Authors: Ben Bova
The Best of Bova
VOLUME 1 IN A STERLING COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM LEGENDARY HARD SCIENCE FICTION MASTER BEN BOVA. Selected stories from Bova's amazing career at the center of science fiction and space advocacy. He is the creator of the
New York Times
best-selling Grand Tour science fiction series, a six time Hugo award winner, and past president of the National Space Society.
Volume #1 of 3 of the very best of Ben Bova, a grand master of science fiction storytelling. These stories span the five decades of Bova's incandescent career.
Here are tales of star-faring adventure, peril, and drama. Here are journeys into the mind-bending landscapes of virtual worlds and alternate realities. Here you'll also find stories of humanity's astounding future on Earth, on Mars, and in the Solar System beyond—stories that always get the science right. And Bova's gathering of deeply realized, totally human characters are the heroic, brave, tricky, sometimes dastardly engineers, astronauts, corporate magnates, politicians, and scientists who will make these futures possible—and those who often find that the problems of tomorrow are always linked to human values, and human failings, that are as timeless as the stars.
by Ben Bova
* * *
The Exiles Trilogy
The Best of Bova: Volume I
With Les Johnson
BEST OF BEN BOVA: VOLUME ONE
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Ben Bova
Introduction © 2016 by Ben Bova; “A Long Way Back” first published in Amazing Stories © February 1960; “Inspiration” first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction © April 1994; “Vince’s Dragon” first published in Dragons of Darkness © Oct 1981; “The Last Decision” first published in Stellar #4: Science Fiction Stories © May 1978; “Fitting Suits” first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact © May 1990; “A Small Kindness” first published in Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact © April 1983; “Born Again” first published in Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact © May 1984; “Blood of Tyrants” first published in Amazing Science Fiction © May 1970; “Bushido” first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact © July 1992; “Sam Gunn” first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction © October 1983; “Amorality Tale” first published in The Astral Mirror © October 1985; “A Country for Old Men” first published in Going Interstellar © June 2012; “Priorities” first published in Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact © December 1971; “To Be or Not” first published in Maxwell’s Demons © September 1978; “To Touch a Star” The Universe © November 1987; “Risk Assessment” first published in The Williamson Effect © May 1996; “Men of Good Will” first published in Galaxy Magazine © June 1964; “Foeman, Where Do You Flee?” first published in Galaxy Magazine © January 1969; “Old Timer’s Game” first published in Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction © December 2014; “The Man Who Hated Gravity” first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact © July 1989; “Zero Gee” first published in Again, Dangerous Visions © March 1972; “A Slight Miscalculation” first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ©August 1971
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
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Cover art by Bob Eggleton
First Baen printing February 2016
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
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Printed in the United States of America
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Electronic Version by Baen Books
To Toni and Tony and the radiant, resplendent, romantic Rashida.
And to Lloyd McDaniel, without whose unstinting help this book would never have seen the light of day.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
—George Bernard Shaw
Here it is, a lifetime’s work in three volumes containing eighty stories published over fifty-four years, from 1960 to 2014. They range from the Baghdad of
The Thousand Nights and a Night
to the eventual end of the entire universe, from the green hills of Earth to the fiery surface of a dying star, from corporate board rooms to a baseball field in heaven. With plenty of stops in between.
Re-reading these stories—some of them for the first time in decades—I am struck with a bitter-sweet sadness, recalling friends who have died along the way, passions and problems that drove the invention of the various tales. It’s as if I’m a ghost visiting departed scenes, people whom I have loved, all gone now.
Yet they live on, in these stories, and perhaps that is the real reason why human beings create works of fiction: they are monuments to days gone by, memories of men and women who have been dear to us—or visions of what tomorrow may bring.
Every human society has had its storytellers. There is a fundamental need in the human psyche to produce tales that try to show who we truly are, and why we do the things we do.
Most of the stories in this collection are science fiction: that is, the stories involve some aspect of future science or technology that is so basic to the tale that if that element were removed, the story would collapse.
To me, science fiction is the literature of our modern society. Humankind depends on science and technology for its survival, and has been doing so since our earliest ancestors faced saber-toothed cats. We do not grow fangs or wings, we create tools. Tool-making—technology—is the way we deal with the often-hostile world in which we live.
Over the past few centuries, scientific studies of our world have led to vastly improved technologies, better tools with which to make ourselves healthier, richer and more free. Science fiction is the literature that speaks to this.
Every organism on Earth is struggling to stay alive, to have offspring, to enlarge its ecological niche as widely as possible. We humans have succeeded so well at that quest that there are more than seven billion of us on this planet, and we are driving many, many of our fellow creatures into extinction.
The stories in this collection examine various aspects of humankind’s current and future predicaments. Some of the tales are somewhat dated: written half a century ago, they deal with problems that we have already solved, or bypassed. Many of the stories tell of the human race’s drive to expand its habitat—its ecological niche—beyond the limits of planet Earth. Many deal with our interactions with our machines, which are becoming more intelligent with every generation.
The people in these stories include heroes and heels, lovers and loners, visionaries and the smugly blind.
I hope you enjoy their struggles.
THE LONG WAY BACK
My first short story to be published in a national magazine, this tale appeared as the lead story in the February 1960 issue of
Looking back on it, I am somewhat surprised and terribly pleased to see how prophetic this story is. Not that we have had a nuclear war, of course. But the idea of energy shortages as central to the continued development of civilization, and the idea that is now known as the Solar Power Satellite, are both embedded in this tale, together with a few other goodies.
Notice that I carefully referred to this as “my first published science fiction short story.” It is not the first short story of mine ever published, nor is it the first science fiction short story of mine to be bought by a magazine. My earliest short fiction was written while I was on the staff of the nation’s first teen-age magazine,
which a few friends and I created right after we graduated from high school, in 1949. We sold every copy of the magazine we printed, but somehow after three issues we had gone broke.
During that glorious time, however, I cranked out a couple of short stories that my colleagues deemed worthy of publication—my first fiction in print.
Shortly after we had all headed for college, I sold a science fiction short story to a local Philadelphia magazine. A check for the princely sum of five dollars arrived in the mail one morning. Babbling with excitement, I cashed the check at the nearest bank and hopped a trolley car for the offices of the magazine; I wanted to meet the geniuses who recognized my literary talent, and offer them new prodigies of prose.
Alas, their office was padlocked; the magazine had gone bankrupt. My five dollars was probably the last check of theirs to be cashed.
The disappointment taught me an important lesson: cash all checks immediately! Don’t wait for the publisher to go into receivership.
I’ve lost track of that particular story. I doubt that it was very good, or I would have held on to it. So, herewith, is my first published science fiction short story.
* * *
Tom woke slowly,
his mind groping back through the hypnosis. He found himself looking toward the observation port, staring at stars and blackness.
The first man in space,
he thought bitterly.
He unstrapped himself from the acceleration seat, feeling a little wobbly in free fall.
The hypnotic trance idea worked, all right.
The last thing Tom remembered was Arnoldsson putting him under, here in the rocket’s compartment, the old man’s sad soft eyes and quiet voice. Now 22,300 miles out, Tom was alone except for what Arnoldsson had planted in his mind for post-hypnotic suggestion to recall. The hypnosis had helped him pull through the blastoff unhurt and even protected him against the vertigo of weightlessness.
Yeah, it’s a wonderful world,
Tom muttered acidly. He got up from the seat cautiously, testing his coordination against zero gravity. His magnetic boots held to the deck satisfactorily.
He was lean and wiry, in his early forties, with a sharp angular face and dark, somber eyes. His hair had gone dead white years ago. He was encased up to his neck in a semi-flexible space suit they had squirmed him into Earthside because there was no room in the cramped cabin to put it on.
Tom glanced at the tiers of instrument consoles surrounding his seat—no blinking red lights, everything operating normally.
As if I could do anything about it if they went wrong.
Then he leaned toward the observation port, straining for a glimpse of the satellite.
Five sealed packages floating within a three-hundred foot radius of emptiness, circling the Earth like a cluster of moonlets. Five pieces sent up in five robot rockets and placed in the same orbit, to wait for a human intelligence to assemble them into a power-beaming satellite.
Five pieces orbiting Earth for almost eighteen years; waiting for nearly eighteen years while down below men blasted themselves and their cities and their machines into atoms and forgot the satellite endlessly circling, waiting for its creators to breathe life into it.
The hope of the world,
And little Tommy Morris is supposed to make it work .
and then fly home again.
He pushed himself back into the seat.
Jason picked the wrong man.
“Tom! Tom, can you hear me?”
He turned away from the port and flicked a switch on the radio console.
“Hello, Ruth. I can hear you.”
A hubbub of excitement crackled through the radio receiver, then the woman’s voice: “Are you all right? Is everything—”
“Everything’s fine,” Tom said flatly. He could picture the scene back at the station—dozens of people clustered around the jury-rigged radio, Ruth working the controls, trying hard to stay calm when it was impossible to, brushing back that permanently displaced wisp of brown hair that stubbornly fell over her forehead.
“Jason will be here in a minute,” she said. “He’s in the tracking shack, helping to calculate your orbit.”
Of course Jason will be here,
Tom thought. Aloud he said, “He needn’t bother. I can see the satellite packages; they’re only a couple of hundred yards from the ship.”
Even through the radio he could sense the stir that went through them.
Don’t get your hopes up,
he warned silently.
Remember, I’m no engineer. Engineers are too valuable to risk on this job. I’m just a tool, a mindless screwdriver sent here to assemble this glorified tinkertoy. I’m the muscle, Arnoldsson is the nerve link, and Jason is the brain.
Abruptly, Jason’s voice surged through the radio speaker, “We did it, Tom! We did it!”
you did it
Jason. This is all your show.
“You should be able to see the satellite components,” Jason said. His voice was excited yet controlled, and his comment had a ring of command in it.
“I’ve already looked,” Tom answered. “I can see them.”
“Are they damaged?”
“Not as far as I can see. Of course, from this distance—”
“Yes, of course,” Jason said.
better get right outside and start working on them. You’ve only got forty-eight hours’ worth of oxygen.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Tom said into the radio. “Just remember your end of the bargain.”
“You’d better forget that until you get back here.”
“I’m not forgetting anything.”
“I mean you must concentrate on what you’re doing up there if you expect to get back alive.”
“When 1 get back we’re going to explore the bombed-out cities. You promised that. It’s the only reason I agreed to this.”
Jason’s voice stiffened. “My memory is quite as good as yours. We’ll discuss the expedition after you return. Now you’re using up valuable time. And oxygen.”
“Okay. I’m going outside.”
Ruth’s voice came back on: “Tom, remember to keep the ship’s radio open, or else your suit radio won’t be able to reach us. And we’re all here . . . Dr. Arnoldsson, Jason, the engineers . . . if anything comes up, we’ll be right here to help you.”
Tom grinned mirthlessly.
Right here: 22,300 miles away.
“Good luck,” she said. “From all of us.”
he wanted to ask, but instead said merely, “Thanks.”
He fitted the cumbersome helmet over his head and sealed it to the joints on his suit. A touch of a button on the control panel pumped the compartment’s air into storage cylinders. Then Tom stood up and unlocked the hatch directly over his seat.
Reaching for the handholds just outside the hatch, he pulled himself through, and after a weightless comic ballet managed to plant his magnetized boots on the outer skin of the ship. Then, standing, he looked out at the universe.
Oddly, he felt none of the overpowering emotion he had once expected of this moment. Grandeur, terror, awe—no, he was strangely calm. The stars were only points of light on a dead-black background; the Earth was a fat crescent patched with colors; the sun, through his heavily-tinted visor, was like the pictures he had seen at planetarium shows, years ago.
As he secured a lifeline to the grip beside the hatch, Tom thought that he felt as though someone had stuck a reverse hypodermic into him and drained away all his emotions.
Only then did he realize what had happened. Jason, the engineer, the leader, the man who thought of everything, had made Arnoldsson condition his mind for this. No gaping at the universe for the first man in space, too much of a chance to take! There’s a job to be done and no time for human frailty or sentiment.
Not even that,
Tom said to himself.
He wouldn’t even allow me one moment of human emotion.
But as he pushed away from the ship and floated ghostlike toward the largest of the satellite packages, Tom twisted around for another look at Earth.
I wonder if she looked that way before the war?
Slowly, painfully, men had attempted to rebuild their civilization after the war had exhausted itself. But of all the things destroyed by the bombs and plagues, the most agonizing loss was man’s sources of energy.
The coal mines, the oil refineries, the electricity-generating plants, the nuclear power piles . . . all shattered into radioactive rubble. There could be no return to any kind of organized society while men had to scavenge for wood to warm themselves and to run their primitive machines.
Then someone had remembered the satellite.
It had been designed, before the war, to collect solar energy and beam it to a receiving station on Earth. The satellite packages had been fired into a 24-hour orbit, circling the Earth over a fixed point on the Equator. The receiving station, built on the southeastern coast of the United States, saw the five units as a single second-magnitude star, low on the horizon all year, every year.
Of course the packages wavered slightly in their orbits, but not enough in eighteen years to spread very far apart. A man could still put them together into a power-beaming satellite.
If he could get there.
And if they were not damaged.
And if he knew how to put them together.
Through months that stretched into years, over miles of radioactive wilderness, on horseback, on carts, on foot, those who knew about the satellite spread the word, carefully, secretly, to what was left of North America’s scientists and engineers. Gradually they trickled into the once-abandoned settlement.
They elected a leader: Jason, the engineer, one of the few men who knew anything about rockets to survive the war and the lunatic bands that hunted down anyone suspected of being connected with prewar science.
Jason’s first act was to post guards around the settlement. Then he organized the work of rebuilding the power-receiving station and a man-carrying rocket.
They pieced together parts of a rocket and equipment that had been damaged by the war. What they did not know, they learned. What they did not have, they built or cannibalized from ruined equipment.
Jason sent armed foragers out for gasoline, charcoal and wood. They built a ramshackle electricity generator. They planted crops and hunted the small game in the local underbrush. A major celebration occurred whenever a forager came back towing a stray cow or horse or goat.
They erected fences around the settlement, because more than once they had to fight off the small armies of looters and anti-scientists that still roved the countryside.
But finally they completed the rocket . . . after exhausting almost every scrap of material and every ounce of willpower.
Then they picked a pilot: Thomas H. Morris, age 41, former historian and teacher. He had arrived a year before the completion of the rocket after walking 1,300 miles to find the settlement; his purpose was to organize some of the scientists and explore the bombed-out cities to see what could be salvaged out of man’s shattered heritage.
But Tom was ideal for the satellite job: the right size—five-six and one-hundred thirty pounds; no dependents—wife and two sons dead of radiation sickness. True, he had no technical background whatsoever; but with Arnoldsson’s hypnotic conditioning he could be taught all that was necessary for him to know . . . maybe.
Best of all, though, he was thoroughly expendable.
So Jason made a deal with him. There could be no expeditions into the cities until the satellite was finished, because every man was needed at the settlement. And the satellite could not be finished until someone volunteered to go up in the rocket and assemble it.
It was like holding a candy bar in front of a small child. He accepted Jason’s terms.
The Earth turned, and with it the tiny spark of life alone in the emptiness around the satellite. Tom worked unmindful of time, his eyes and hands following Jason’s engineering commands through Arnoldsson’s post-hypnotic directions, with occasional radio conferences.
But his conscious mind sought refuge from the strangeness of space, and he talked almost constantly into his radio while he worked, talked about anything, everything, to the woman on the other end of the invisible link.
“. . . and once the settlement is getting the power beamed from this contraption, we’re going to explore the cities. Guess we won’t be able to get very far inland, but we can still tackle Washington, Philadelphia and New York . . . plenty for us there.”
Ruth asked, “What were they like before the war?”
“The cities? That’s right, you’re too young to remember. They were big, Ruth, with buildings so tall people called them skyscrapers.” He pulled a wrench from its magnetic holder in the satellite’s self-contained tool bin. “And filled with life, millions of people lived in each one . . all the people we have at the settlement could have lived on one floor of a good-sized hotel.”
“What’s a hotel?”
Tom grinned as he tugged at a pipe fitting. “You’ll find out when you come with us . . . you’ll see things you could never imagine.”