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Alfred Bester took science fiction into hyperdrive, endowing it with a wit, speed, and narrative inventiveness that have inspired two generations of writers. And nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories—two of them previously unpublished—that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time. Read about Alfred Bester took science fiction into hyperdrive, endowing it with a wit, speed, and narrative inventiveness that have inspired two generations of writers. And nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories—two of them previously unpublished—that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time. Read about the sweet-natured young man whose phenomenal good luck turns out to be disastrous for the rest of humanity. Find out why tourists are flocking to a hellish little town in a post-nuclear Kansas. Meet a warlock who practices on Park Avenue and whose potions comply with the Pure Food and Drug Act. Make a deal with the Devil—but not without calling your agent. Dazzling, effervescent, sexy, and sardonic, Virtual Unrealities is a historic collection from one of science fiction's true pathbreakers. CONTENTS: Disappearing Act Oddy and Id Star Light, Star Bright (1953) 5,271,009 (1954) Fondly Fahrenheit (1954) Hobson's Choice (1952) Of Time and Third Avenue (1952) Time is the Traitor (1953) The Men Who Murdered Mohammed (1958) The Pi Man (1959) They Don't Make Life Like They Used To (1963) Will You Wait? (1959) The Flowered Thundermug (1964) Adam and No Eve (1941) And 3 1/2 to Go Galatea Galante (1979) The Devil Without Glasses


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Alfred Bester took science fiction into hyperdrive, endowing it with a wit, speed, and narrative inventiveness that have inspired two generations of writers. And nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories—two of them previously unpublished—that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time. Read about Alfred Bester took science fiction into hyperdrive, endowing it with a wit, speed, and narrative inventiveness that have inspired two generations of writers. And nowhere is Bester funnier, speedier, or more audacious than in these seventeen short stories—two of them previously unpublished—that have now been brought together in a single volume for the first time. Read about the sweet-natured young man whose phenomenal good luck turns out to be disastrous for the rest of humanity. Find out why tourists are flocking to a hellish little town in a post-nuclear Kansas. Meet a warlock who practices on Park Avenue and whose potions comply with the Pure Food and Drug Act. Make a deal with the Devil—but not without calling your agent. Dazzling, effervescent, sexy, and sardonic, Virtual Unrealities is a historic collection from one of science fiction's true pathbreakers. CONTENTS: Disappearing Act Oddy and Id Star Light, Star Bright (1953) 5,271,009 (1954) Fondly Fahrenheit (1954) Hobson's Choice (1952) Of Time and Third Avenue (1952) Time is the Traitor (1953) The Men Who Murdered Mohammed (1958) The Pi Man (1959) They Don't Make Life Like They Used To (1963) Will You Wait? (1959) The Flowered Thundermug (1964) Adam and No Eve (1941) And 3 1/2 to Go Galatea Galante (1979) The Devil Without Glasses

30 review for Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    My first experience reading Bester was 'The Stars My Destination'. I still think it is the definitive example of how Bester best managed all of his gifts. It's a lean book, yet it contains a great revenge-adventure story, with sci-fi concepts to impress the intellectually curious, and every word is vital. Most of the short stories in this collection felt as if they were padded with dialogue or provided verbiage that didn't necessarily move the stories along. Reveals didn't always justify the pag My first experience reading Bester was 'The Stars My Destination'. I still think it is the definitive example of how Bester best managed all of his gifts. It's a lean book, yet it contains a great revenge-adventure story, with sci-fi concepts to impress the intellectually curious, and every word is vital. Most of the short stories in this collection felt as if they were padded with dialogue or provided verbiage that didn't necessarily move the stories along. Reveals didn't always justify the pages of lead-up. I ultimately enjoyed the cleverness and thought experiments, but some of these stories would've had sharper impact with an editor. While these stories reveal Bester's characterizations and talent, 'The Stars My Destination' is Bester's masterpiece. Might be time for me to jaunt for a re-reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andy Love

    I’ve always gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of Bester’s work, and this book has most of my favorites of his; I was pleased to see that I still enjoyed almost all the stories as much as I did the first time I read them (though the ones I didn’t like, I still don’t), starting with “Disappearing Act” – This story grabs me almost immediately from “There are fighting generals (vital to an army), political generals (vital to an administration), and public relations generals (vital to an administr I’ve always gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of Bester’s work, and this book has most of my favorites of his; I was pleased to see that I still enjoyed almost all the stories as much as I did the first time I read them (though the ones I didn’t like, I still don’t), starting with “Disappearing Act” – This story grabs me almost immediately from “There are fighting generals (vital to an army), political generals (vital to an administration), and public relations generals (vital to an administration)... Forthright and Four-Square, he had ideals has as high and as understandable as the mottos on money” and keeps me going right to the end which reveals the double meaning to the title, while keeping me entertained with tidbits like Yale’s newly introduced courses in telekinesis. “Oddy and Id” published in 1950, offhandedly refers to how a war for oil in the twentieth century destroyed the UN. This story also reflects Bester’s interest in Freud, who was very in vogue in the post-war era, though as this reminiscence reveals (http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2...) Bester had trouble selling this story to Campbell, who felt that Freud was obsolete, now that L. Ron Hubbard had published Dianetics. The byplay between the professors, and how they were selected to charm Oddy is also quite amusing, particularly how Bester uses the lisp of one of the professors to slip in the King James’ usage “hath.” Unfortunately, the sexism that shows up in The Demolished Man starts to show in this story (it gets much worse later in this book). “Star Light, Star Bright” is another Twilight Zone type story like the first two, but the introduction of the criminals through their misapprehension of what the “doomed man” had in mind for the Buchanans he was pursuing keeps the story moving for me. “5,271,009” (aka “The Starcomber” aka “That story with the number title, what was it?”) was written in response to a request to write a story to match cover art already purchased – a picture of a man on an asteroid in prison garb with that number on his chest (here’s the picture http://www.bewilderingstories.com/iss...). In response Bester wrote this romp, which critiques the power and security fantasies of pulp science fiction (coming close to parodying some of Bester’s own work, particularly his later Stars, My Destination (aka Tyger, Tyger!)). The names are tricky, too – our hero is Halyson (i.e. halcyon), while his friend is Derelict. I get a pleasant sense of catharsis out of the end of the story when Halyson makes a mature choice. “Fondly Fahrenheit” is another story that always grabs me, and insists on my attention as its voice switches from first-person to third person to a different first-person often in one sentence while the tag-lines of adverb-Fahrenheit recur and vary until we get to the final variation. Bester tells the story of how he came up with the pieces of this story here http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2..., and there’s a brief commentary on the story here http://www.ansible.co.uk/writing/i_wi... . “Hobson’s Choice” repeats the moral of “Starcomber” (I’m never going to type that big number again) so it loses some effectiveness in a collection with it, but I still find it memorable. I’d pick the future, by the way – better the troubles I don’t know, then the troubles I know I wouldn’t like or survive. I also enjoyed “How are your teeth and eyes? In good shape? They’d better be… How are your ethics? In bad shape? They’d better be.” (William Tenn touches on similar issues in his story “Sanctuary”). “Of Time and Fifth Avenue” is a fairly slight piece, but pleasant. I suppose the difference between having the almanac, and merely having the hundred dollar bill is that all the hundred dollar bill gives is a goal that Knight can chose to reach, exceed, or avoid, while the almanac gives the illusion of omniscience. There’s a nice reference to how language use might be expected to change in the future, when one of the characters says that her linguistics are “fouled” up, then tries another word to see if that better fits the current usage (which it doesn’t). “Time is the Traitor” is a difficult story to evaluate – it moves right along, and I want to like it, but parts of it just turn me off. Strapp is a tragic figure, but some of his behavior is appalling even when he’s not in the throes of murderous rage. I’d like to think of it as really the story of Frankie Alceste, who is a much nicer guy, and whose compulsion to help other people be happy is much more commendable – except that in this case, he recreates Sima Morgan as an object to help make Strapp happy, without much consideration for her as a person. “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” is fun – I like the mad scientist hero, and the computer he consults, and how the author uses what seem like metaphoric language like “his feet seemed to melt into the floor” to give clues as to what is really happening in the story. In “Alternate Worldcons,” a series of alternate history stories about Worldcon, one of the stories is a pastiche of this one, called “The Men Who Corflued Mohammed” (“corflu” is slang for “correction fluid” which you’ll remember from typewriter days, perhaps). I don’t have much to say about “The Pi Man.” Now we get into the stories that I really start to dislike – I suppose I get the point of “They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To” – the last man and woman on Earth would have to be crazy from loneliness and despair, and might very well pick up very peculiar habits and ways of thought (like carefully filling out IOUs while taking clothes from a long-abandoned shop), but the story goes on so long with these childish characters that I get very tired of them. The ending of this story reminds me of Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” in which the main characters take a vacation from responsibility when they think the world is about to end, but must start taking effort again when they realize that they might survive after all, but I like the Niven much better. That story and “Will You Wait?” both allude to BBDO, a large and influential advertising agency of the day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBDO) – ad agencies were big in popular culture of the 50s and the 60’s so it’s not surprising to see them mentioned here. “The Flowered Thundermug” is another story that doesn’t work for me – it’s an amusing enough idea that the far future ends up emulating their misunderstandings of our time period based on Hollywood depictions (see Star Trek’s “A Piece of the Action” for a similar notion), but it goes on way too long for me. Something about Hollywood makes SF writers who work there for too long write satires about it later – John Varley’s “Demon” is another example. I was amused by the statement that “it has been clearly demonstrated that the typewriting machine was not developed until the onset of the Computer Age at the end of the 20th century” – in 1964 this was probably a joke, but in fact, the number of keyboards created in personal computer era so far outnumbers the number of typewriters created in the 60s that it’s reasonable that someone might be confused (you might be amused by this article about converting manual typewriters into computer keyboards http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/ha...) . The sexism in this story may be taken as a reflection of that which existed in the movies of the 30s, 40s and 50s, I suppose “Adam and No Eve” may be the most conventional story in the book – aside from visions of the dead, there’s almost nothing weird here – just the end of a previous world. It’d be interesting to see the end of “And Three and a Half to Go.” I really didn’t like “Galatea Galante” – I recognize that it’s an over-the-top retelling of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, but I can’t get past the fact that it’s about a person who makes and sells slaves – and no matter how quirky and wacky the slave-seller is, I don’t want to hear about his trials and tribulations in creating a person who will be sold to someone else (and the objectification of Galatea makes the story very hard to read). “The Devil Without Glasses,” though, I do like – I’m a sucker for the “every hand against him” universal paranoid fantasy story (Heinlein’s “They” is another example).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Palmyrah

    One of the great amateur savants of science fiction. A collection of short stories fizzing with wild imagination yet presenting the same old tropes over and over again. Very confusing and quite unlike anything else you've ever read: pulp fiction written by a polymath. Bester's sardonic humour sparkles throughout. People in the advertising business will spot a whole bunch of in-jokes the rest of you won't. One of the great amateur savants of science fiction. A collection of short stories fizzing with wild imagination yet presenting the same old tropes over and over again. Very confusing and quite unlike anything else you've ever read: pulp fiction written by a polymath. Bester's sardonic humour sparkles throughout. People in the advertising business will spot a whole bunch of in-jokes the rest of you won't.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Sammis

    Virtual Unrealities is a collection of Alfred Bester's short stories published over the course of his career. The last story in the set, "The Devil without Glasses" was previously unpublished. It was on my wishlist after a book blogger was raving about his works and I had only read one of his books. Bester's stories remind me of Twilight Zone episodes, the originals, not the remakes. They start simply and then something becomes into focus as being off. One small detail will set everything off kil Virtual Unrealities is a collection of Alfred Bester's short stories published over the course of his career. The last story in the set, "The Devil without Glasses" was previously unpublished. It was on my wishlist after a book blogger was raving about his works and I had only read one of his books. Bester's stories remind me of Twilight Zone episodes, the originals, not the remakes. They start simply and then something becomes into focus as being off. One small detail will set everything off kilter and that's where the stories come to life. For instance, "Disappearing Act" starts with a teacher trying to return a paper to a boy who has gone missing with his family. He recognizes brilliance in the boy's writing and expects the rest of the. When he fails to find the boy and his life is put in danger in the process he suspects the government. The solution to the situation ends up being much simpler and delightfully hair raising at the same time. The book contains the following stories: * Disappearing act * Oddy and Id * Star light, star bright * 5,271,009 * Fondly Fahrenheit * Hobson's choice * Of time and Third Avenue * Time is the traitor * The men who murdered Mohammed * The pi man * They don't make life like they used to * Will you wait? * The flowered thundermug * Adam and no Eve * And 3 1/2 to go (fragment) * Galatea Galante * The devil without glasses (previously unpublished)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nihal Vrana

    Qualitywise the stories are not even close to his novels. I think that Bester's style is more suited for longer stories. Also the content of the stories were less polished, they dwelt on contemporary stuff too much. Which made them forgettable when you read them some 60 odd years later :) This is one of the reason I generally don't read books again, after reading these stories I suspect that I have read Bester's book at a very impressionable time of my life and I wouldn't enjoy them as much now. Qualitywise the stories are not even close to his novels. I think that Bester's style is more suited for longer stories. Also the content of the stories were less polished, they dwelt on contemporary stuff too much. Which made them forgettable when you read them some 60 odd years later :) This is one of the reason I generally don't read books again, after reading these stories I suspect that I have read Bester's book at a very impressionable time of my life and I wouldn't enjoy them as much now. My favorite story in the collection is the unfinished one, it felt like the first chapter of a great book. I also hate Silverberg's intros in general, so that was not a good start either Maybe the biggest problem with the book is that these stories ar enot meant to be collected; because they are different facades of the same 2-3 stories; even some jokes and phrases move between them. they were for fast and easy consumption. But still, all in all, it is worth reading but don't expect too much.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    This is an excellent and strong short story collection by Alfred Bester. It's particularly worth noting (for me, anyway) because it has one of my favorite short stories, "The Pi Man," a bizarre and delightful story about a man who feels compelled to respond to the greater patterns of the universe. Also included in this collection are other excellent reads such as "The Flowered Thundermug", a story where America has rediscovered it's culture after everything was destroyed in the war (a Cold war e This is an excellent and strong short story collection by Alfred Bester. It's particularly worth noting (for me, anyway) because it has one of my favorite short stories, "The Pi Man," a bizarre and delightful story about a man who feels compelled to respond to the greater patterns of the universe. Also included in this collection are other excellent reads such as "The Flowered Thundermug", a story where America has rediscovered it's culture after everything was destroyed in the war (a Cold war era story) from the only thing left- Hollywood. (No one felt it was worth bombing!) "Time is the Traitor", a story about a man who can make Big Decisions, is rich beyond all imagining. But what drives him, and what does it have to do with killing anyone named Kruger? And many other excellent stories!

  7. 5 out of 5

    James Hold

    VIRTUAL UNREALITIES, THE SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER. I admit to being unfamiliar with Bester. He displays a clever method of writing and his ideas are not the same-old same-old. Robert Silverberg in his introduction says "When Bester was at the top of his form, he was utterly inimitable; when he missed the mark, he usually missed it by five or six parsecs." What we get here are a lot of those misses. Too many of them feel like he started out with a vague idea in mind but either lost track of VIRTUAL UNREALITIES, THE SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER. I admit to being unfamiliar with Bester. He displays a clever method of writing and his ideas are not the same-old same-old. Robert Silverberg in his introduction says "When Bester was at the top of his form, he was utterly inimitable; when he missed the mark, he usually missed it by five or six parsecs." What we get here are a lot of those misses. Too many of them feel like he started out with a vague idea in mind but either lost track of it or didn't know what to do and simply ended it. "They Don't Make Life Like They Used To" perfectly illustrates this. The last man and woman left alive after an atomic war meet and his concern is for finding a TV repairman while hers are for decorating her apartment. The idea of intimacy and companionship never enter the picture. Then on the last page a menace pops up, never defined but having something to do with statues with mantis heads, and the two hole up in her apartment waiting for coming death. WTF? Another, a fragment, "And 3 1/2 To Go" starts off interesting then stops. Apparently Bester started writing off the top of his head and stopped, leaving behind no notes or outline of where he intended it to go. There are some goodies such as "Time Is The Traitor", "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed", and "Will You Wait", but "The Flowered Thundermug" is just an exercise in name dropping. Bester published several award winning novels, but based on this I'm not going out of my way to find them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    To be fair, I must confess I don't like short stories, but that is not why this book disappointed me. When I was barely a teenager in the 1950s,. This was a time when SF/F was difficult to come by in the UK anyway, but Bester was one of the names I looked out for. It turns out, however, that the prose I thought was witty and clever was really a sham of words thrown carelessly together, often interspersed with phrases in French, German, Latin, Spanish, etc. - mostly having no connection with the s To be fair, I must confess I don't like short stories, but that is not why this book disappointed me. When I was barely a teenager in the 1950s,. This was a time when SF/F was difficult to come by in the UK anyway, but Bester was one of the names I looked out for. It turns out, however, that the prose I thought was witty and clever was really a sham of words thrown carelessly together, often interspersed with phrases in French, German, Latin, Spanish, etc. - mostly having no connection with the surrounding text. The German that was not out of a dictionary of quotes particularly annoyed me - I never know why authors attempt to write in languages they don't know, but why they can't ask a native speaker to check smacks of laziness. There were a couple of stories in this collection that appealed to me, but with so many of them, my reaction was "What was this guy on?".

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Review based on the following stories, which I believe are among Bester's better known short works. I found them to be a mixed bag and was not inclined to tackle the others in the collection. Star Light, Star Bright (3.0) - A Twilight Zone type story of a search for a boy with mysterious powers who's suddenly gone missing, with all traces of him nearly vanished. 5,271,009 (4.0) - A bit of a head scratcher that doesn't really start to take shape until the end, but then, wow! Fondly Fahrenheit (4.0) Review based on the following stories, which I believe are among Bester's better known short works. I found them to be a mixed bag and was not inclined to tackle the others in the collection. Star Light, Star Bright (3.0) - A Twilight Zone type story of a search for a boy with mysterious powers who's suddenly gone missing, with all traces of him nearly vanished. 5,271,009 (4.0) - A bit of a head scratcher that doesn't really start to take shape until the end, but then, wow! Fondly Fahrenheit (4.0) - Oddly compelling story of an android with a flair for murder and an unhealthy relationship with his owner. Told in abruptly shifting third and first person narration from the POV of both the android and the owner. I've never seen anything quite like that, and I found it quite compelling. The Men Who Murdered Mohammed (2.0) The Pi Man (3.0) - The trials and tribulations of a man who's extra sensitive to galactic patterns and responds more violently. Very cool concept, but the execution is disjointed and difficult to follow.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bauer

    "The Stars My Destination" was always one of my favorite classic sci-fi novels and when I saw the chance to dig into some of Bester's short fiction works, I jumped at it. The stories in the collection, were for me, a bit hit and miss. The ones I enjoyed were very good, but there were more than a few which did not appeal to me. I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that the stories are "products of their time" - and just don't translate well to me in the 21st century. Those stories which I lik "The Stars My Destination" was always one of my favorite classic sci-fi novels and when I saw the chance to dig into some of Bester's short fiction works, I jumped at it. The stories in the collection, were for me, a bit hit and miss. The ones I enjoyed were very good, but there were more than a few which did not appeal to me. I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that the stories are "products of their time" - and just don't translate well to me in the 21st century. Those stories which I liked, I REALLY liked. He had a unique voice and tone in every story.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I suppose most of these stories come under the umbrella "dated" which doesn't mean they're bad - Beethoven's Fifth is pretty dated - but that they are a certain sort of story, the kind I associate with Ray Bradbury and Asimov and that's not bad company. But on top of that they're well-written stories, not literary masterpieces but more than just decent yarns. I'm not sure I know of any science fiction work that is a literary masterpiece but, if it exists, I'd love to read it. I suppose most of these stories come under the umbrella "dated" which doesn't mean they're bad - Beethoven's Fifth is pretty dated - but that they are a certain sort of story, the kind I associate with Ray Bradbury and Asimov and that's not bad company. But on top of that they're well-written stories, not literary masterpieces but more than just decent yarns. I'm not sure I know of any science fiction work that is a literary masterpiece but, if it exists, I'd love to read it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    The book just arrived and I'm in Bester Heaven. He's like watching the old Twilight Zone at 3 A.M. There's also some great old New York lore in here, like if you know what a "Third Avenue character" is. I feel like I know Bester. My favorites were (in order): The Devil Without Glasses, Time is the Traitor, They Don't Make Life Like They Used To, Fondly Fahrenheit, The Flowered Thundermug, Will You Wait?, Oddy and Id, Star Light, Star Bright and Disappearing Act. The book just arrived and I'm in Bester Heaven. He's like watching the old Twilight Zone at 3 A.M. There's also some great old New York lore in here, like if you know what a "Third Avenue character" is. I feel like I know Bester. My favorites were (in order): The Devil Without Glasses, Time is the Traitor, They Don't Make Life Like They Used To, Fondly Fahrenheit, The Flowered Thundermug, Will You Wait?, Oddy and Id, Star Light, Star Bright and Disappearing Act.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    this collection of short stories really showcases Bester's humorous writing style and his revolutionary (for his time) ideas. it was like reading a bunch of episodes of the twilight zone. i didn't give it 5 stars because some of the stories were weird and i really couldn't get in to them, although even those ones were still interesting, given his style. this collection of short stories really showcases Bester's humorous writing style and his revolutionary (for his time) ideas. it was like reading a bunch of episodes of the twilight zone. i didn't give it 5 stars because some of the stories were weird and i really couldn't get in to them, although even those ones were still interesting, given his style.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Picked this up b/c I liked the cover...ok? Maybe you can tell a book by its cover. Hadn't read scifi in a looong time. This was so refreshing and brilliant and, best of all, it wasn't what all the geeks are/were reading, so I could one-up them. A lotta ppl. don't even know his work. outstanding.... Picked this up b/c I liked the cover...ok? Maybe you can tell a book by its cover. Hadn't read scifi in a looong time. This was so refreshing and brilliant and, best of all, it wasn't what all the geeks are/were reading, so I could one-up them. A lotta ppl. don't even know his work. outstanding....

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elisa Berry

    The best sci-fi short stories ever. Each of these little darlings is a work of art, they come alive on the page and reading them some forty years later, are astonishingly on the mark. Bester is a craftsman, a philosopher, a visionary. All the things that can make science fiction great.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Víkingur Fjalar

    The time travel classic "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" is my favorite sf short story of all time. The time travel classic "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" is my favorite sf short story of all time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    His short fiction is not as good as his two best novels, but Alfred Bester's work always ranks among the best in mid-20th century SF pour moi. His short fiction is not as good as his two best novels, but Alfred Bester's work always ranks among the best in mid-20th century SF pour moi.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul,

    Bester's short fiction is good, but in my opinion it doesn't match his novels. I did enjoy Bester's interaction with psychological fantasies and their inherent emptiness. Bester's short fiction is good, but in my opinion it doesn't match his novels. I did enjoy Bester's interaction with psychological fantasies and their inherent emptiness.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Decades old science fiction shouldn't feel so ahead of its time. Decades old science fiction shouldn't feel so ahead of its time.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Alfred Bester is mostly known for two of his science fiction novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. These are two of the most respected science fiction novels ever written. Some of Bester's short fiction is excellent as well. The title of this book, Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester, seems to me to imply that all of Bester's short fiction is in this collection. However, according to the science fiction and fantasy website ISFDb, more of Bester's stories hav Alfred Bester is mostly known for two of his science fiction novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. These are two of the most respected science fiction novels ever written. Some of Bester's short fiction is excellent as well. The title of this book, Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester, seems to me to imply that all of Bester's short fiction is in this collection. However, according to the science fiction and fantasy website ISFDb, more of Bester's stories have been left out of this book than have been included. There are sixteen stories in this book as well as a fragment of one other story left unfinished when Bester died; that makes a sizeable amount of good fiction. There are some stories here that I don't think are at the level of Bester's absolutely best work. "Adam and No Eve," from very early in Bester's career in science fiction, seems to me not particularly good, either as a story or as prose writing. (view spoiler)[I also don't think that the main driving point of the story makes much sense. The last man on Earth (actually, the last living being on Earth), knowing that he is dying, struggles to get to the ocean so that life might begin again from "his rotting remains." That may be noble, but isn't it pointless? If every person, every fish, every plant that lived on or in the ocean is already rotting there, how much difference can adding his body make? I think this might only be his effort to expiate his terrible sin; he has been the cause of the world-destroying holocaust. (hide spoiler)] "The Flowered Thundermug" is the only story here that I think is really poor. This is a would-be comic tale of a distant future in which everyone is named after Twentieth Century movie actors. They also speak and act in Twentieth Century movie clichés. For example, the following is part of a conversation between Professor Paul Muni and his secretary, Ann Sothern. Sothern is speaking first: "Why, that's odd. I could have sworn I left the lights on." She felt for the light switch. "Stop," Professor Muni snapped. There's more here than meets the eye, Miss Sothern." "You mean...?" "Who does one traditionally encounter on a surprise visit in a darkened room? I mean, whom." "Th...the Bad Guys? " "Precisely." And Muni is right, the Bad Guys are there. And this takes up forty pages. "Time Is the Traitor" is much better. My problem with this story is that the central character murders a number of people but he is rich and has a special gift so nobody even mentions it to him. If this were supposed to be irony, it might be acceptable, but there is no criticism of his behavior in the story. The problem I have with "Oddy and Id" is simpler. I just don't find it particularly interesting. "Fondly Fahrenheit," on the other hand, is quite interesting. I have never been able to tell who is doing what throughout the story. I believe that's part of the point of the story but I find it annoying. (If everyone else can follow this easily, I would find that even more annoying.) This is probably Bester's most acclaimed story, so mine is definitely a minority opinion. The unfinished story, "And 3½ to Go" really is too small a sample to judge. And now, after all that complaining, there are stories here that I do really like: I should have an issue with "The Pi Man" similar to the one I have with "Time Is the Traitor," but I don't. The protagonist here has also done terrible things but he sincerely regrets that and would like to change. Beside that, this story is extremely clever and hinges on a gimmick that I've never seen anything even remotely like. "Galatea Galante" (which was originally published as "Galatea Galante, the Perfect Popsy") is also very clever although there is a major problem. This is quite openly a variation on Shaw's play Pygmalion. The character Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (and in the musical based on Pygmalion, My Fair Lady) is somewhat obnoxious, disregarding the feelings of other people. The corresponding character here is Regis Mainwright who manufactures and sells intelligent living beings, including made-to-order humans. That is considerably worse than just being obnoxious. However, there is so much here that is funny and entertaining that I like it anyway. "They Don't Make Life Like They Used To" (a title I like a lot) has a last man and last woman on Earth plot. I think the way both these characters act throughout almost all of the story is extraordinarily unlikely but it is funny. And then the story stops being funny. "Will You Wait" is about an unemployed (and mostly unemployable) man trying to sell his soul to...well, to the Devil...or Beelzebub...or Satan. Basically, to anyone in the soul-buying industry. This is purely humorous. "Hobson's Choice" is about a peril of time travel that is obvious but seldom considered in stories on that theme. "Of Time and Third Avenue" also involves time travel, but that isn't really the theme. If you could have knowledge of some aspects of the future, what would you do with it? And then consider, what should you do with it? And if you're seeking yet another time travel story, just read "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed." This tells about another (and completely different) peril of time travel. It's a very funny and original story. "Star Light, Star Bright" is a story with a message. When dealing with gifted children, it is important to find out just what their gifts are. "The Devil Without Glasses" is original to this book. It is a very good horror story. What did you fantasize about as a kid? What do you fantasize about now? And what if those fantasies could come true? There are about "5,271,009" things you need to consider. The first story in the book is "Disappearing Act." The United States is in a terrible war, fighting in defense of The American Dream. But what becomes of The American Dream during such a war? Robert Silverberg wrote a fine, informative Introduction to Virtual Unrealities. (He writes that "the most spectacular" story here is " 'Fondly Fahrenheit,' a bravura demonstration of literary technique about which an entire textbook could be written." OK, that's his opinion, but what does Robert Silverberg know about science fiction?*) There are other stories that might well have been included in the book. "Hell Is Forever," "The Roller Coaster," "The Four-Hour Fugue," "Something Up There Likes Me," and (especially) "The Animal Fair" are all worth seeking out. *Yes, that is a joke.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Harold Smithson

    Disappointing. Bester's imagination is on display here as much as it is in The Demolished Man and The Stars my Destination, but without a tight story to channel it he seems too prone to self-indulgence. Some of the stories seem to be wackiness for its own sake and at other times when Bester tries to make a philosophical point he forgets to write a compelling story and all but locks two characters in a room together to let them talk it out. There are some good stories in this collection (Fondly Fa Disappointing. Bester's imagination is on display here as much as it is in The Demolished Man and The Stars my Destination, but without a tight story to channel it he seems too prone to self-indulgence. Some of the stories seem to be wackiness for its own sake and at other times when Bester tries to make a philosophical point he forgets to write a compelling story and all but locks two characters in a room together to let them talk it out. There are some good stories in this collection (Fondly Farenheit is a standout), but for the most part the collection functions better as a look into what made Bester so influential. Bester was an unabashed Freudian, and he based entire characters and plot twists off that school of thought. I can imagine young sci-fi writers picking up his stories and being inspired by the weirdness and literary sprit of it all. This collection is unmistakably Bester's, but unfortunately that wasn't enough to make it good, and the message I took away from it was that however idiomatic your style, however unusual your ideas, however confident and dedicated you are to experimentation, you need to find some way to channel it all. Otherwise your story will consist of author surrogates trading words with each other until something happens offscreen to prove the favored one correct.

  22. 5 out of 5

    James

    This is the 20th book in a series I am calling “quarantine life.” With all of our public libraries closed due to the corona virus, I have turned to my own bookshelves and the unread books awaiting me there. No one writes quite like Bester. High energy, fanciful jargon, bubbling with intriguing ideas.... and yet this collection felt flat. As other reviewers noted, there is a sameness to these stories and it is fatiguing to try and read them together in a collection. I think you would be better off This is the 20th book in a series I am calling “quarantine life.” With all of our public libraries closed due to the corona virus, I have turned to my own bookshelves and the unread books awaiting me there. No one writes quite like Bester. High energy, fanciful jargon, bubbling with intriguing ideas.... and yet this collection felt flat. As other reviewers noted, there is a sameness to these stories and it is fatiguing to try and read them together in a collection. I think you would be better off reading one at a time over a period of time. I would also recommend his full length novels before jumping into this collection.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Luke Crawford

    Beautiful. You need to at least read "The Flowered Thundermug" - Imagine a world destroyed by war- Imagine, then that the survivors rebuilt the world, not from surviving technical documentation, but based on what they learned from surviving movies. But the whole thing is pretty good. Bester talks a lot about standard human fantasies; being the last man on earth, knowing that the world is really fake and being one of the few who know the truth, etc, etc... and then he writes stories on those them Beautiful. You need to at least read "The Flowered Thundermug" - Imagine a world destroyed by war- Imagine, then that the survivors rebuilt the world, not from surviving technical documentation, but based on what they learned from surviving movies. But the whole thing is pretty good. Bester talks a lot about standard human fantasies; being the last man on earth, knowing that the world is really fake and being one of the few who know the truth, etc, etc... and then he writes stories on those themes.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    Disappearing Act - 3.5 Oddy and Id - 2.5 Star Light, Star Bright - 3.5 5,271,009 - 3.5 Fondly Fahrenheit - 3.5 Hobsons Choice - 4 Time and Third Avenue - 3.5 Time Is The Traitor - 4.5 The Men Who Killed Muhammad - 4 Pi Man - 3.5 They Don't Make Life Like They Used To - 4 Will you wait? - 3 The flowered thunder mug - 2.5 Adam and No Eve - 2.5 Galatea Galante - 2 The Devil Without Glasses - 4.5 Disappearing Act - 3.5 Oddy and Id - 2.5 Star Light, Star Bright - 3.5 5,271,009 - 3.5 Fondly Fahrenheit - 3.5 Hobsons Choice - 4 Time and Third Avenue - 3.5 Time Is The Traitor - 4.5 The Men Who Killed Muhammad - 4 Pi Man - 3.5 They Don't Make Life Like They Used To - 4 Will you wait? - 3 The flowered thunder mug - 2.5 Adam and No Eve - 2.5 Galatea Galante - 2 The Devil Without Glasses - 4.5

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adam Morris

    I really liked Bester’s full length books. For the most part these short stories had the same originality and good writing. Some were better than others and many of them seemed to me to be more like outlines or sketches for a novel rather than complete stories unto themselves. Still, very imaginative and full of ideas that inspired many of those fiction writers that followed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Barrett Offermann

    Bester is one of the most unique SiFi authors that I have read. Each of these stories creates an unique world and a story with thought provoking themes that leave you pondering the future after everyone. Some of the stories and references are little dated and you are aware that they were written over seventy years ago, but the ideas they conjure are still relevant today.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aabis

    It's hard to rate short story collections because there is always some that are 5* and other that are just straight up trash. I loved the surrealist-ish stories in this, but I just "meh" most of them tbh. It's hard to rate short story collections because there is always some that are 5* and other that are just straight up trash. I loved the surrealist-ish stories in this, but I just "meh" most of them tbh.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matevž

    A collection of short stories.. some of them are good but to be honest most of them did not make me read them in one sitting.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jim S.

    Couldn't finish. Couldn't finish.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This one is a very mixed bag. Had it been a hundred and twenty pages shorter and absent some of the longer stories I would have loved it all the more and given it five stars. But this is one of those instances in which the more you read of a writer's short work, the more you realize how very good his best stuff is. I came across Bester when I was fifteen or so, via his two classic SF novels The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, and I loved both. They were what I needed when I needed th This one is a very mixed bag. Had it been a hundred and twenty pages shorter and absent some of the longer stories I would have loved it all the more and given it five stars. But this is one of those instances in which the more you read of a writer's short work, the more you realize how very good his best stuff is. I came across Bester when I was fifteen or so, via his two classic SF novels The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, and I loved both. They were what I needed when I needed them, and they led me out of the science fiction section to a whole lot of more complex literature. If not for Bester, i wouldn't have read Joyce nor Barthelme nor a lot of other great stuff. (Nor, in section, Delany or Ellison or Disch or Russ or a whole lot of very interesting writers who just so happened to be working in the genre of SF.) So I'm grateful to Bester. His work means a lot to me. And the best of the stories here—"Fondly Fahrenheit" and "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" and "Disappearing Act" and the shorter pieces—all share in what made those two novels so great: a love of playful language; a demented tinkering with the reader's perspective and what Delany calls "subjective tension"; an inventive hand with plotting and character. His best stories are just crazy fun. But a lot of the rest of the stories here are far too long (he was paid by the word and it shows) and far too self-indulgent. And god, but they are sexist in such an overt way that I found myself wincing here and there that old Alfie had to have these relics of a dimmer time hang around in print. I mean, he was a product of his age, but were he alive and possessed of his wits now, I bet he'd look at the sins of the past and trim out a lot of it. Or maybe I'm wrong. Next up I intend to reread those two novels I read when I was fifteen, see how they hold up.

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