cover image Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

Roger Zelazny, Alfred Bester. Vintage Books USA, $14.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-679-76783-1

A scientist, aiming to murder his wife, goes back in time and shoots her parents, as well as George Washington, Christopher Columbus and Mohammed, without noticeably affecting either his wife or the world at large. A government statistician must figure out how the nation's population can be increasing during a major war even though far more people are dying than are being born. A general must discover how soldiers suffering from shell shock are escaping from and returning to a locked hospital ward. In such stories as ""The Men Who Murdered Mohammed,"" ""Hobson's Choice"" and ""Disappearing Act,"" Bester (1913-1987; The Stars My Destination; The Demolished Man) handled wacky, off-center plots, a pyrotechnic writing style and cutting satire better than just about anyone else in SF. Most of the 17 stories here have been out of print for years, so editors Robert Silverberg (who contributes an introduction, Byron Preiss and Keith R.A. Decandido are to be commended for making them once again available. There are also two previously unpublished pieces, ""The Devil Without Glasses"" and a fragment, ""And 31/2 to Go""; both are enjoyable but minor. The reprinted material here is uniformally good, and much of it demonstrates why Bester is often cited as a positive influence on the cyerpunks. (Nov.)