Mind-expanding explorations of the future of the human form
Our bodies and minds are malleable, and only the imagination is the limit to the possible improvements. From genetics to artificial enhancements, humanity will alter the course of its own evolution. Included here are more than twenty stories from the most imaginative writers in the field, including:
Poul Anderson * James Blish * Eric Brown * Ted Chiang * Tony Daniel * Samuel R. Delany * Greg Egan * Joe Haldeman * Geoffrey A. Landis * Paul McAuley * Ian MacLeod * David Marusek * Tom Purdom * Robert Reed * Joanna Russ * Robert Silverberg * Brian Stableford * Bruce Sterling * Charles Stross * Michael Swanwick * Liz Williams * Gene Wolfe * Roger Zelazny
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
St. Martin's Griffin
January 01, 2002
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Supermen by Gardner Dozois
The Chapter Ends
One of the best-known writers in science fiction, Poul Anderson made his first sale in 1947, while he was still in college, and in the course of his subsequent career has published almost a hundred books (in several different fields: as Anderson has written historical novels, fantasies, and mysteries, in addition to SF), sold hundreds of short pieces to every conceivable market, and won seven Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, and the Tolkein Memorial Award for Life Achievement.
Anderson had trained to be a scientist, taking a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, but the writing life proved to be more seductive, and he never did get around to working in his original field of choice. Instead, the sales mounted steadily, until by the late fifties and early sixties, he may have been one of the most prolific writers in the genre.
In spite of his high output of fiction, he somehow managed to maintain an amazingly high standard of literary quality as well, and by the early mid-sixties was also on his way to becoming one of the most honored and respected writers in the SF genre. At one point during this period--in addition to nonrelated work and lesser series such as the "Hoka" stories he was writing in collaboration with Gordon R. Dickson--Anderson was running three of the most popular and prestigious series in science fiction all at the same time: the "Technic History" series detailing the exploits of the wily trader Nicholas Van Rijn (which includes novels such as The Man Who Counts, The Trouble Twisters, Satan's World, Mirkheim, The People of the Wind, and collections such as Trader to the Stars and The Earth Book of Stormgate); the extremely popular series relating the adventures of interstellar secret agent Dominic Flandry, probably the most successful attempt to cross SF with the spy thriller, next to Jack Vance's "Demon Princes" novels (the Flandry series includes novels such as A Circus of Hells, The Rebel Worlds, The Day of Their Return, Flandry of Terra, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, A Stone in Heaven, and The Game of Empire, and collections such as Agent of the Terran Empire); and, my own personal favorite, a series that took us along on assignment with the agents of the Time Patrol (including the collections The Guardians of Time, Time Patrolman, The Shield of Time, and The Time Patrol).
When you add to this amazing collection of memorable titles the impact of the best of Anderson's non-series novels--works such as Brain Wave, Three Hearts and Three lions, The Night Face, The Enemy Stars, and The High Crusade, all of which were being published in addition to the series books--it becomes clear that Anderson dominated the late fifties and the pre-New Wave sixties in a way that only Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke could rival. And, like them, he remained an active and dominant figure right through the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Here's a compelling look into the far future, at a moment when the race is beginning to split into human and posthuman camps. Even in this early story--published in 1953--it's clear that the gulf can only widen ... often with tragic results.
Anderson's other books (among many others) include: The Broken Sword, Tau Zero, A Midsummer Tempest, Orion Shall Rise, The Boat of a Million Years, Harvest of Stars, The Fleet of Stars, Starfarers, and Operation Luna. His short work has been collected in The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories, Fantasy, The Unicorn Trade (with Karen Anderson), Past Times, The Best of Poul Anderson, Explorations, and, most recently, the retrospective collection All One Universe. His most recent book is a new novel, Genesis--on bestseller lists at the beginning of the oughts as well. Until his death on July 31, 2001, Anderson lived in Orinda, California, with his wife (and fellow writer), Karen.
"No," said the old man.
"But you don't realize what it means," said Jorun. "You don't know what you're saying."
The old man, Kormt of Huerdar, Gerlaug's son, and Speaker for Soils Township, shook his head till the long, grizzled locks swirled around his wide shoulders. "I have thought it through," he said. His voice was deep and slow and implacable. "You gave me five years to think about it. And my answer is no."
Jorun felt a weariness rise within him. It had been like this for days now, weeks, and it was like trying to knock down a mountain. You beat on its rocky flanks till your hands were bloody, and still the mountain stood there, sunlight on its high snow fields and in the forests that rustled up its slopes, and it did not really notice you. You were a brief thin buzz between two long nights, but the mountain was forever.
"You haven't thought at all," he said with a rudeness born of exhaustion. "You've only reacted unthinkingly to a dead symbol. It's not a human reaction, even, it's a verbal reflex."
Kormt's eyes, meshed in crow's-feet, were serene and steady under the thick gray brows. He smiled a little in his long beard, but made no other reply. Had he simply let the insult glide off him, or had he not understood it at all? There was no real talking to these peasants; too many millennia lay between, and you couldn't shout across that gulf.
"Well," said Jorun, "the ships will be here tomorrow or the next day, and it'll take another day or so to get all your people aboard. You have that long to decide, but after that it'll be too late. Think about it, I beg of you. As for me, I'll be too busy to argue further."
"You are a good man," said Kormt, "and a wise one in your fashion. But you are blind. There is something dead inside you."
He waved one huge gnarled hand. "Look around you, Jorun of Fulkhis. This is Earth. This is the old home of all humankind. You cannot go off and forget it. Man cannot do so. It is in him, in his blood and bones and soul; he will carry Earth within him forever."
Jorun's eyes traveled along the arc of the hand. He stood on the edge of the town. Behind him were its houses--low, white, half-timbered, roofed with thatch or red tile, smoke rising from the chimneys; carved galleries overhung the narrow, cobbled, crazily twisting streets; he heard the noise of wheels and wooden clogs, the shouts of children at play. Beyond that were trees and the incredible ruined walls of Sol City. In front of him, the wooded hills were cleared and a gentle landscape of neat fields and orchards rolled down toward the distant glitter of the sea; scattered farm buildings, drowsy cattle, winding gravel roads, fence walls of ancient marble and granite, all dreaming under the sun.
He drew a deep breath. It was pungent in his nostrils. It smelled of leaf mold, plowed earth baking in the warmth, summery trees and gardens, a remote ocean odor of salt and kelp and fish. He thought that no two planets ever had quite the same smell, and that none was as rich as Terra's.
"This is a fair world," he said slowly.
"It is the only one," said Kormt. "Man came from here; and to this, in the end, he must return."
"I wonder--" Jorun sighed. "Take me; not one atom of my body was from this soil before I landed. My people lived on Fulkhis for ages, and changed to meet its conditions. They would not be happy on Terra."
"The atoms are nothing," said Kormt. "It is the form which matters, and that was given to you by Earth."
Jorun studied him for a moment. Kormt was like most of this planet's ten million or so people--a dark, stocky folk, though there were more blond and red-haired throwbacks here than in the rest of the Galaxy. He was old for a primitive untreated by medical science--he must be almost two hundred years old--but his back was straight, and his stride firm. The coarse, jutnosed face held an odd strength. Jorun was nearing his thousandth birthday, but couldn't help feeling like a child in Kormt's presence.
That didn't make sense. These few dwellers on Terra were a backward and impoverished race of peasants and handicraftsmen; they were ignorant and unadventurous; they had been static for more thousands of years than anyone knew. What could they have to say to the ancient and mighty civilization which had almost forgotten their little planet?
Kormt looked at the declining sun. "I must go now," he said. "There are the evening chores to do. I will be in town tonight if you should wish to see me.
"I probably will," said Jorun. "There's a lot to do, readying the evacuation, and you're a big help."
The old man bowed with grave courtesy, turned, and walked off down the road. He wore the common costume of Terran men, as archaic in style as in its woven-fabric material: hat, jacket, loose trousers, a long staff in his hand. Contrasting the drab blue of Kormt's dress, Jorun's vivid tunic of shifting rainbow hues was like a flame.
The psychotechnician sighed again, watching him go. He liked the old fellow. It would be criminal to leave him here alone, but the law forbade force--physical or mental--and the Integrator on Corazuno wasn't going to care whether or not one aged man stayed behind. The job was to get the race off Terra.
A lovely world. Jorun's thin mobile features, pale-skinned and large-eyed, turned around the horizon. A fair world we came from.
There were more beautiful planets in the Galaxy's swarming myriads--the indigo world-ocean of Loa, jeweled with islands; the heaven-defying mountains of Sharang; the sky of Jareb, that seemed to drip light--oh, many and many, but there was only one Earth.
Jorun remembered his first sight of this world, hanging free in space to watch it after the grueling ten-day run, thirty thousand light-years, from Corazuno. It was blue as it turned before his eyes, a burnished turquoise shield blazoned with the living green and brown of its lands, and the poles were crowned with a glimmering haze of aurora. The belts that streaked its face and blurred the continents were cloud, wind and water and the gray rush of rain, like a benediction from heaven. Beyond the planet hung its moon, a scarred golden crescent, and he had wondered how many generations of men had looked up to it, or watched its light like a broken bridge across moving waters. Against the enormous cold of the sky--utter black out to the distant coils of the nebulae, thronging with a million frosty points of diamond-hard blaze that were the stars--Earth had stood as a sign of haven. To Jorun, who came from Galactic center and its uncountable hosts of suns, heaven was bare, this was the outer fringe where the stars thinned away toward hideous immensity. He had shivered a little, drawn the envelope of air and warmth closer about him, with a convulsive movement. The silence drummed in his head. Then he streaked for the north-pole rendezvous of his group.
Well, he thought now, we have a pretty routine job. The first expedition here, five years ago, prepared the natives for the fact they'd have to go. Our party simply has to organize these docile peasants in time for the ships. But it had meant a lot of hard work, and he was tired. It would be good to finish the job and get back home.
Or would it?
He thought of flying with Zarek, his teammate, from the rendezvous to this area assigned as theirs. Plains like oceans of grass, wind-rippled, darkened with the herds of wild cattle whose hoofbeats were a thunder in the earth; forests, hundreds of kilometers of old and mighty trees, rivers piercing them in a long steel gleam; Jakes where fish leaped; spilling sunshine like warm rain, radiance so bright it hurt his eyes, cloud-shadows swift across the land. It had all been empty of man, but still there was a vitality here which was almost frightening to Jorun. His own grim world of moors and crags and spindrift seas was a niggard beside this; here life covered the earth, filled the oceans, and made the heavens clangorous around him. He wondered if the driving energy within man, the force which had raised him to the stars, made him half-god and half-demon, if that was a legacy of Terra.
Well--man had changed; over the thousands of years, natural and controlled adaptation had fitted him to the worlds he had colonized, and most of his many races could not now feel at home here. Jorun thought of his own party: round, amber-skinned Chuli from a tropic world, complaining bitterly about the cold and dryness; gay young Cluthe, gangling and bulge-chested; sophisticated Taliuvenna of the flowing dark hair and the lustrous eyes--no, to them Earth was only one more planet, out of thousands they had seen in their long lives.
And I'm a senamental fool.
He could have willed the vague regret out of his trained nervous system, but he didn't want to. This was the last time human eyes would ever look on Earth, and somehow Jorun felt that it should be more to him than just another psychotechnic job.
"Hello, good sir."
He turned at the voice and forced his tired lips into a friendly smile. "Hello, Julith," he said. It was a wise policy to learn the names of the townspeople, at least, and she was a great-great-granddaughter of the Speaker.
She was some thirteen or fourteen years old, a freckle-faced child with a shy smile, and steady green eyes. There was a certain awkward grace about her, and she seemed more imaginative than most of her stolid race. She curtsied quaintly for him, her bare foot reaching out under the long smock which was daily female dress here.
"Are you busy, good sir?" she asked.
"Well, not too much," said Jorun. He was glad of a chance to talk; it silenced his thoughts. "What can I do for you?"
"I wondered--" She hesitated, then, breathlessly: "I wonder if you could give me a lift down to the beach? Only for an hour or two. It's too far to walk there before I have to be home, and I can't borrow a car, or even a horse. If it won't be any trouble, sir."
"Mmmmm--shouldn't you be at home now? Isn't there milking and so on to do?"
"Oh, I don't live on a farm, good sir. My father is a baker."
"Yes, yes, so he is. I should have remembered." Jorun considered for an instant. There was enough to do in town, and it wasn't fair for him to play hooky while Zarek worked alone. "Why do you want to go to the beach, Julith?"
"We'll be busy packing up," she said. "Starting tomorrow, I guess. This is my last chance to see it."
Jorun's mouth twisted a little. "All right," he said; "I'll take you."
"You are very kind, good sir," she said gravely.
He didn't reply, but held out his arm, and she clasped it with one hand while her other arm gripped his waist. The generator inside his skull responded to his will, reaching out and clawing itself to the fabric of forces and energies which was physical space. They rose quietly, and went so slowly seaward that he didn't have to raise a windscreen.
"Will we be able to fly like this when we get to the stars?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not, Julith," he said. "You see, the people of my civilization are born this way. Thousands of years ago, men learned how to control the great basic forces of the cosmos with only a small bit of energy. Finally they used artificial mutation--that is, they changed themselves, slowly, over many generations, until their brains grew a new part that could generate this controlling force. We can now, even, fly between the stars, by this power. But your people don't have that brain, so we had to build space ships to take you away."
"I see," she said.
"Your great-great-grandchildren can be like us, if your people want to be changed thus,"
"They didn't want to change before," she answered. "I don't think they'll do it now, even in their new home." Her voice held no bitterness; it was an acceptance.
Privately, Jorun doubted it. The psychic shock of this uprooting would be bound to destroy the old traditions of the Terrans; it would not take many centuries before they were culturally assimilated by Galactic Civilization.
Assimilated--nice euphemism. Why not just say--eaten?
They landed on the beach. It was broad and white, running in dunes from the thin, harsh, salt-streaked grass to the roar and tumble of surf. The sun was low over the watery horizon, filling the damp, blowing air with gold. Jorun could almost look directly at its huge disc.
He sat down. The sand gritted tinily under him, and the wind rumpled this hair and filled his nostrils with its sharp wet smell. He picked up a conch and turned it over in his fingers, wondering at the intricate architecture of it.
"If you hold it to your ear," said Julith, "you can hear the sea." Her childish voice was curiously tender around the rough syllables of Earth's language.
He nodded and obeyed her hint. It was only the small pulse of blood within him--you heard the same thing out in the great hollow silence of space--but it did sing of restless immensities, wind and foam, and the long waves marching under the moon.
"I have two of them myself," said Julith. "I want them so I can always remember this beach. And my children and their children will hold them, too, and hear our sea talking." She folded his fingers around the shell. "You keep this one for yourself."
"Thank you," he said. "I will."
The combers rolled in, booming and spouting against the land. The Terrans called them the horses of God. A thin cloud in the west was turning rose and gold.
"Are there oceans on our new planet?" asked Julith.
"Yes," he said. "It's the most Earthlike world we could find that wasn't already inhabited. You'll be happy there."
But the trees and grasses, the soil and the fruits thereof, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the waters beneath, form and color, smell and sound, taste and texture, everything is different. Is alien. The difference is small, subtle, but it is the abyss of two billion years of separate evolution, and no other world can ever quite be Earth.
Julith looked straight at him with solemn eyes. "Are you folk afraid of Hulduvians?" she asked.
"Why, no," he said. "Of course not."
"Then why are you giving Earth to them?" It was a soft question, but it trembled just a little.
"I thought all your people understood the reason by now," said Jorun. "Civilization--the civilization of man and his non-human allies--has moved inward, toward the great star-clusters of Galactic center. This part of space means nothing to us any more; it's almost a desert. You haven't seen starlight till you've been by Sagittarius. Now the Hulduvians are another civilization. They are not the least bit like us; they live on big, poisonous worlds like Jupiter and Saturn. I think they would seem like pretty nice monsters if they weren't so alien to us that neither side can really understand the other. They use the cosmic energies too, but in a different way--and their way interferes with ours just as ours interferes with theirs. Different brains, you see.
"Anyway, it was decided that the two civilizations would get along best by just staying away from each other. If they divided up the Galaxy between them, there would be no interference; it would be too far from one civilization to the other. The Hulduvians were, really, very nice about it. They're willing to take the outer rim, even if there are fewer stars, and let us have the center.
"So by the agreement, we've got to have all men and manlike beings out of their territory before they come to settle it, just as they'll move out of ours. Their colonists won't be coming to Jupiter and Saturn for centuries yet; but even so, we have to clear the Sirius Sector now, because there'll be a lot of work to do elsewhere. Fortunately, there are only a few people living in this whole part of space. The Sirius Sector has been an isolated, primi--ah--quiet region since the First Empire fell, fifty thousand years ago."
Julith's voice rose a little. "But those people are us!"
"And the folk of Alpha Centauri and Procyon and Sirius and--oh, hundreds of other stars. Yet all of you together are only one tiny drop in the quadrillions of the Galaxy. Don't you see, Julith, you have to move for the good of all of us?"
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I know all that."
She got up, shaking herself. "Let's go swimming."
Jorun smiled and shook his head. "No, I'll wait for you if you want to go."
She nodded and ran off down the beach, sheltering behind a dune to put on a bathing-suit. The Terrans had a nudity taboo, in spite of the mild interglacial climate; typical primitive irrationality. Jorun lay back, folding his arms behind his head, and looked up at the darkening sky. The evening star twinkled forth, low and white on the dusk-blue horizon. Venus--or was it Mercury? He wasn't sure. He wished he knew more about the early history of the Solar System, the first men to ride their thunderous rockets out to die on unknown hell-worlds-the first clumsy steps toward the stars. He could look it up in the archives of Corazuno, but he knew he never would. Too much else to do, too much to remember. Probably less than one per cent of mankind's throngs even knew where Earth was, today--though, for a while, it had been quite a tourist center. But that was perhaps thirty thousand years ago.
Because this world, out of all the billions, has certain physical characteristics, he thought, my race has made them into standards. Our basic units of length and time and acceleration, our comparisons by which we classify the swarming planets of the Galaxy, they all go back ultimately to Earth. We bear that unspoken memorial to our birthplace within our whole civilization, and will bear it forever. But has she given us more than that? Are our own selves, bodies and minds and dreams, are they also the children of Earth?
Now he was thinking like Kormt, stubborn old Kormt who clung with such a blind strength to this land simply because it was his. When you considered all the races of this wander-footed species--how many of them there were, how many kinds of man between the stars! And yet they all walked upright; they all had two eyes and a nose between and a mouth below; they were all cells of that great and ancient culture which had begun here, eons past, with the first hairy half-man who kindled a fire against night. If Earth had not had darkness and cold and prowling beasts, oxygen and cellulose and flint, that culture might never have gestated.