Literature: Science-Fiction 101
, previously released as Robert Silverburg's Worlds of Wonder
is an anthology of science fiction short stories written by various authors. The purpose of including each story, though, is not merely to entertain but actually to teach
a principle about writing science fiction. Robert Silverburg, the organizer of the book, explains that this is how he learned to write, by reading from other authors, and hopes that by presenting these stories that other readers may do the same.
The short stories provide examples of the following tropes:
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Four In One
Four In One
is a short story by Damon Knight. Its protagonist is George Meister, a biologist on an expedition through a new planet with three other individuals: Vivian, a geologist, Major Gumbs, their military guard, and Miss McCarty, a government supervisor. An accident causes them to fall into a strange amoeba-like organism, which promptly engulfs their bodies... but their nervous systems survive. Now in control of this strange creature, the four people attempt to transform themselves in a more useful shape, and pursue their opposing goals.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Integrated with the meisterii, the humans become shapeshifters, and functionally immortal.
- Book Ends: Towards the beginning, George tries to think of a name for the organism, planning on "something meisterii". At the end of the story, he changes his mind and names it Spes hominis (Man's hope). Silverburg notes this in his commentary on the story, writing: "It's always artistically pleasing when a story's end hearkens back to its beginning."
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Though highly emotional and frightened throughout the whole story, Vivian is the one to kill McCarty.
- Didn't Think This Through: When the meisterii gets hungry, George directs the group to attack a herd of pig-like creatures so they can eat them. However, just before they attack, Gumbs points out that George hasn't explained how they're supposed to kill these things.
- Distressed Damsel: Vivian, though she turns out to be a bit stronger than Meister expected.
- The Dragon: Gumbs becomes this to McCarty.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Gumbs tries to crush George with a boulder, but instead is the one flattened.
- Immune to Bullets: The group is shot at one point by a passing guard, but the bullet fragments are instead pushed through the body. George deduces that no attack to them would be fatal unless it hits their spinal cord or brain.
- Major Injury Underreaction: George is pretty cool with being eaten alive by some unidentified creature, being a scientist and trying to examine everything that's happening to him. Everyone else is freaking out and/or angry.
- Meaningful Name: The creature the four are inhabiting is tentatively called the meisterii (mystery).
- Science Hero: George Meister, the team biologist who bests understands the situation and plans. Vivian, the only other scientist, is a geologist and thus is out of her element.
- Tempting Fate: Noted at one point, where the omniscient narrator who appears for one chapter mentions that such an expedition should have only occurred after the area was declared safe to explore, and after any dangerous bacteria there could be sterilized. Instead, the race for colonization has made everyone forgo basic safety.
- The Spook: Miss McCarty, who has orders to kill any members that act out of line.
- Take That: The security member of the team meant to supervise them all is named McCarty. This story was written during the Red Scare.
- Took a Level in Badass: Vivian literally grows a backbone, keeping McCarty from being able to kill her. Then Vivian returns the favor.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Major Gumbs fails to kill George and is wounded when a rock falls on his spine. George helps him out and tells him he can heal it. Not long afterward, Gumbs tries to kill him again, only to kill himself instead.
- Vasquez Always Dies: McCarty, the more assertive of the two female characters, is killed by Vivian. Of course, she is the antagonist, so it was kinda inevitable.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: How the meisterii works. Need to see? The creatures grows some eyes. Need to walk? The creature grows some legs. It takes time and concentration, but the possibilities are infinite.
- This is how McCarty is killed. Vivian thinks to herself about how much better things would be without her, and thus the creature excretes McCarty's brain and nerves out.
is by Alfred Bester, and it concerns a man and his android. James Vandeleur has been forced to go on the run, because his android has a murderous streak and will sometimes randomly kill people. Too afraid to turn in the android and possibly lose all chance of making a living, Vandeleur puts them both into hiding, while trying to find out what makes his android go wrong. But maybe it's not just the android that's messed up...
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The android is usually obedient, but once in a while will turn murderous and thus force the two to flee again. The attacks turn out to occur only on days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit because of a disorder in the android's glands. As for the murderous streak, it may just be killing those who Vandeleur wants it to kill.
- Arc Words:
- The android often sings the song: "Oh it's not feat to beat the heat, All reet! All reet! So jeet your seat, be fleet, be fleet, honey..." As Vandeleur turns more insane, he begins randomly inserting in phrases from the song in his sentences.
- After a murder is committed, the android will note that the temperature is "— degrees gloriously Fahrenheit." Because the murders are committed only on hot days.
- Asshole Victim: Subverted. All the murders of people Vandeleur had disliked or deemed dangerous, but only to him.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Wanda is writing a paper suggesting a cause for the murders of the android. Her only hint she gives about it is "projection." Vandeleur is projecting his insanity on the android.
- Blenheim's gun is first used to kill Blenheim himself. Later, it goes off accidentally from the heat of the explosion, revealing the two's location to the police.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: While trying to flee the police, Vandeleur's car crashes and explodes.
- Here We Go Again: Vandeleur escapes to a frigid colony where he buys a cheap labor robot to do his work now. However, it picks up his insanity too and is implied to start murdering on cold days instead.
- Karmic Death: The android is caught in the flames from the explosion of Vandeleur's car and is burned to death.
- Karma Houdini: Vandeleur gets away and gets a cheaper labor robot next, which may continue his murders.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Vandeleur's false names always still start with "V". This gets him caught multiple times.
- The android's forehead stamp reading MA (Multiple Aptitude) is hidden by being beaten until its forehead bruises. That too is soon discovered.
- R-Rated Opening: The story opens with police finding the body of a nude dead girl who was killed by the android.
- Sanity Slippage: Throughout the narration, the POV constantly switches, even mid-paragraph! It's because Vandeleur is projecting his thoughts onto the android. Even after it's dead, he still sometimes thinks he's it.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: In the android's default state, it will not kill, even when ordered to. It will only assist a kill if it can be interpreted as self-defense, or if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Title Drop: The android constantly states "gloriously Fahrenheit". "Fondly Fahrenheit" doesn't appear until the end when the murders resume with a robot that instead murders on cold days.
No Woman Born
No Woman Born
is written by C.L. Moore, and has nothing to do with this trope
. Or this trope
. Rather, it's about the woman Deirdre, a famous actress and dancer who was killed in a theater fire. However, her body was recovered before her brain was destroyed, and it was transferred to a robotic body built to replace her old. Thrilled at her new body and to be alive again, Deirdre promptly prepares to return back to her career. But the scientist who built her body, Maltzer, is skeptical. Despite the protests of Deirdre's manager John Harris that her real self is truly there, Maltzer cannot shake off the feeling that she will soon lose her humanity, if she hasn't already.
- Anachronism Stew / Historical Beauty Update: In-universe. Maltzer and Harris watch a theater dramatization of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, noting that the garb being worn by the women is far too tight for the period and the actress playing Mary is too attractive for the real deal.
- Badass Boast: Deirdre declares that even with her artificial body, eventually she'll be able to play Juliet and everyone in the audience would believe her.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Maltzer is convinced this will happen to Deirdre, once she eventually forgets about what her human life was like and from the lack of three of her senses. She finally admits toward the end that she sometimes does worry about this, but not because she feels like her new body is inferior, but rather superior, since it's so much stronger than her old one.
- Break the Haughty: Maltzer's attempted suicide is what breaks through Deirdre's show of confidence.
- Broken Aesop: Noted in-universe. Maltzer brings up the example of the story of Frankenstein as proof that creating life is doomed to go wrong. Deirdre responds back that Maltzer didn't create her, he only gave her a new body.
- While not pointed out, also of note is that Dr. Frankenstein's creation went wrong because he mistreated it. Had he been kinder to it, it would have not rebelled.
- Chekhov's Skill: Deirdre points out that she no longer has to worry about lack of vocal range or breath when singing. It also lets her scream loud enough to break windows and put others in pain.
- Driven to Suicide: Maltzer tries to kill himself rather than witness Deirdre fall from glory. It also has the double affect of threatening her to be honest. However, when he jumps out the window Deirdre runs so fast she catches him before he lands.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Deirdre is the most important character, but instead we see from Harris's perspective so we can both be left in mystery about whether she is still truly human and to understand why people are in such awe of her.
- Giant Robot Hands Save Lives: Well, not "giant" this time, so it's more plausible.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Maltzer has become so convinced that Deirdre is doomed to become soulless that he can no longer recognize human nature himself.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: See Chekhov's Skill above.
- No Ending: The story ends with Deirdre admitting her fear to the men about what will become of her. In her last line ("I wonder..."), spoken to herself, she forgets to make it sound human and it instead emerges robotically.
- Properly Paranoid: Zig-zagged. It's unclear whether Maltzer is right to be afraid of what will happen to Deirdre, as sometimes she seems human and other times she doesn't. Deirdre eventually admits that he's partially right that she's at risk of losing her humanity, but for the wrong reasons.
- Robot Girl: Guess who.
- Something Only They Would Say: Once Deirdre sings "The Yellow Rose of Eden" while onstage, the crowd recognizes her and goes wild.
- Stepford Smiler: Deirdre always appears confident that she can keep living as though her old body was never lost. However, she eventually reveals that the real reason why she hopes to continue performing in front of an audience because they remind her of the people she belongs to. The joy of dancing and acting has become laced with fear of what will happen if she stops.
- Technobabble: During the scene where Deirdre runs fast enough to catch Maltzer from his suicidal jump off a balcony, the story has this lengthy "scientific explanation" about the fourth dimension and travel through time and space. In his commentary, Silverburg argues that this is an unnecessary flaw to the story, as it makes no sense, overcomplicates a simple action, brings an intense scene to a halt, and is unlikely to have all gone through Harris' head in that short span of seconds.
- Title Drop: Early on, Harris remembers a poem by James Stephen about a lost love also named Deirdre, of whom he wrote: There has been again no woman born, Who was so beautiful; not one so beautiful, Of all the women born-. Harris decides that Stephen was wrong; there is another beautiful Deirdre, and she's not lost at all, he hopes.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: It's not clear if Harris is merely in awe of Deirdre or if they were lovers. Whatever the case, they're not shown attempting a relationship in her new form, though he still almost faints at the mere sight of her.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Deirdre finds comfort in that fact that her brain will wear out at the normal rate, and therefore she won't have to outlive her friends.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: What the title refers to, as shown by the poem it references. Deirdre is believed to be this, and Harris feels she still is the most beautiful even in her artificial body.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Zig-zagged, as noted above in Broken Aesop. Maltzer knows perfectly well about how messing with life in stories has always gone wrong, but whether he's wrong or not streaks back and forth.
- Uncanny Valley: Specifically avoided with the design of Deirdre's new body. It only mimics a human form, and does not attempt to replicate her old one. Harris thinks to himself that he's glad the designer avoided giving her face definite features or human-like eyes. Even her clothes are not cloth, because it would have reminded of her old body too much.
- Maltzer asserts that this is why he's certain Deirdre will eventually forget how to be human: because something about her actions always feels off. He may be right, but the tells are instead originated from fear, rather than forgetting.
Home Is The Hunter
Home Is The Hunter
, by Henry Kuttner
, takes place in a dystopian New York, where society has been split into two castes. The Populi are the common folk, who go about their daily lives and stay out of the way of the Head-Hunters, the elite class who battle each other in gladiatorial duels. The story is narrated by the Head-Hunter Honest Roger Bellamy, the mightiest warrior in the city who knows full well he's only as good as his most recent duel.
- Batman Gambit: In order to bait Grisworld to Central Park, Bellamy spreads rumors that Bill Lindman and Whistler Cowles had also challenged each other to a duel, giving Grisworld three possible targets for one night.
- Blood Knight: A necessary quality for every head-hunter.
- Crapsack World: New York is one now. No word about the rest of the world.
- Driven to Suicide / Better to Die than Be Killed: After defeating his final threat to his title, Bellamy poisons himself during the victory ceremony.
- Foreshadowing: Bellamy notes at the beginning of the story that there's only two ways out of a head-hunters life: you're either killed by a rival and thus your head is mounted and your treasury looted, or you die naturally/by suicide and be honored with a plastic statue in Central Park. Bellamy takes the suicide route at the end of the story.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Invoked. While speaking to Griswold via video-phone, Bellamy fakes injuring his hand so that Griswold will assume he has only one good hand in their duel.
- Off with His Head!: Why else do you think they're called "head-hunters"?
- Villain Protagonist: The narrator is a head-hunter, who murders for a living.
is a short story by Robert Sheckley
. It concerns a village of "humans" who are one day visited by extraterrestrials. However, their differing values quickly create conflicts, and each side begins to view the other as evil monsters.
Scanners Live In Vain
is by Brian W. Aldiss, and is reprinted here in its original short story form before it was adapted as a novel. It takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where plant life has become dominant over human life, and far more deadly. A village of humans is constantly fending for survival amid everything trying to kill them, and eventually decide it's too dangerous to stay in their old home. Thus, their journey begins, and continues until they find a new home, farther away than they even thought possible.
- After the End: What caused the end is not clear. From the sounds of it, though, the story takes place perhaps more than a million years in the future.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Every plant has its own special way of making nearby humans have a really rough day.
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: Humans now have green skin. This may hint that they've become part plant or that it's an adaption to camouflage oneself better.
- I Love Nuclear Power: Traveling from the Earth to the Moon exposes you to radiation, causing humans to mutate and begin transforming into flymen.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Lily-yo assesses her bare breasts in one scene, disappointed that they're much saggier than they used to be.
- No Nudity Taboo: Lily-yo goes at least topless, and this sounds like a common practice among them.
- Tidally Locked Planet: The Moon's tidal locking has progressed further over millions of years, to the point that its orbit now perfectly keeps pace with Earth's day/night cycle. As a result, the Moon floats over one sole area of Earth's surface, making travel to it much easier by "traversers", enormous spiders capable of passing through space on silk strands miles long connecting the Earth to the Moon.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Of a sort. Every kid is forced to become a warrior, learn to kill, and have more children quickly, because the death rate is so high in this future.
- Was Once a Man: The flymen are former humans, who have mutated from the radioactive belts between the Earth and the moon.
- Weird Moon: The Moon has drifted far enough that it's no longer in Earth's orbit, and instead travels on a parallel orbit with it around the sun. The two exert just enough gravity on each other to keep them both moving at the same speed allowing for travel from one to the other.
The New Prime
is a short story by Philip K. Dick
, about a colonization group's arrival to Planet Blue, a seemingly perfect newly-discovered world. Is this Eden-like paradise as perfect as it seems? Of course not!
- Cassandra Truth: Major Hall is reluctant to admit that his own microscope tried to strangle him, because he knows no one would believe him. He only admits it when he's attacked again and when pressured by others to, and sure enough they do take him in to be checked. However, another attack occurs almost immediately afterward, proving the truth of his statement.
- Crapsaccharine World: Guess.
- Downer Ending: The entire crew is killed by the protoplasms before they can alert future colonists about the danger on Planet Blue.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: The protoplasm can imitate any inanimate object, thus making everything aboard the ship suspect.
- Kill 'em All: The entire crew is tricked into mistaking an imitation rescue ship for the real thing and are thus all killed when they enter.
- Naked People Are Funny: Toward the end of the story, the crew of the colony ship is forced to go naked to make sure they aren't carrying any of the creatures with them.
- Properly Paranoid: No one is imagining their common items attacking them. Your towels and gloves really are out to kill you!
The Little Black Bag
The Little Black Bag is a short story by C. M. Kornbluth. In the present, an old physician, Dr. Full, is living on the streets after having been fired in disgrace. One day he awakes to find a mysterious black bag, which is full of medical tools that make surgery a breeze. Unbeknownst to him, the bag comes from the future, where the average human has become stupider and therefore rely on machines to simplify their jobs for them. With the aid of his first customer, a receptionist named Angie who knows the truth about his tool, Dr. Full sets out to become a private doctor gaining much success with his healing... provided these tools keep working.
Light of Other Days
Light of Other Days
is a short story by Bob Shaw. It's about a married couple with an unwanted pregnancy, who stop by a house in a beautiful valley selling "slow glass". Slow glass is a substance so thick that light takes years to cross it, allowing it to preserve images in it like a meadow, mountains, or sunshine, and thus, memories.
- An Aesop: The couple learns to appreciate their chance for a family.
- Artistic License - Physics: Noted in the afterword by Silverburg. A substance like slow glass in real life would likely distort the images through random movements of molecules long before they would ever reach the other side... but then we wouldn't have this story, would we?
- Dead All Along: Mrs. Hagan and her son are dead, and the view the couple see of them through the window are just preserved slow glass images. Mr. Hagan keeps it up as the last memento of his family.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Hence why the couple is so cranky at the moment. They claim to have been hoping for a child "later", but secretly this meant "never".
is by Frederik Pohl
, where he tells you (yes, you
) a little Boy Meets Girl
story. But not quite the story you expect.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The point of the story. Dora and Don's marriage is merely a sensory download that they can access at any time. Among other strange details of their future culture.
"Rats, you say, it looks crazy to me. And you—with your aftershave lotion and your little red card, pushing papers across a desk all day and chasing tail all night—tell me, just how the hell do you think you would look to Tiglath-Pileser, say, or Attila the Hun?"
- Fourth Date Marriage: Dora and Don fall in love and marry after just knowing each other for seconds. The marriage is over just as fast. Technically.
- Overly Long Name: "Dora" is short for "omnicron-Dibase seven-group-totter-oot S Doradus 5314". Don's name is said to be just as long.
- Transgender: Dora is genetically male, but in the womb her future aptitudes were analyzed and judged to be better suited for a female. Thus, Dora was induced while a fetus to be born female.
- Wham Line: "Go ahead, glare and grumble. Dora doesn't care. If she thinks of you at all, her thirty-times-great-great-grandfather, she thinks you're a pretty primordial sort of brute. You are. Why, Dora is farther removed from you than you are from the australopithcines of five thousand centuries ago."