Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Star Light, Star Bright by Alfred Bester

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"

This 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"

This 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"

"Oddy and 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 plans....

"Hobson's Choice"

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"

This 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"

A 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 sometimes.

"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 admission.

"Isaac Asimov"

A magazine piece Bester wrote on Asimov, it's short and entertaining.

"The Pi Man"

This 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"

I 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 everyone.

"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.


  1. Nice review, thanks. I was wondering if you had read his short fiction....

    1. Just this book - I believe there's another volume, but I haven't made it to that yet.