Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M104

Available in: Stories Of Your Life And Others

Among Ted Chiang’s small but brilliant body of work is this story, which describes the construction of the titular tower (you know that thing ain’t up to code) and what happens when its builders finally reach Heaven. Whether you’re a contractor looking for tips on how to work with bricks made of baked clay, or just a time-travelling, homesick Babylonian eager for news from back home, this story rocks. Read it, and everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Ted Chiang tonight.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G102.5

Available in: The Mammoth Book Of Alternate Histories

The trick to writing good AltHist is making the world-that-never-was relatable to the reader without getting bogged down by too many scholarly details. Cadigan succeeds with this dystopic tale of 1960’s radicalism that sees the war in Viet Nam won, Kennedy alive and things still in the toilet. This story has a Watchmen-esque feel to it that will unnerve anyone with an ounce of left-leaning blood in their veins.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G106.5

Available in: Faces At The Bottom Of The Well

Aliens land in America with a deal: they’ll give Americans enough gold to wipe out the national debt and extraterrestrial technology that will reverse pollution. In return, they want all the black people (and they’ll be checking, so don’t try to slip any Mexicans in there at the bottom of the pile!) Someone get me a Cosby sweater, because this is a chilling commentary on race in America.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Alternate Warriors

A chock-full-o’-chuckles alternate history story that transforms pacifist, man-on-a-mission-of-peace missionary Albert Schweitzer into a Tarzan-type archetype who fights enemies in darkest Africa. The biggest problem missionaries faced in darkest Africa was the shocking realization that, despite what the lyrics to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ promised, the jungle had neither fun nor games. The second biggest problem they faced in darkest Africa was stubbed toes. Cuz it was dark, y’see.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G0.5

Available in: Alternate Outlaws

A charming little alt-hist tale about a friendly bartender who helps a customer go back in time to meet ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and change the history of baseball. It’s kinda like Cheers, Quantum Leap, and, uh, what’s another show I watched in the 80’s?….let’s say, Night Court, all rolled into one. Interesting footnote: between the two of them, ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and White Sox teammate ‘Shirtless John’ Jefferson couldn’t get service in most convenience stores.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G106

Available in: Tales From Jabba’s Palace

Tales from Jabba's Palace

Return Of The Jedi aficionados know Bib Fortuna as a head-tentacled bit player at Jabba’s palace; a pale, near-anonymous Rusty the Bailiff to the Hutt’s imposing Judge Wapner. But we always wanted more Bib. Give us more Bib, we pleaded with George Lucas, but an extended ‘Now With 48% More Bib Fortuna!’ version of ROTJ was not forthcoming. And we wept. Then this story came along. It’s all about Bib Fortuna; his character, his desires, his backstory, and his never-ending machinations against Jabba the Hutt. And it was good. So good, in fact, it left me drooling. Luckily, I was wearing a….wait for it…..napkin in the front of my shirt.

Hertzsrpung-Russell rating: A/F10-3.5

Available in: Armageddons

An amateur astronomer discovers a comet heading towards Earth that’ll wipe the globe off the map in the next few hours. So he spends his last moments alive working up the nerve to ask a co-worker out for coffee, resulting in the awkwardest first (and last) date small-talk ever (“So….um….how did you enjoy civilization?”) Chicks fall for the old ‘end-of-the-world comet’ trick every time; it’s how I got my wife to marry me. Luboš Kohoutek was our officient. He got really drunk at the reception.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-3.5

Available in: Tales From Watership Down

 

I really revere rabbits, and the more rascally they are the more I love reading about them (NOTE: our scifistoryscentury.com intern, Josh, was supposed to change all those r’s to w’s to make the preceding sentence more Elmer Fudd-ish; can we do that please, Josh?) This story, based in the Watership Down universe, follows the further furred adventures of Richard Adams’ beloved lupines (‘lupines’ means ‘wolves’ Josh; ‘lapines’ is rabbits. Can we fix that before we post this entry?) as they search for a new warren before the arrival of a harsh winter. A pretty good story to settle down with – just make sure you tell everyone that you’re trying to read so they have to be wvery wvery quiet! (you’re fired, Josh).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: Everything’s Eventual

An in-between-Gunslinger-novels story starring King’s resident pistol-packin’ poppa, Roland Deschain. In it, the roving, revolving cowboy finds himself laid up sick in an abandoned town and cared for by a hoard of vampire nurses. Now, if you wound up on this page as the result of a misdirected search for the R-rated 1987 Ivan Reitman teen sex comedy Vampire Nurses, I have two bits of advice. Firstly, read this collection of stories, specifically ‘Room 1408’, which is truly horrifying in the Lovecraftian tradition. Secondly, stop using Bing.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A105

Available in: Visions Of Tomorrow

To solve a case of identity theft a computer hacker enters cyberspace bodily and grapples with a series of fiendishly clever e-riddles that take the form of e-dragons, e-gargoyles, and other shit prefixed with ‘e’. I think cyberpunk is stupid. William Gibson, fast-talking wiseass hackers with nicknames like ‘Motherboard’ and ‘Basic’, dot-matrix printers – all that that shit is stupid. Some people think if you criticize cyberpunk you’ll get ‘hacked’ by cyberpunk fans who’ll make you look stupid online but I highly the author of this blog is a stupid needle-dicked queer doubt it.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.5

Available in: Supertoys Last All Summer Long

This is good entry-level Aldiss: a more-or-less straightforward tale about an alien invasion and a single terrestrial priest struggling to maintain his faith in the face of powers much greater than his beloved Biblical God. Many of the other stories in this anthology were, I found, too weird for words. Mind you, the phrase ‘too weird for words’ actually uses words, so I guess it’s somewhat redundant. Not to mention redundant.