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Literature / Science-Fiction 101

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First published in 1987, under the title Robert Silverberg's Worlds of Wonder, by editor Robert Silverberg. In 2001, it was re-released under the title Science-Fiction 101. This Genre Anthology collects multiple Science Fiction short fiction stories by various authors. The purpose of each story, though, is not merely to entertain but actually to teach a principle about writing science fiction. After each story is a short essay on what to learn as a writer by Robert Silverberg. In the introduction, Silverberg explains that reading other authors is how he learned to write, and hopes to present these stories so that other readers may do the same.

Works reprinted in Science-Fiction 101:

Science-Fiction 101 provides examples of:

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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). Silverberg 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.
  • Damsel in Distress: Vivian, though she turns out to be a bit stronger than Meister expected.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fondly Fahrenheit 
Fondly Fahrenheit 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.

    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.
  • 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.

    The Monsters 
The Monsters 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.
  • Affably Evil: The "humans", maybe.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Cordovir, upon seeing the aliens, says no creature that ugly could be moral, and a few of the villagers express that maybe these ugly things should be put out of their misery. Subverted, though, as the aliens are more moral than the "humans" in regards to killing.
  • Black Comedy: There is a kinda of funniness in how commonplace murder is in this village.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The central conflict, especially in regards to killing. The aliens think killing is wrong, the "humans" use it as a way to keep the enormous female population in check. This goes badly when the "humans" find out which aliens are female and try to "help" by killing them for the males. The aliens respond by killing males in self-defense, or any they see about to kill their wives.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Males are killed for infractions as small as interrupting each other or being boring. This is the "human's" way of making sure only able males get to pass on their genes.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Both the "humans" and aliens are, apparently.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The "humans" have no problem with killing each other if they feel like it, but lying?! Only a monster would do that!
  • Female Misogynist: The females of the village are all thrilled to be given just one month of life before they're killed by their husbands.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Debatably. The "humans" (who are probably not homo sapiens or even from Earth at all) commit casual murder on a daily basis, but it's all to keep their population in check. They, however, view the aliens as monsters for saying killing is wrong and thus going against their way of life.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The "humans" are constantly concerned about whether these alien visitors are moral beings, despite the villagers constantly killing each other. They also think the aliens lack hospitality, despite constantly calling them ugly.
  • invokedMoral Event Horizon: In "human" eyes, the aliens cross it when they kill male "humans" in an attempt to rescue the females, despite promising to do no harm.
  • Our Humans Are Different: What little we hear of the protagonists' anatomy tells us they have structures like bladed tails or one eye, but they refer to themselves as "humans". Later on, the aliens also say that they are "humans".
  • Properly Paranoid: Cordovir constantly asserts that the aliens are evil and even capable of *gasp* lying! He may or not be right about the lying part, because the aliens kill "humans" in what appears to be self-defense.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: The aliens leave the village and planet rather than stay with these "bloodthirsty" "humans".
  • Serious Business: The "humans" often hold debates in the evening. Anyone who contradicts their ally, interrupts, or is simply stupid is promptly killed.
  • Starfish Aliens: Discussed by the villagers after seeing the rocket. Some claim the aliens must look like them because their anatomy works so well, others say they would look nothing like them because the universe promises wide varieties of evolution. The latter turns out to be right; the aliens are tentacled creatures with bulbous heads and brittle limbs, with skin the color of flayed flesh.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Enforced. Female "humans" are only allowed to live for twenty-five days, because so many of them are born in proportion to males. The females themselves don't see why they'd want any more.
  • Wham Line: The first line that things are very strange in this world.
    "Damn," Cordovir said. "I have to go home and kill my wife."

    Common Time 
Common Time is by James Blish, and is about the strange things experienced by a pilot testing an experimental faster-than-light drive.

    Scanners Live in Vain 


    The New Prime 
The New Prime is by Jack Vance, and concerns the selection of a new ruler of the galaxy.

Colony 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.
  • 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.
  • Nudity Equals Honesty: When the officers realizes what it is going on, they order the entire crew to evacuate the ship naked to be sure nobody brings a parasite 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 Cyril M. Kornbluth. In the present, an old physician, Dr. Full, is living in poverty after his medical license is revoked due to alcoholism. 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 of Kornbluth's The Marching Morons, where the average human has become stupider and therefore rely on machines to simplify their jobs for them. With the aid of a street rat named Angie who knows the truth about his tool, Dr. Full returns to medical practice and gains much success with his healing... while 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.
  • Artificial Outdoors Display: Played with. A material called "slow glass" is technically transparent but so dense that light takes weeks, months, or even years to pass through it. As a result, images on it can be preserved by placing the slow glass near a scenic area for a while then hoisting it elsewhere. With it, one can have the appearance of a window to a grassy meadow or mountain range or other site right outside one's room.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Noted in the afterword by Silverberg. 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".

    Day Million 
Day Million 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.
  • 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."

    The anthology itself 
  • Billed Above the Title: The 2001 cover by ibooks lists Silverberg's name above the road sign that serves as a title.
  • Tagline:
    • "Thirteen stories selected and introduced by Robert Silverberg with an autobiographical essay" — original 1987 cover
    • "Thirteen classic stories. What makes them the best?" — 1988 Great Britain cover
    • "Where to start reading and writing science fiction" — 2005 cover
    • "A collection of essential science fiction masterpieces, selected and introduced by Robert Silverberg" — 2014 cover by New American Library

Alternative Title(s): Robert Silverbergs Worlds Of Wonder