One of Isaac Asimov
's later short story collections, first published in 1983 by Del Rey Books
(an imprint of Ballantine
). All but two of these stories were written at or after 1976, and all are science fiction or fantasy.
As Asimov's collections go, this one is somewhat odd. Its contents include several small vignettes, the first two Azazel
stories, and an SF work originally commissioned (and then rejected) by (of all magazines) Seventeen
. Collectors may want to note that most of the stories had not before been published in one of Asimov's story collections, and most were not published in any other collection (though some were anthologized).
The collection's contents and the market of each story's original publication follow:
- About Nothing (Asimov's Science Fiction, Summer 1977; earlier as a "story postcard")
- A Perfect Fit (EDN Magazine, October 14, 1981)
- Belief (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1953)
- Death of a Foy (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1980)
- Fair Exchange? (Asimov's Science Fiction, Fall 1978)
- For the Birds (Asimov's Science Fiction, May 1980)
- Found! (Omni, October 1978)
- Good Taste (Good Taste, 1976; mini-book published by the short-lived Apocalypse Press)
- How It Happened (Asimov's Science Fiction, Spring 1979)
- Ideas Die Hard (Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1957)
- Ignition Point! (Finding the Right Speaker, 1981)
- It Is Coming (syndicated in various newspapers via Field Enterprises, 1979)
- The Last Answer (Analog, January 1980)
- The Last Shuttle (syndicated in Gannett newspapers, April 10, 1981)
- Lest We Remember (Asimov's Science Fcition, February 1982)
- Nothing For Nothing (Asimov's Science Fiction, February 1979)
- One Night of Song (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1982)
- The Smile That Loses (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1982)
- Sure Thing (Asimov's Science Fiction, Summer 1977)
- To Tell at a Glance (Saturday Evening Post, February 1977)
- The Winds of Change (Speculations, 1982)
"About Nothing", "Death of a Foy", "How It Happened", and "Sure Thing" are all "short short
s", and I can't really say anything about them without giving them away, except to tell you that all but one are exceptionally long-winded puns. Similarly, all I can really say about "The Last Shuttle" is that, as the title suggests, it tells the story of the last space shuttle
to leave Earth
. With that out of the way, let me briefly comment on the rest of the stories. Please note that there will still be some small spoilers; it is after all somewhat difficult to write intelligently about a story without referencing events in it.
A Perfect Fit:
This is a rather short story as well; it deals with the concept of a man being computer illiterate
in a world where computers are required for the simplest of tasks, such as buying food or moving from place to place. Moreover, this inability to use computers has been forced on him as a punishment, and the story briefly explores the moral implications of this. Frankly, I don't think Asimov really delved deep enough on either concept, and the story left me rather unsatisfied. (There is a story whose title and author both I have forgotten, which also dealt with the idea of forcing aversion to certain things, only it wasn't used simply for punishment; for instance, one of the main characters was a girl whose parents had had implanted in her an intense aversion to men, to the point where she couldn't even stand close to one, so that she would concentrate on her studies. Either for legal or financial reasons, she couldn't have it removed herself, even though she was a legal adult. I mention this because I think this story dealt with that particular idea a lot better than "A Perfect Fit", though it would be more helpful if I could remember the title. For that matter, A Clockwork Orange
deals with the subject as well.)
finds he can make himself defy gravity
at a whim. The real story here, however, is his attempts to force others (especially in the scientific community) to acknowledge what's happening to him, and try to explain it. This kind of story really highlights Asimov's humanist
leanings; while many would ascribe genuine levitation to some preternatural
source, Asimov's point of view is simple: if it exists, there must be a physical explanation, even if we don't yet know what it is.
A twist on the time-tested "time paradox" story. In this incarnation, people aren't actually sent back in time; it is only that their consciousnesses are temporarily sent to passively share a body with a like-minded individual from another time. This one doesn't really have anything you didn't see in "A Sound of Thunder
", although the end is somewhat more emotional. This is possibly the weakest of the collection's stories, barring the vignettes. I was especially annoyed by the method of time travel
described in it, which really pushes beyond the limits of my suspension of disbelief
when it comes to science fiction.
For the Birds:
This story was originally commissioned by a French fashion magazine that was looking to put out an English edition, but changed their minds. Don't ask me. At any rate, it follows a fashion designer
who is put to the task of redesigning the suits residents of a space station
use to "fly" in a zero-gravity
environment; basically, they want him to make the suits look pretty in the hope that people will exercise more, and thus be able to keep enough muscle so that it's safe for them to live there year-round. I can't say much more without spoiling the story, but I will say that I found the resolution somewhat silly, and given the knowledge base
I'd expect from a clothing designer, rather unbelievable.
One of the four giant computers that orbits Earth and directs space traffic has broken down beyond its ability to self-repair, so two engineers are sent from the surface to see what the trouble is. Yadda yadda, something happens, metal life-forms. Yeah. Honestly, I can't work up much more to say about this story. It's like a reject from the Twilight Zone
Set in a time when the solar system
is populated by many small, artificial worlds. All of these worlds (and even Earth, to a much lesser extent) are dependent on cultured algae
as a primary food source. Since the stuff doesn't taste the greatest, there is much work put into creating artificial flavor
s to make it edible, and on the world of Gamma
, the highest honors are awarded to those who can make the most delicious meal. The story follows a competition between two brothers, one so staunchly conservative that he would never dream of doing anything but becoming a "Gustator"; the other having recently returned from "the Tour", that is, travelling to Earth and the various Outer Worlds. This is one of the better stories in the collection, although like most of them, it ends on a joke of sorts, which in this case was rather inappropriate, given the mood.
Ideas Die Hard:
Two men are launched into space on a mission to land on the moon
... OR ARE THEY? (Dun nuh nuh!) When Asimov wrote this story, he didn't think there'd be so much as artificial satellite
s within his lifetime, let alone astronauts landing on the moon, so when Sputnik
launched two years later, he decided not to include this already antiquated story to whichever was his latest collection at the time. I guess he just added it to this one for the sake of completeness.
A story about a "genial idiot", and a man trying to use his charm for his own gain. He's approached with the idea of giving the moron cues crafted by a computerized system which constructs a speech based on the makeup of the audience. Without spoiling too much, it will suffice to say that the user gets burned. As a sidenote, given the political ambitions of the "genial idiot", and Asimov's known disdain for the man, I'd say it's pretty obvious he's supposed to represent Ronald Reagan
(who was President at the time).
It Is coming:
An alien object is speeding toward Earth with unknown purpose. The two engineers in charge of the giant computer Multivac
race to figure out a way of communicating with the alien before it reaches its destination. It ends pretty dismally with a sad joke about Multivac that had been suggested in previous stories, but never stated outright before.
The Last Answer:
The title is an obvious play on Asimov's earlier (and rather well-known) story, "The Last Question
". The story is about a physicist who, upon dying, finds there really is an afterlife
, but that it is neither heaven
. He is doomed to spend eternity as a bodiless consciousness incapable of anything but thought, but the real story is who brought him here, and why.
Lest We Remember:
Arguably the best story in the book, this is about a forgetful man who volunteers for an extremely experimental treatment which increased both the speed and volume of his memory to a superhuman
level. He gets a little megalomaniacal, however, and... well, I won't spoil it. It's a good read, though, especially in contrast to some of the other stories.
Nothing For Nothing:
Aliens visit primitive Earth, trade art for something that will forever change the future of mankind. It's not that it's a bad story, there's just not much else I can say about it. As a side note, however, I will say that I find it to have a couple weird parallels with Arthur C. Clarke
's classic short story, "Rescue Party" (although the plots of the two are completely different).
One Night of Song:
The very first Azazel story, written for a mystery magazine. If you know how Azazel stories go, I don't really have to explain this to you, if not... well, basically, in every one, this fellow named George tries to do something nice for someone - or rather, gets Azazel (who is variously referred to as an extradimensional demon or an extraterrestrial) to try to do something nice for someone. He inevitably gets something wrong, however, with hilarious results. This one involves giving a woman a perfect singing voice.
The Smile That Loses:
Another Azazel story. In this one, he gets a perfect photograph
of a woman's husband making a particular face that she likes, with unforeseen consequences.
To Tell At a Glance:
This is the story that was commissioned by Seventeen
, and then rejected. It seems to me that Asimov dumbed down his writing style accordingly, but that could be my imagination. At any rate, this story is set in the same universe as "Good Taste" (which, unfortunately, Asimov never expanded upon), but on a different artificial world. Five important guests are coming to visit, and it's up to a tour guide
barely out of her teen years to discover which one is the dastardly saboteur from Earth in disguise as a colonist. I kinda wonder if that whole thing where Earth becomes an antagonist is part of the reason Seventeen
rejected it. At any rate, it's not a bad story, though the ending is rather predictable.
The Winds of Change:
The title story. This is another time paradox story, and again, the consequences are the only thing of any importance here. It has a vaguely political message, which is something Asimov should have stayed away from, because (frankly) he wasn't good at it. I personally don't like this story too much, but he apparently liked it enough to make it the title of the collection. Go figure.
I may have given you the impression that I think this is a bad book. It's not that, exactly, and I encourage people to read it if they're fans of Asimov, or science fiction in general. The thing is that, in comparison to a lot of Asimov's other work, it's pretty lackluster. There are no really great stories like "The Martian Way
" or "Dreaming Is A Private Thing" or "The Ugly Little Boy
". It's certainly not the worst of Asimov's collections (I think that title goes to the posthumously published Gold
), but it's not all that great. However, you could certainly do worse than to pick up a copy of The Winds of Change