When mankind moves out to the stars, the colonists of the future will remake the worlds they inhabit in their image. Included here are twenty stories from the most imaginative writers in the field, including:
Poul Anderson * Stephen Baxter * Gregory Benford * Arthur C. Clarke * Greg Egan * Joe Haldeman * Philip Jennings * William H. Kieth * Geoffrey A. Landis * Ian McDonald * Richard McKenna * Laura Mixon * G. David Nordley * Robert Reed * Kim Stanley Robinson * Pamela Sargent * Cordwainer Smith * Bruce Sterling * John Varley * Roger Zelazny
These are the stories of the explorers and pioneers who transform their destinations in the image of their distant home--exciting tales of alien landscapes and the struggle to make them suit human desires.
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St. Martin's Griffin
December 01, 2001
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Excerpt from Worldmakers by Gardner Dozois
The Big Rain
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 Tolkien 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 to mid-1960s was also on his way to becoming one of the most honored and respected writers in the genre. At one point during this period (in addition to non-related 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 1950s 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 1970s and 1980s, and is still producing strong new work.
In the gritty, hard-hitting, and powerful story that follows, he gives us a vivid impression of the amount of sheer, backbreaking, hands-on, physical work it would take to terraform a world; and an unsettling reminder that one person's vision of what Utopia should be like, and how much you're willing to pay to achieve it, may differ irrevocably from another's--with fatal 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 novel, Genesis, was published in February 2000. Until his death on July 31, 2001, Anderson lived in Orinda, California, with his wife (and fellow writer), Karen.
The room was small and bare, nothing but a ventilator grill to relieve the drabness of its plastic walls, no furniture except a table and a couple of benches. It was hot, and the cold light of fluoros glistened off the sweat which covered the face of the man who sat there alone.
He was a big man, with hard bony features under close-cropped reddish-brown hair; his eyes were gray, with something chilly in them, and moved restlessly about the chamber to assess its crude homemade look. The coverall which draped his lean body was a bit too colorful. He had fumbled a cigarette out of his belt pouch and it smoldered between his fingers, now and then he took a heavy drag on it. But he sat quietly enough, waiting.
The door opened and another man came in. This one was smaller, with bleak features. He wore only shorts to whose waistband was pinned a star-shaped badge, and a needle-gun holstered at his side, but somehow he had a military look.
"Simon Hollister?" he asked unnecessarily.
"That's me," said the other, rising. He loomed over the newcomer, but he was unarmed; they had searched him thoroughly the minute he disembarked.
"I am Captain Karsov, Guardian Corps." The English was fluent, with only a trace of accent. "Sit down." He lowered himself to a bench. "I am only here to talk to you."
Hollister grimaced. "How about some lunch?" he complained. "I haven't eaten for"--he paused a second--"thirteen hours, twenty-eight minutes."
His precision didn't get by Karsov, but the officer ignored it for the time being. "Presently," he said. "There isn't much time to lose, you know. The last ferry leaves in forty hours, and we have to find out before then if you are acceptable or must go back on it."
"Hell of a way to treat a guest," grumbled Hollister.
"We did not ask you to come," said Karsov coldly. "If you wish to stay on Venus, you had better conform to the regulations. Now, what do you think qualifies you?"
"To live here? I'm an engineer. Construction experience in the Amazon basin and on Luna. I've got papers to prove it, and letters of recommendation, if you'd let me get at my baggage."
"Eventually. What is your reason for emigrating?"
Hollister looked sullen. "I didn't like Earth."
"Be more specific. You are going to be narcoquizzed later, and the whole truth will come out. These questions are just to guide the interrogators, and the better you answer me now the quicker and easier the quiz will be for all of us."
Hollister bristled. "That's an invasion of privacy."
"Venus isn't Earth," said Karsov with an attempt at patience. "Before you were even allowed to land, you signed a waiver which puts you completely under our jurisdiction as long as you are on this planet. I could kill you, and the U.N. would not have a word to say. But we do need skilled men, and I would rather okay you for citizenship. Do not make it too hard for me."
"All right." Hollister shrugged heavy shoulders. "I got in a fight with a man. He died. I covered up the traces pretty well, but I could never be sure--sooner or later the police might get on to the truth, and I don't like the idea of corrective treatment. So I figured I'd better blow out whilst I was still unsuspected."
"Venus is no place for the rugged individualist, Hollister. Men have to work together, and be very tolerant of each other, if they are to survive at all."
"Yes, I know. This was a special case. The man had it coming." Hollister's face twisted. "I have a daughter--Never mind. I'd rather tell it under narco than consciously. But I just couldn't see letting a snake like that get 'corrected' and then walk around free again." Defensively: "I've always been a rough sort, I suppose, but you've got to admit this was extreme provocation."
"That is all right," said Karsov, "if you are telling the truth. But if you have family ties back on Earth, it might lessen your usefulness here."
"None," said Hollister bitterly. "Not anymore."
The interview went on. Karsov extracted the facts skillfully: Hollister, Simon James; born Frisco Unit, U.S.A., of good stock; chronological age, thirty-eight Earth-years; physiological age, thanks to taking intelligent advantage of biomedics, about twenty-five; Second-class education, major in civil engineering with emphasis on nuclear-powered construction machines; work record; psych rating at last checkup; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Somewhere a recorder took sound and visual impressions of every nuance for later analysis and filing.
At the end, the Guardian rose and stretched. "I think you will do," he said. "Come along now for the narcoquiz. It will take about three hours, and you will need another hour to recover, and then I will see that you get something to eat."
The city crouched on a mountainside in a blast of eternal wind. Overhead rolled the poisonous gray clouds; sometimes a sleet of paraformaldehyde hid the grim red slopes around, and always the scudding dust veiled men's eyes so they could not see the alkali desert below. Fantastically storm-gnawed crags loomed over the city, and often there was the nearby rumble of an avalanche, but the ledge on which it stood had been carefully checked for stability.
The city was one armored unit of metal and concrete, low and rounded as if it hunched its back against the shrieking steady gale. From its shell protruded the stacks of hundreds of outsize Hilsch tubes, swivel-mounted so that they always faced into the wind. It blew past filters which caught the flying dust and sand and tossed them down a series of chutes to the cement factory. The tubes grabbed the rushing air and separated fast and slow molecules; the cooler part went into a refrigeration system which kept the city at a temperature men could stand--outside, it hovered around the boiling point of water; the smaller volume of superheated air was conducted to the maintenance plant where it helped run the city's pumps and generators. There were also nearly a thousand windmills, turning furiously and drinking the force of the storm.
None of this air was for breathing. It was thick with carbon dioxide; the rest was nitrogen, inert gases, formaldehyde vapor, a little methane and ammonia. The city devoted many hectares of space to hydroponic plants which renewed its oxygen and supplied some of the food, as well as to chemical purifiers, pumps and blowers. "Free as air" was a joke on Venus.
Near the shell was the spaceport where ferries from the satellite station and the big interplanetary ships landed. Pilots had to be good to bring down a vessel, or even take one up, under such conditions as prevailed here. Except for the landing cradles, the radio mast and the GCA shack in the main shell, everything was underground, as most of the city was.
Some twenty thousand colonists lived there. They were miners, engineers, laborers, technicians in the food and maintenance centers. There were three doctors, a scattering of teachers and librarians and similar personnel, a handful of police and administrators. Exactly fifteen people were employed in brewing, distilling, tavern-running, movie operation, and the other nonessential occupations which men required as they did food and air.
This was New America, chief city of Venus in 2051 A.D.
Hollister didn't enjoy his meal. He got it, cafeteria style, in one of the big plain mess halls, after a temporary ration book had been issued him. It consisted of a few vegetables, a lot of potato, a piece of the soggy yeast synthetic which was the closest to meat Venus offered--all liberally loaded with a tasteless basic food concentrate--a vitamin capsule, and a glass of flavored water. When he took out one of his remaining cigarettes, a score of eyes watched it hungrily. Not much tobacco here either. He inhaled savagely, feeling the obscure guilt of the have confronted with the have-not.
There were a number of people in the room with him, eating their own rations. Men and women were represented about equally. All wore coveralls of the standard shorts, and most looked young, but hard too, somehow--even the women. Hollister was used to female engineers and technicians at home, but here everybody worked.
For the time being, he stuck to his Earthside garments.
He sat alone at one end of a long table, wondering why nobody talked to him. You'd think they would be starved for a new face and word from Earth. Prejudice? Yes, a little of that, considering the political situation; but Hollister thought something more was involved.
Fear. They were all afraid of something.
When Karsov strolled in, the multilingual hum of conversation died, and Hollister guessed shrewdly at the fear. The Guardian made his way directly to the Earthling's place. He had a blocky, bearded man with a round smiling face in tow.
"Simon Hollister ... Heinrich Gebhardt," the policeman introduced them. They shook hands, sizing each other up. Karsov sat down. "Get me the usual," he said, handing over his ration book.
Gebhardt nodded and went over to the automat. It scanned the books and punched them when he had dialed his orders. Then it gave him two trays, which he carried back.
Karsov didn't bother to thank him. "I have been looking for you," he told Hollister. "Where have you been?"
"Just wandering around," said the Earthling cautiously. Inside, he felt muscles tightening, and his mind seemed to tilt forward, as if sliding off the hypnotically imposed pseudopersonality which had been meant as camouflage in the narcoquiz. "It's quite a labyrinth here."
"You should have stayed in the barracks," said Karsov. There was no expression in his smooth-boned face; there never seemed to be. "Oh, well, I wanted to say you have been found acceptable."
"Good," said Hollister, striving for imperturbability.
"I will administer the oath after lunch," said Karsov. "Then you will be a full citizen of the Venusian Federation. We do not hold with formalities, you see--no time." He reached into a pocket and got out a booklet which he gave to Hollister. "But I advise you to study this carefully. It is a r?sum? of the most important laws, insofar as they differ from Earth's. Punishment for infraction is severe."
Gebhardt looked apologetic. "It has to be," he added. His bass voice had a slight blur and hiss of German accent, but he was good at the English which was becoming the common language of Venus. "This planet vas made in hell. If ve do not all work together, ve all die."
"And then, of course, there is the trouble with Earth," said Karsov. His narrow eyes studied Hollister for a long moment. "Just how do people back there feel about our declaration of independence?"
"Well--" Hollister paused. Best to tell the unvarnished truth, he decided. "Some resentment, of course. After all the money we ... they ... put into developing the colonies--"
"And all the resources they took out," said Gebhardt. "Men vere planted on Venus back in the last century to mine fissionables, vich vere getting short efen then. The colonies vere made self-supporting because that vas cheaper than hauling supplies for them, vich vould haff been an impossible task anyvay. Some of the colonies vere penal, some vere manned by arbitrarily assigned personnel; the so-called democracies often relied on broken men, who could not find vork at home or who had been displaced by var. No, ve owe them notting."
Hollister shrugged. "I'm not arguing. But people do wonder why, if you wanted national status, you didn't at least stay with the U.N. That's what Mars is doing."
"Because we are ... necessarily ... developing a whole new civilization here, something altogether remote from anything Earth has ever seen," snapped Karsov. "We will still trade our fissionables for things we need, until the day we can make everything here ourselves, but we want as little to do with Earth as possible. Never mind, you will understand in time."
Hollister's mouth lifted in a crooked grin. There hadn't been much Earth could do about it; in the present stage of astronautics, a military expedition to suppress the nationalists would cost more than anyone could hope to gain even from the crudest imperialism. Also, as long as no clear danger was known to exist, it wouldn't have sat well with a planet sick of war; the dissension produced might well have torn the young world government, which still had only limited powers, apart.
But astronautics was going to progress, he thought grimly. Spaceships wouldn't have to improve much to carry, cheaply, loads of soldiers in cold sleep, ready to land when thermonuclear bombardment from the skies had smashed a world's civilization. And however peaceful Earth might be, she was still a shining temptation to the rest of the System, and it looked very much as if something was brewing here on Venus which could become ugly before the century was past.
"Your first assignment is already arranged," said Karsov. Hollister jerked out of his reverie and tried to keep his fists unclenched. "Gebhardt will be your boss. If you do well, you can look for speedy promotion. Meanwhile"--he flipped a voucher across--"here is the equivalent of the dollars you had along, in our currency."
Hollister stuck the sheet in his pouch. It was highway robbery, he knew, but he was in no position to complain and the Venusian government wanted the foreign exchange. And he could only buy trifles with it anyway; the essentials were issued without payment, the size of the ration depending on rank. Incentive bonuses were money, though, permitting you to amuse yourself but not to consume more of the scarce food or textiles or living space.
He reflected that the communist countries before World War Three had never gone this far. Here, everything was government property. The system didn't call itself communism, naturally, but it was, and probably there was no choice. Private enterprise demanded a fairly large economic surplus, which simply did not exist on Venus.
Well, it wasn't his business to criticize their internal arrangements. He had never been among the few fanatics left on Earth who still made a god of a particular economic setup.
Gebhardt cleared his throat. "I am in charge of the atmosphere detail in this district," he said. "I am here on leafe, and vill be going back later today. Very glad to haff you, Hollister, ve are alvays short of men. Ve lost two in the last rock storm."
"Cheerful news," said the Earthman. His face resumed its hard woodenness. "Well, I didn't think Venus was going to be any bed of roses."
"It vill be," said Gebhardt. Dedication glowed on the hairy face. "Someday it vill be."
The oath was pretty drastic: in effect, Hollister put himself completely at the mercy of the Technic Board, which for all practical purposes was the city government. Each colony, he gathered, had such a body, and there was a federal board in this town which decided policy for the entire planet.
Anyone who wished to enter the government had to pass a series of rigid tests, after which there were years of apprenticeship and study, gradual promotion on the recommendation of seniors. The study was an exhausting course of history, psychotechnics, and physical science: in principle, thought Hollister, remembering some of the blubberheads who still got themselves elected at home, a good idea. The governing boards combined legislative, executive, and judicial functions, and totaled only a couple of thousand people for the whole world. It didn't seem like much for a nation of nearly two million, and the minimal paperwork surprised him--he had expected an omnipresent bureaucracy.
But of course they had the machines to serve them, recording everything in electronic files whose computers could find and correlate any data and were always checking up. And he was told pridefully that the schools were inculcating the rising generation with a tight ethic of obedience.
Hollister had supper, and returned to the Casual barracks to sleep. There were only a few men in there with him, most of them here on business from some other town. He was awakened by the alarm, whose photocells singled him out and shot forth a supersonic beam; it was a carrier wave for the harsh ringing in his head which brought him to his feet.
Gebhardt met him at an agreed-on locker room. There was a wiry, tough-looking Mongoloid with him who was introduced as Henry Yamashita. "Stow your fancy clothes, boy," boomed the chief, "and get on some TBI's." He handed over a drab, close-fitting coverall.
Hollister checked his own garments and donned the new suit wordlessly. After that there was a heavy plasticord outfit which, with boots and gloves, decked his whole body. Yamashita helped him strap on the oxygen bottles and plug in the Hilsch cooler. The helmet came last, its shoulderpiece buckled to the airsuit, but all of them kept theirs hinged back to leave their heads free.
"If somet'ing happens to our tank," said Gebhardt, "you slap that helmet down fast. Or maybe you like being embalmed. Haw!" His cheerfulness was more evident when Karsov wasn't around.
Hollister checked the valves with the caution taught him on Luna--his engineering experience was not faked. Gebhardt grunted approvingly. Then they slipped on the packs containing toilet kits, change of clothes, and emergency rations; clipped ropes, batteries, and canteens to their belts--the latter with the standard sucker tubes by which a man could drink directly even in his suit; and clumped out of the room.
A descending ramp brought them to a garage where the tanks were stored. These looked not unlike the sandcats of Mars, but were built lower and heavier, with a refrigerating tube above and a grapple in the nose. A mechanic gestured at one dragging a covered steel wagon full of supplies, and the three men squeezed into the tiny transparent cab.
Gebhardt gunned the engine, nodding as it roared. "Okay," he said. "On ve go."
"What's the power source?" asked Hollister above the racket.
"Alcohol," answered Yamashita. "We get it from the formaldehyde. Bottled oxygen. A compressor and cooling system to keep the oxy tanks from blowing up on us--not that they don't once in a while. Some of the newer models use a peroxide system."
"And I suppose you save the water vapor and CO2 to get the oxygen back," ventured Hollister.
"Just the water. There's always plenty of carbon dioxide." Yamashita looked out, and his face set in tight lines.
The tank waddled through the great air lock and up a long tunnel toward the surface. When they emerged, the wind was like a blow in the face. Hollister felt the machine shudder, and the demon howl drowned out the engine. He accepted the earplugs Yamashita handed him with a grateful smile.
There was dust and sand scudding by them, making it hard to see the mountainside down which they crawled. Hollister caught glimpses of naked fanglike peaks, raw slashes of ocher and blue where minerals veined the land, the steady march of dunes across the lower ledges. Overhead, the sky was an unholy tide of ragged, flying clouds, black and gray and sulfurous yellow. He could not see the sun, but the light around him was a weird hard brass color, like the light on Earth just before a thunderstorm.
The wind hooted and screamed, banging on the tank walls, yelling and rattling and groaning. Now and then a dull quiver ran through the land and trembled in Hollister's bones, somewhere an avalanche was ripping out a mountain's flanks. Briefly, a veil of dust fell so thick around them that they were blind, grinding through an elemental night with hell and the furies loose outside. The control board's lights were wan on Gebhardt's intent face, most of the time he was steering by instruments.
Once the tank lurched into a gully. Hollister, watching the pilot's lips, thought he muttered: "Damn! That wasn't here before!" He extended the grapple, clutching rock and pulling the tank and its load upward.