrected, "the ball only traveled a few yards."

"Whatever," said Sam, with that impish smirk of his.

I shook my head.

"Hey, there are unusual golf courses on Earth, you know," Sam said. "Like the old Hyatt Britannia in the Cayman Islands. I played that course! Blind shots, overwater shots —"

"They've got air to breathe," I said.

"Well, what about the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club in Yunnan, China? Ten thousand feet high! You practically need an oxygen mask."

"But not a spacesuit."

"And the Legends Golf and Safari Resort in South Africa, with that nineteenth hole on top of that fifteen-hundred-foot mountain. The ball takes thirty seconds to drop down onto the green!"

"A par three," I murmured, remembering the course.

"I birdied it," Sam said gleefully.

If there's one thing Sam Gunn can do, it's talk. He wheedled, he coaxed, he weaved a web of words about how we would be bringing the joys of golf to this bleak and dreary world of the Moon. Plus lots of golf-playing tourists to his entertainment center.

Not once did he mention that if I didn't go to work for him I'd be forced to return to Singapore. He didn't have to.

* * *

SO, OF COURSE, I went to work for Sam. Had I known how shaky the company's finances were, I — well, to be perfectly truthful, I would've gone to work for Sam anyway. The man has a way about him. And there was that phalanx of police detectives and lawyers waiting for me back in Singapore. Plus an angry ex-wife and her angrier mother.

Sam had built what he euphemistically called an entertainment complex at Hell Crater, a couple of hundred kilometers south of Selene. The thirty-klick-wide crater was named after a nineteenth-century Austrian Jesuit priest who was an astronomer, Maximilian Hell, but in Sam's impish eyes it was an ideal spot for a lunar Sin City. He built a gambling casino, a dinner club called Dante's Inferno (staffed by Hell's Belles, no less), gaming arcades, virtual reality simulations, the works, all beneath a sturdy concrete dome that protected the interior from micrometeors and the harsh radiation streaming in from the Sun and stars.

Underground, Sam had built the first-class Paradise Hotel and shopping mall, plus an ultramodern medical facility that specialized in rejuvenation therapies.

Apparently Sam had financed the complex with money he had somehow crowbarred out of Rockledge Corporation; don't ask me how.

Anyway, his latest idea was to build a golf course out on the floor of Hell Crater, a new attraction to draw customers to the complex. As if gambling and high-class prostitution weren't enough.

"How do you get away with it?" I asked Sam my first night in Hell, as we sat for dinner in Dante's Inferno. The waitresses were knockouts, the entertainers dancing up on the stage were even more spectacular.

"Get away with what?" Sam asked, all freckle-faced innocence.

I waved a hand at the exotic dancers writhing on the stage. "Gambling. Women. I imagine there's a good deal of narcotics moving around here, too."

With a careless shrug, Sam told me, "All perfectly legal, Charlie. At least, nobody's written any laws against it. This ain't Kansas, Toto. Or Singapore. The New Morality hasn't reached the Moon." Then he grinned and added, "Thank God!"

Truth to tell, I was temped by one of Hell's Belles, a gorgeous young blonde with the deep-bosomed body of a seductress and the wide, cornflower blue eyes of a naïf. But I didn't act on my urges. Not then.

I got to work, instead.

Designing a golf course takes a combination of skills. The job is part landscape architecture, part golfing know-how, part artistry.

The first thing I did was wriggle into a spacesuit and walk the ground where the course was to be laid out. The floor of Hell Crater was pretty flat, but when I examined the area closely, I found that the ground undulated ever so slightly, sort of like the surface of a rippling pond that's been frozen solid. Good, I thought: this would present some interesting lies and challenges for putting.

There were plenty of challenges for me, let me tell you. The Moon's gravity is only one sixth of Earth's, and the surface is airless, both of which mean that a golf ball should fly much farther when hit than it would on Earth. But how much farther? Sam provided physicists and engineers from the faculty of Selene University to work with me as consultants.

The key to the distance factor, we soon found, was the spacesuits that the golfers would have to wear. When Alan Shepard hit his golf ball, back in the old Apollo days, he had to swing with only one arm. His spacesuit was too stiff for him to use both arms. Spacesuit designs had improved considerably over the past century, but they still tended to stiffen up when you pressurized them with air.

Then there was the problem of the Moon's surface itself. The whole darned place was one big sand trap. Walking on the Moon is like walking on a beach on Earth. Sandy. For eons dust-mote-sized micrometeors have been falling out of the sky, hitting the ground and churning its topmost layer into the consistency of beach sand.

I tried some putting tests. I tapped a golf ball. It rolled a few centimeters and stopped dead. I nudged it harder, but it didn't go more than about a meter.

"We'll have to smooth out the ground, Sam," I said. "The greens, the areas around the cups. So the players can make some reasonable putts."

"Okay," he answered cheerfully. "Plasma torches ought to do the job."

"Plasma torches?"

"Yep. They'll bake the ground to a nice, firm consistency."

I nodded.

"And once you've got it the way you want it, paint the areas green," Sam said.

I laughed. "Not a bad idea."

There was another angle to the distance problem. The greens had to be so far from the tees that some of the cups were over the damned short horizon. You wouldn't be able to see the pin when you were teeing up.

Sam solved that one in the blink of an eye. "Make the pins tall enough to be seen from the tees, that's all. Put lights on their tops so they're easily visible."

I nodded sheepishly. I should have thought of that myself.

The ground was also littered with lots of rocks and pockmarked with little craterlets and even sinuous cracks in the ground that the scientists called rilles. More than once I tripped on a stone and went sprawling. I found, though, that in the Moon's gentle gravity I tumbled so slowly that I could put out my arms, brake my fall, and push myself back up to a standing position.

Cool. I could be an Olympic gymnast, on the Moon.

But I had to tell Sam, "We'll have to clear away a lot of those rocks and maybe fill in the rilles and craterlets."

He scowled at me. "Golf courses have roughs, Charlie. Our course will be Hell for them." Then he broke into a grin and added, "At least we won't have any trees or deep grass."

"Sam, if we make it too rough, people won't play. It'll be too tough for them."

He just shrugged and told me to figure it out. "Don't make it too easy for them. I want the world's best golfers to come here and be challenged."

I nodded and thought that trying to play golf in a spacesuit would be challenge enough, with or without the rough.

I didn't realize that when Sam said he wanted to invite the world's best golfers to Hell, he intended to include the woman who wrecked my life. The woman I loved.

* * *

HER NAME WAS Mai Pohan. We had known each other since kindergarten, back in Singapore. She was a slim, serious slip of a young woman, as graceful and beautiful as an orchid. But with the heart and strength of a lioness. Small though she was, Mai Pohan became a champion golfer, a world-renowned athlete. To me, though, she was simply the most beautiful woman in the world. Lovely almond-shaped eyes so deeply brown I could get lost in them. And I did.

But then my parents exploded all my dreams by announcing they had arranged for me to marry the daughter of Singapore's prime minister, who was known in the newsnets as "the dragon lady." And worse. I was flabbergasted.

"This is a great honor for our family," my father said proudly. He didn't know that I was hopelessly in love with Mai Pohan; no one knew, not even she.

For a designer of golf courses — a kind of civil engineer, nothing more — to be allied to the ruling family of Singapore was indeed a great honor. But it broke my heart.

I tried to phone Mai Pohan, but she was off on an international golf tour. With misty eyes, I e-mailed her the terrible news. She never answered.

Like a dutiful son, I went through the formalities of courtship and the wedding, which was Singapore's social event of the year. My bride was quite beautiful and, as I discovered on our wedding night, much more knowledgeable about making love than I was.

Through my mother-in-law's connections, I received many new contracts to design golf courses. I would be wealthy in my own right within a few years. I began to travel the world, while my wife entertained herself back in Singapore with a succession of lovers — all carefully hidden from the public's view by her mother's power.

It was in the United States, at the venerable Pebble Beach golf course in California, that I saw Mai Pohan once again. She was leading in a tournament there by three strokes as her foursome approached the beautiful eighteenth hole, where the blue Pacific Ocean caresses the curving beach.

I stood among the crowd of onlookers as the four women walked to the green. I said nothing, but I saw Mai's eyes widen when she recognized me. She smiled, and my heart melted.

She barely won the tournament, three-putting the final hole. The crowd applauded politely and I repaired to the nearby bar. I rarely drank alcohol, but I sat at the bar and ordered a scotch. I don't know how much time passed or how many drinks I consumed, but all of a sudden Mai sat herself primly on the stool next to mine.

My jaw dropped open, but she gave me a rueful smile and said, "You almost cost me the tournament, Chou."

"I did?" I squeaked.

"Once I saw you I lost all my concentration."

"I ... I'm sorry."

She ordered a club soda from the man-sized robot tending the bar while I sat beside her in stunned silence.

"It's been a long time," she said, once her drink arrived.

"Yes."

"How is married life?"

"Miserable."

Those fathomless eyes of hers widened a bit, then she smiled sadly. "I'm almost glad."

I heard myself blurt, "You're the one I love, Mai. My family arranged the marriage. I had to go through with it."

"I know," she said. "I understand."

"I love you." It seemed inane, pointless — cruel, almost — but I said it.

Very softly, so low that I barely heard her, Mai replied, "I love you too. I always have."

I kissed her. Right there at the bar. I leaned over and kissed her on the lips. The first and last time we ever kissed.

Mai said, "Like it or not, you're a married man."

"And you ...?"

"I could never marry anyone else." There were tears in her eyes.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from New Frontiers by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2014 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

SAM BELOW PAR
A COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
IN TRUST
THE QUESTION
"WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS"
WATERBOT
MOON RACE
SCHEHERAZADE AND THE STORYTELLERS
DUEL IN THE SOMME
BLOODLESS VICTORY
MARS FARTS
A PALE BLUE DOT
INSPIRATION
THE LAST DECISION

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