cover image Worlds Vast and Various: Stories

Worlds Vast and Various: Stories

Gregory Benford. Eos, $14.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-380-79054-8

For readers more familiar with this acclaimed hard-SF author's illuminating and genre-stretching novels (Eater; Cosm; etc.), this story collection is an excellent chance to discover his equally adept shorter work. The 10 stories and two novellas here offer a neat cross-section of Benford's writing career. The gripping ""A Calculus of Desperation"" demonstrates the brutal lengths to which truly dedicated environmentalists could go to keep humanity from devastating Earth. ""Doing Aliens"" and ""World Vast, World Various"" present some of the possible relationships--or lack thereof--between humans and aliens. For readers who treasure scientifically rigorous settings, ""High Abyss"" and ""A Dance to Strange Musics"" offer a fine blend of the exotic and surprising. ""A Worm in the Well"" is old-fashioned high adventure in space, while ""The Voice"" keeps its traditional heart closer to home, with riffs from Golden Age writers like Asimov and Bradbury. ""As Big As the Ritz"" takes F. Scott Fitzgerald out for an SF spin, and ""In the Dark Backward"" is a lighthearted time-travel story with a nifty twist ending. In a short afterword, Benford writes, ""All short stories are strategies. Working in a confined space, one must render the essentials and get off the stage with a minimum of fuss."" While faithfully following that advice, Benford (who is also a working physicist) ably demonstrates the falseness of the old literary saw that scientists don't make good fiction writers--or popular ones: Benford always sells well, and this book will, too, though not as well as his novels. (Oct.)