This is a solid, if not spectacular, collection of short stories. The problem is, based on the two Bester novels I've read, I expect spectacular. I expect him to bend language to his will and plunge headlong into experimentation and emerge with gems. In this collection, only one story explores those aspects of his writing that I've most enjoyed in the past. For the rest, they were entertaining, but I don't really expect them to stay with me in the same way The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man have.
Story by story:
"Adam and No Eve"
is an entertaining take on the "last man on earth" tale, with a twist,
hinted at in the title - no one else to repopulate the earth with. In
fact, it goes beyond that into being a "last living thing on earth." The
ending is entertaining, the cataclysm that led to the destruction of
all life on earth a frightening look at hubris.
"Time is the Traitor"
is one of my favourite stories in the book, other than "The Pi Man." In
the future, corporations and governments and everything, really, have
grown so complex that almost no one can hold all the aspects of a large
problem in their head and come up with a sensible answer. No one, that
is, except for John Strapp. Naturally, his services are in great demand.
There's only one problem. He keeps murdering men named Kruger. This one
is entertaining and engrossing.
"Oddy and Id"
Id" is entertaining, but a bit too straightforward for Bester. A young
man named Oddy has industrial-strength luck, and four college professors
think they can use that to save the solar system. His luck has other
After a nuclear cataclysm, one
statistician notes a statistical anomaly - the population keeps going
up. And it really shouldn't. What he finds when he checks it out in
person is a lot of fun. And I like the ambiguous ending.
"Star Light, Star Bright"
story is way too similar to "Oddy and Id," as far as I'm concerned.
It's perhaps the better of the two, but the two tread more or less the
same ground with more or less the same results.
"They Don't Make Life Like They Used To"
last-two-people-on-earth tale, except they're not sure they like each
other very much, and at least one of them is probably lying. The vision
of a deserted New York is interesting, but the story is a bit too cute
"Of Time and Third Avenue"
A man accidentally
buys a year almanac for forty years in the future, and a time traveller
must convince him to give it up, unread. This one is twisty enough that
it thoroughly satisfied me. I mostly but not quite guessed the ending,
but the discussion over knowing the future was worth the price of
A magazine piece Bester wrote on Asimov, it's short and entertaining.
"The Pi Man"
is the best story of the bunch, the one where Bester comes closest to
the kind of writing that I've so enjoyed before. The Pi Man is buffeted
by patterns, everywhere he goes, and the patterns demand righting, even
if it leads him to do some pretty nasty things. Government certainly
don't understand this. He doesn't even understand this. What does
balance demand? And who's demanding it?
"Something Up There Likes Me"
was literally in the middle of reading this story when I took a break,
surfed the internet, and came upon a short speculative piece about how
satellites could develop intelligence. The synchronicity astounded me,
as that's what happens in the story. And the lead satellite, OBO, has
quite the sense of humour.
While I'm talking about this one, I
should say that his female characters are very well drawn, particularly
compared to some other stories written in the same time period. They
don't gurgle or burble, they aren't just out for sex or to mess the men
up. They're about as well developed as the men in the stories, and if
that's not always to an incredible degree, at least it's true for
"My Affair with Science Fiction"
An account of
his science fiction writing career, and why he stopped. His discussion
with John Campbell about Dianetics is a gem.
If you've read
Bester's two great novels, and are looking for more, this is worthwhile.
If you haven't, start with those. They're definitely his masterworks.