This page contains abstracts of science fiction short stories and novellas.
Back in 1979 and 1980, I worked as a floating clerk for a chain of auto parts stores. I was usually in the store by myself, and traffic was usually slow until late afternoon. This gave me a lot of time to read, so I read a lot of science fiction.
Once I finished reading a short story or novella, I would write a little abstact of it.
In recent years, I have started reading science fiction again, primarily from anthologies of short stories and novellas. I have acquired several volumes of The Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois and started reading them, but read scores, if not hundreds, of stories before I started writing abstracts again, so you will not find abstracts of every story in those anthologies. Besides, I only have about 10 of the 32 or so of these annual collections that have been published so far (as of October 2015).
These abstracts were written for my personal use, but I don't mind sharing them with those who may stumble upon this website.
There may come a time when I will set up an author index, but to start with, I'm just typing out the abstracts on one big page. We'll see what develops in the future. The future is what most science fiction is all about anyway.
DISCLAIMER: These abstracts are based on my own understanding and opinion and in no way guarantee that every individual will enjoy these stories to the extent that I have. Also, due to the large number of anthologies in my library - many of which are out of print - the possibility exists that I may lose track of which stories are found in which anthologies and make a mistake in listing. If you expect a story to be in a particular anthology, please check its table of contents before purchasing.
An astronaut's shuttle crash-lands on Mars, miles from his mother ship. This is the story of his return trip, in which he is accompanied by a bird-like Martian companion.
A real estate agent picks up a hitch-hiker from the future, who had just overshot his time after seeing the "twilight" of man's existance.
A scientist's attempt to make a more human-like robot backfires when the robot - who is feminine in form - turns out to be too human.
Technicians, in charge of the operation and maintenance of a massive network of moving roads, rebel against their superiors.
An introverted scientist developes a race of tiny but highly productive organisms.
Scientists attempt to prepare for a total solar eclipse - on a planet with six suns.
A businessman, in financial ruin, suspects that a new local weapon shop is responsible for his failure.
A scientist from the distant future sends a toybox back to the year 1942, where it is found by a 7-year-old boy.
A 22nd century physician is plagued by a fear of places - any place but his own home.
A space warrior finds himself in hand-to-hand combat against an alien enemy. This was probably the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name.
A space ship from earth, traveling in deep space, encounters an alien vessel.
A mother worries that her newborn baby may be a mutant.
Scanners, men whose space duty necessitates the severing of their sensory nerves, are upset when recent developments threaten their jobs.
The crew of the first earth ship to Mars is astonished to find their dead friends and relatives living on that planet.
A drunken old physician stumbles upon a remarkable bag of medical instruments.
A few days' diary of a mutated child.
An Englishman meets a seductive American woman who appears to be very good looking, but it's hard to tell for sure since she, like all other women, always wears a mask.
A Catholic priest of a future era is assigned the task of finding the body of a saint which is said to lie in state, but not to be decomposing. He is accompanied on the journey by a mechanized donkey - a "robass."
The story of microscopic human beings, created by earthlings so that man could survive on a swampy planet, and their struggle for survival in their hostile environment. One of my favorites.
A Tibetan monastary uses a computer to print out all of the possible names of God.
The story of life in a small town which is dominated by a malicious little boy who has incredible telepathic powers. A Twilight Zone episode was based on this story.
A young woman stows away on a spaceship which has inadequate fuel to compensate for her weight.
A man begins to project his personality onto his android - and vise versa.
A violent mutant, allowed to roam free, describes his life.
The diary of a mentally-challenged man who undergoes an experimental operation designed to increase his intelligence. The movie "Charly" is based on this story.
A young poet goes to Mass to study the culture, language and religion of the sterile population, and falls in love with one of the temple dancers.
The story of a quadriplegic, with a strong mind, who is involved in mind control experiments using a genetically created organism on a hostile planet.
Scientists in the Antarctic find an alien creature who seems capable of possessing people. The movies entitled "The Thing" are based on this story.
An accident occurs at a nuclear power plant.
The story of a future generation of people who live in a spaceship - but who don't know it.
An opportunist of the 1980s, put into suspended animation, is revived many years later to find a golden opportunity: most of the people of the world are apathetic morons and the planet is ruled by the few who are not.
The owners of a large house rent some of its rooms to a strange bunch of people who await a party and some sort of event.
The humerous story of a rebellion on a colonized earth-governed planet.
The story of a relationship between a high official and a woman who is half cat and half human.
The story of a young boy who runs away from home and meets a strange family with three children who have tremendous powers.
A scientist builds a time machine and travels into the future to find that man has become as cattle, mastered by subterranian mutants.
The earth is being taken over by alien humanoids, and one man is trying to stop it.
Earth shuts off Mars' supply of water, forcing them to obtain it through other means.
A mobile city, able to travel through space, lands on a planet where another mobile city has been for years.
A scientist recruits an adventurer to enter a formation which was discovered on the moon - a formation which would kill him several times over. A noteable thing in this stary is Budrys' portrayal of personalities: the obsessive-compulsive scientist, the explosive adventurer and his hysterical mistress, and the sociopathic personnel manager.
This story seems to be a satire on military foul-ups. The setting is an isolated space outpost - so isolated that they don't know their allies from their enemies.
Portrays life in the imaginary future, in which people live undergroud, alone in their rooms, and a giant, worldwide machine does everything for them. The hero in this story is a man who desires to see what life would be like above the ground.
The story of a man who strives to move up the social ladder in a society where the poor must live in huge mansions and try to consume as much as possible.
A space entrepreneur gets stuck with three sisters from the planet Karres who have unusual powers and keep getting him into trouble.
A scientist invents a device which can evesdrop, visually, into all situations, even those which occurred in the past.
A psychologist meets a child genius, and tries to figure out the reason for his unbelievable intellect.
Small alien creatures build a time-space continuum to another world on a handyman's front porch.
A law enforcement officer chases a criminal through a land where everybody wears masks and communicates through musical instruments.
Not to be confused with Isaac Asimov's collection by the same name (Dr. Asimov, by the way, objected to the title for his collection in deference to this earlier story), this is the first in a series which was later collected as Adam Link - Robot (1965).
This short story is the diary of a sentient, and terribly misunderstood, robot. I find Binder's concept of artificial memory quite interesting, given that it was long before "silicon chip" became a household word.
The year is A.D. 3478, and the ruling population of the devastated planet is dominated by women. A young priestess, as part of her initiation, must make a journey to the Place of the Gods, where she is to learn an awesome secret. Well-written and imaginative.
As a scientist takes off for a 10-year journey from the Earth to Mars, his instrument panel shatters, cutting him off from all contact with the universe outside of his tiny ship. This is a great short story. Resist all temptation to glance at the last page or you'll ruin the ending for yourself!
I tend to think of this story more as fantasy than science fiction, but nevertheless it is fun reading and shows a great deal of imagination on the part of the author.
While fishing on a lake, a businessman (Mr. Goldberg) encounters and offends a water gnome, who puts a strange curse upon him - that water and those who live in it will keep away from him. So in addition to his troubled business, his critical wife and his plump, lonely daughter (for whom he must provide an enormous dowry or it's likely nobody will ever marry her), he is now incredibly thirsty from not being able to drink water, and incredibly stinky from not being able to take a bath.
Don A. Stuart was a pen name used by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Sarn - Conquerers of Earth 4 thousand years ago.
Aesir - Champion of humans.
His Cloak - A weapon which makes him essentially invincible. A black cloak.
Humans wish for revolution, and Cloak of Aesir gives them hope? Could be the weapon that allows it to happen? But raw materials are hard to come by.
They do get rid of the Sarn, in a rather unique way.
A very imaginative story about the last days of the last Neanderthal as he finds himself unable to adjust to a world now dominated by the Cro-Magnon.
A scientist, living in an area of the Amazon dominated by an evil dictator, develops a plant that has a meat-like taste and texture. At the same time, a strange fungus begins to appear in the jungle. Is there any connection between the two?
Scientists and a historian investigate a man whom they spotted at a Coney Island freak show, who claims to be about 50,000 years old.
Three scientists - a woman and two men - discover a process to duplicate inanimate objects. But when the woman marries one of the men, the other man sets out on experiments to duplicate living beings.
While staring at three-dimensional images of the two women he loves, a scientist tries to determine which he will marry. As he contemplates the cubes, he is transported to alternate futures, both leading to undesireable ends. A great story.
"If he tore you in pieces, I should be sorry, for I like you, even if you are a feeble little isi-pham-pham."
An excellent story. A scientist is called to a wildlife refuge in Africa to investigate the alarming occurance of mutations among the animals, including six-legged buffalos, a polka-dotted hipopotomus, a baboon-man, and a blue giraffe.
An angel, sent to bestow a halo on a newly-canonized saint, inadvertantly bestows it on the wrong person.
An inhabitant of a planet with gravity and atmosphere far greater than that of Earth, explores the wreakage of a space ship which has crashed into his ocean.
A scientist developes a method of determining, with incredible accuracy, the date of one's death.
Television producers are puzzled by the fact that what they broadcast is somehow altered before it is received by television sets.
A narrative of the last days of three robots who have outlived their creators. One of my favorites.
A huge lifeform composed of light and energy, with a lifespan of millions of years (at least), seeks to know the meaning of life, and what lies beyond the darkness that surrounds his universe.
When I first started reading this story back in the mid-1980s, it bored me and I didn't finish it. But coming back to it 30 years later, I find it to be a great story. I guess I had to mature a little as a science fiction nerd...
According to Isaac Asimov's introduction to this story, it was writtin in 1934, but was not published until 1940.
A man with amnesia, telepathic powers, and impulses he does not understand, leaves a crash site and sets out on a mission which he knows he must complete - even though he can't remember what it is. Excellent.
This is a first-person narrative of a woman's life as a slave. The science fiction element is that it is set on planets other than Earth. It's still a good story, though. It is perhaps intended to question what most people think of when they think of "liberation."
The population of Earth anticipates the broadcast of the first pictures from the first starship sent from Earth to a distant solar system, and the awakening of its crew, which has been in suspended animation for several decades while en route to the distant star. An excellent story -- with a surprise ending.
A terraformer is hired by a wealthy miner to be a mentor to his daughter. His daughter had already started terraforming, but her projects so far had been somewhat less than successful. The daughter turns out to be quite a handful.
This story is somewhat hard to understand, but here's my shot at it:
Two scientists (I guess they are actually mathematicians...) discover a possible defect in the mathematical system of the universe. While being pursued by agents of an evil, greedy corporation that wants to exploit this defect, they gain access to a super-computer - LUMINOUS - to detect the defect and either destroy it or seal it off. But as they do so, they make yet another discovery.
The story of a young man with telekenetic and telepyrotechnic abilities, and the woman who is responsible for controlling those powers.
When an AR (Artificial Reality) gamer is murdered while playing a game, a detective enters the game herself to try to find the killer.
In the distant future, the Earth has been at war with the Fwndyri - an alien race - and Earth has been rendered largly uninhabitable due to contamination by malignant micro-organisms. But habitalbe shelters have been built, and those remaining on Earth are putting on an art contest. But as the contest starts, the Fwndyri launch another attack. This is the story of two of the art contestants.
An immortal being with mind-control capabilities attempts to live a normal life.
As a comet approaches dangerously toward Earth, a man describes his life and relationship with his aging but loveable dog. The science fiction element is not that strong, in my opinion, but it is a good story.
A future detective investigates some strange murders and suspects that the amphibian aliens which arrived a few years earlier may somehow be involved.
A radio telescope on the far side of the moon intercepts a brief pulse believed to have originated from a distant star system. One of two brothers is obsessed with analyzing it to determine its meaning. The other brother is skeptical, but agrees to let his brother us his employer's resources to analyze the pulse. Pretty good.
Humans from a spaceship called Europa have been trying to initiate trade relations with the milliped-like inhabitants of Gehenna. When a Gehennan city called Babel is destroyed under suspicious circumstances, two refugees - a human and a Gehennan - embark on a journey to a sister-city, Ur. Pretty good.
I know I read this story and wrote a review on some scratch paper, but I can't find it. Maybe later...
A living ship - which also happens to be a pirate ship - begins to act strangely after attacking and destroying a non-living freighter, a "steel ship." A low-ranking engineer is sent outside to repair a neural node that is thought to be the cause of the problem. Good.
A conduit called "The Infrastructure" is used by spaceships for interstellar travel. But it appears to be breaking down in places, resulting in contact between civilizations of different universes. Pretty good.
Scientists succeed in cloning Neanderthals, and discover that they were not at all as imagined. The story is narrated by a widow attending the funeral of her Neanderthal husband.
In an imagined future of India, males in the middle class outnumber females 4 to 1 and courtship becomes a very competitive undertaking. This is the story of one young man's quest to find a wife.
On an earth-like planet, a mining company and its hired thugs threaten a small village whose inhabitants' only hope is that the unknown operator of their Guardian - a huge armoured war machine - will come to their rescue.
Set in a universe called Virga, which appears to contain some man-made components, a young man with failing health is called upon to be a major player in saving the universe from outside forces which seek to invade it.
A two-pager relating a day in the life of a chimp, with an implant, who likes to make pottery.
The setting is the distant future (what a surprise!). Man has developed genetic engineering to improve not only his own species, sapiens, but to create others called Rebirths.
This story follows the life and career of a modified sapiens, a special agent in conflicts against Rebirths who try to take over the Solar System. Some of his methods are questionable in terms of morality, goodness, etc. Good.
This story features an artist whose paintings include some sort of artifact found in asteroids circling the Earth. These artifacts are not natural and at least some are radioactive. He also uses lead in his paintings, and is employed by a mobster.
I read this story with too many gaps between sittings - I really need to read it again.
On Rhea, a moon of Saturn, three teenagers encounter an herbalist in the marketplace. One of the three suspects the herbalist of being a spy and stubbornly insists, again the advice of his friends, on proving it.
A wealthy industrialist/scientist sets out to accelerate the development of Artificial Intelligence by using an evolutionary process.
In a future time when parts of the U.S. have turned into desert, a man from Mexico travels into those areas with eggs that he uses to make medicinal preparations. This story concerns a trip he makes to a place called Paloma, where a former girlfriend had disappeared several years ago. He meets a young boy there who shows great interest in his chickens, and whose physical features greatly resemble those of his old girlfriend.
I found this story a little hard to follow and comprehend, but here goes...
A man makes an unauthorized copy of himself and is arrested. His "dog" and "cat" attempt to rescue him. In this future time, people and their pets are apparently not only flesh and blood but also hardware and software. And the rights to copy people (I'm not sure about pets) are owned by a company called VecTech.
The story is told from the vantage point of the arrested man's "dog" - a robot with artificial intelligence and apparently a potent weapons arsenal.
I'll probably need to read this again to get a better understanding of it.
The setting is a planet named Jerusalem, which had been settled by Christians but has been secularized following a revolution. The main character is a government agent who finds himself a political prisoner when two government agencies vie for control of the planet.
A robotic cargo ship, the Orphan Annie ("Annie"), is contracted by another robotic entity, named "Edward," to transport a suspicious cargo from one of Saturn's moons (Dione) to another (Mimas). The story is told from the viewpoint of "Annie." Very good.
China has been devastated by a plague - a "bird flu" which has killed much of its labor force. A young woman accepts a job which looks ideal, but which turns out to be anything but. In the course of time, she learns of corporate corruption and helps to expose it.
It is the far-off future. Man is extinct, but several species of animal are now sentient. After an attack by cats, a horse befriends a wounded cat and learns that the sentient species each possess some of the knowledge of "the Ancestors," but no species possesses it all. An excellent story.
On a planet called First Foot, a woman researching Hive Rats is attacked by thugs who want access to valuable information which they think she has inadvertantly discovered.
A group of condemned prisoners is sent to a space station for "orientation" and to await a process that will digitize their bodies and transport them to distant planets.
A young woman - a welder in a weapons factory - is the main character in this story. It is set in an island nation at a time when humans can be altered (apparently) both organically and mechanically. The nation is at war and apparently has been for a long time.
This is an account of an attack upon their nation, and the young woman's attempt to save her loved ones.
A New York City detective and an FBI agent investigate the murders of five FBI agents. Among the victims is J. Edgar Hoover.
Several residents of an "old folks home" begin to have seizure-like episodes at the same time. Eventually, cataclysmic events, such as airplane crashes and bridge collapses, start to accompany these episodes. And somehow, a self-conscious space ship seems to be involved. An excellent and highly imaginative story.
A strange, terrible-smelling seaweed washes up on the beach, and an old soldier living nearby begins to believe that is will mean his death.
After an alien starship is blown apart near Jupiter during an attempted mutiny, parts of it eventually fall to Earth, including an intact ray gun. Thousands of years later, it is found by a teenager (in modern times), and becomes the focal point of his life.
In the year 1948, a jazz musician is hired to play on an alien ship that is embarking on a cruise of the Solar system. But as time goes by, he begins to see strange changes in some of his fellow musicians.
A Magistrate (what we would probably think of as a detective in our time and country) investigates the death of a holographic artist. In the narrative, we get a glimpse of the history of the country in which the story is set.
The inhabitants of the planet Tay live their lives in various stages, manifestations and personalities called "Aspects." A group of aliens, the Anpreen, orbits a neighboring planet. The Anpreen are refugees from a civil war.
A crisis ensues when the Anpreen's enemies find them.
A very imaginative story. One may find it necessary to read it twice to fully comprehend and enjoy it.
A teenager is "raptured" up to an entity known as the Fleet just moments before the Earth is destroyed. Billions of years later, she travels through time and space to make contact with her younger self, on the night before the Earth's destruction. Pretty good.
In a future time, a group of tourists in a wilderness area hear a tale from long ago, about a man named Left-for-Dead.
On one of Saturn's moons, a scientist and a technician are on their way to investigate the crash of an alien ship when their "sled" breaks down. As they attempt to make it back to their base on foot before their oxygen runs out, they make a startling discovery.
A monk, who has stolen some documents critical to the ruling galactic empire, attempts to make his way back to his monastery under the protection of a guardian soldier - with whom he is beginning to fall in love.
In the near future - 45 years after Elvis Presley's death, making it 2022 - it is a time of economic collapse (this story was written in 2009, during a recession). A woman living in an isolated part of New Mexico makes dolls for a living. Her life is disrupted when she helps a migrant, who returns later when she is not home and burglarizes her house, stealing the tools she needs to make a living.
Other than being set in the future, I don't see the science fiction element. The story is well-written and easy to read, but in the end, somewhat of a head-scratcher. Perhaps that's why it was considered by the SF community to be such a great story.
A journalist meets a techno-nerd corporate spy - a regular source - at a cafe in Italy. They end up traveling to a "different version" of Italy, but in both versions, they are trying to find a hated, corrupt politician, whom many wish to see dead.
This story is set at least partially on the planet of First Foot (see "City of the Dead" in the 26th annual colletion).
A police woman chases a murder suspect through the galaxy. The suspect is in possession of some stolen "code" from an alien race, and this code is suspected of being dangerous.
In a post-apocalyptic world, an actor searches the Unites States for books, hoping to find a complete copy of Shakespear's Hamlet.
When an old man's graddaughter is abducted by interplanetary slave traders, he allows himself to be taken so that he may find her. But we later discover that his motive for trying to find her is not the usual one...
A mathematician has seen shadow beings, called farishte (singular farishta, plural farishte), since childhood. But one day one of them solidifies and guides him through multiple universes. This experience seems to open his eyes to the mysteries of mathematics.
The story recounts various parts of his life, which has been fraught with difficulty and disappointment.
Different, but very good.
Two detectives attempt to stop a time-jumper whose actions have drastically changed history.
On the Earth of the very distant future, an alien (called an "exogen") asks a "digger" to dig for the secret of death.
A construction ship building a space gateway encounters a star-sized sphere that appears to be a living organism.
In the Laos of the future, an tuk-tuk driver transports a strange passenger, then goes to visit an old friend.
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If you are an author who happens to stumble upon this web site (yeah, when donkeys fly...) and I have totally misunderstood your work, please let me know.