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Worlds Vast and Various: Stories

Worlds Vast and Various: Stories

by Gregory Benford

SF readers have come to expect the universe from Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Gregory Benford: fascinating multilayered characters, thrilling plots, and mind-bending scientific speculations firmly based in cutting-edge technological fact. When it comes to literate, human, unassailably possible science fiction, Benford is in a class by himself—as he


SF readers have come to expect the universe from Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Gregory Benford: fascinating multilayered characters, thrilling plots, and mind-bending scientific speculations firmly based in cutting-edge technological fact. When it comes to literate, human, unassailably possible science fiction, Benford is in a class by himself—as he proves once again in a stunning array of tales that have never been collected in one volume before.

A time-traveler on an illegal trip into the past learns a chilling truth about her own destiny... As a deadly Superflu runs rampant through a polluted, overpopulated Earth, a husband-and-wife scientific team races to salvage a livable future...On a planet where the laws of physics are strangely twisted, a brilliant scientist work undermines an ancient faith and leads to a shattering revelation...An ore-hauler on Mercury, desperate to save her endangered ship and career findsa remarkable way out: a wormhole trapped in the hellish flux of magnetic fieldsand fiery plasma generated by the nuclear furnace of the sun...

These are but a few of the various worlds the respected astrophysicist and SF luminary now transports us to in ships constructed of evocative words and ingenious ideas. Astonishing, provocative, and intellectually stimulating, each selection is a glittering star in the vast cosmos of Gregory Benford's unparalleled imagination.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For readers more familiar with this acclaimed hard-SF author's illuminating and genre-stretching novels (Eater; Cosm; etc.), this story collection is an excellent chance to discover his equally adept shorter work. The 10 stories and two novellas here offer a neat cross-section of Benford's writing career. The gripping "A Calculus of Desperation" demonstrates the brutal lengths to which truly dedicated environmentalists could go to keep humanity from devastating Earth. "Doing Aliens" and "World Vast, World Various" present some of the possible relationships--or lack thereof--between humans and aliens. For readers who treasure scientifically rigorous settings, "High Abyss" and "A Dance to Strange Musics" offer a fine blend of the exotic and surprising. "A Worm in the Well" is old-fashioned high adventure in space, while "The Voice" keeps its traditional heart closer to home, with riffs from Golden Age writers like Asimov and Bradbury. "As Big As the Ritz" takes F. Scott Fitzgerald out for an SF spin, and "In the Dark Backward" is a lighthearted time-travel story with a nifty twist ending. In a short afterword, Benford writes, "All short stories are strategies. Working in a confined space, one must render the essentials and get off the stage with a minimum of fuss." While faithfully following that advice, Benford (who is also a working physicist) ably demonstrates the falseness of the old literary saw that scientists don't make good fiction writers--or popular ones: Benford always sells well, and this book will, too, though not as well as his novels. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Calculus of Desperation

Amy inched shut the frail wooden door of her hotel room and switched on the light. Cockroaches—or at least she hoped they were mere cockroaches—scuttled for dark corners. They were so big she could hear them bumping into the tin plating along one wall.

She shucked off her dusty field jacket, threw it at the lone pine chair, and sprawled on the bed. Under the dangling, naked lightbulb she slit open her husband's letter eagerly, using a dirty fingernail. Frying fat flavors seeped through the planking but she forgot the smells and noises of the African village. Her eyes raced along the lurching penmanship.

God, I do really need you. What's more, I know it's my "juice" speaking—only been two weeks, but just at what point do I have to be reasonable? Hey, two scientists who work next to disasterville can afford a little loopy irrationality, right? Thinking about your alabaster breasts a lot. Our eagerly awaited rendezvous will be deep in the sultry jungle, in my tent. I recall your beautiful eyes that evening at Boccifani's and am counting the days ...

This "superflu" thing is knocking our crew people down pretty fierce now. With our schedule already packed solid, now comes two-week Earth Summit V in São Paulo. Speeches, press, more talk, more dumb delay. Hoist a few with buddies, sure, but pointless, I think. Maybe I can scare up some more funding. Takes plenty juice!—just to keep this operation going! Wish me luck and I'll not even glance at the Latin beauties, promise. Really.

She rolled over onto her side to ease the ache in her back, keeping the letter in the yellow glowthat seemed to be dimming. The crackly pages were wrinkled as if they had gotten wet in transit.

A distant generator coughed, stuttered, stopped. The light went out. She lay in the sultry dark, thinking about him and decoding all that the letter said and implied. In the distance a dog yapped, and she smelled the sour lick of charcoal on the air. It did not cover the vile sickly sweet odor of bodies left out in the street. Already they were swelling. Autumn was fairly warm in this brush-country slice of Tanzania, and the village lay quiet with the still of the fallen. In a few minutes the generator huffed sluggishly back into its coughing rhythm and the bulb glowed. Watery light seeped into the room. Cockroaches scuttled again.

She finished the letter, which went on in rather impressively salacious detail about portions of her anatomy and did the job she knew Todd had intended. If any Tanzanian snoops got into her mail, they probably would not have the courage to admit it. And it did make her moist, yes.

The day's heavy heat now ebbed. A whispering breeze dispersed the wet, infesting warmth.

Todd got the new site coordinates from their uplink, through their microwave dish. He squatted beside the compact, black matte-finish module and its metallic ear, cupped to hear a satellite far out in chilly vacuum. That such a remote, desiccated, and silvery craft in the empty sky could be locked in electromagnetic embrace with this place of leafy heaviness, transfixed by sweet rot and the stink of distant fires, was to Todd a mute miracle.

Manuel yelled at him in Spanish from below. "Miz Cabrina says to come! Right away!"

"I'm nearly through."

"Right away! She says it is the cops!"

The kid had seen too much American TV. Cop spun like a bright coin in the syrup of thickly accented Spanish. Cops. Authorities. The weight of what he had to do. A fretwork of irksome memories. He stared off into infinity, missing Amy.

He was high up on the slope of thick forest. Toward him flew a rainbird. It came in languid slow motion, flapping in the mild breeze off the far Atlantic, a murmuring wind that lifted the warm weight from the stinging day. The bird's translucent shape flickered against big-bellied clouds, and Todd thought of the bird as a gliding bag of genes, biological memories ancient and wrinkled and yet still coming forth. Distant time, floating toward him now across the layered air.

He waved to Manuel. "Tell her to stall them."

He finished getting the data and messages, letting the cool and precise part of him do the job. Every time some rural bigshot showed up, his stomach lurched and he forced down jumpy confusions. He struggled to insulate the calm, unsettled center of himself so that he could work. He had thought this whole thing would get easier, but it never did.

The solar panels atop their van caught more power if he parked it in the day's full glare, but then he couldn't get into it without letting the interior cool off. He had driven up here to get a clear view of the rest of the team. He left the van and headed toward where the salvaging team was working.

Coming back down through kilometers of jungle took him through terrain that reflected his inner turmoil. Rotting logs shone with a vile, vivid emerald. Swirls of iridescent lichen engulfed thick-barked trees. He left the cross-country van on the clay road and continued, boots sinking into the thick mat.

Nothing held sway here for long. Hand-sized spiders scuttled like black motes across the intricate green radiance. Exotic vitality, myriad threats. A conservation biologist, he had learned to spot the jungle's traps and viper seductions. He sidestepped a blood vine's barbs, wisely gave a column of lime ants their way. Rustlings escorted him through dappled shadows which held a million minute violences. Carrion moths fluttered by on charcoal wings in search of the fallen. Tall grass blades cut the shifting sunlight. Birds cooed and warbled and stabbed insects from the air. Casually brutal beauty.

Meet the Author

Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine. He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and was Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. and in 1995 received the Lord Prize for contributions to sciences. His research encompasses both theory and experiments in the fields of astrophysics and plasma physics. His fiction has won many awards, including the Nebula Award for his novel Timescape. Dr. Benford makes his home in Laguna Beach, California.

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