Adam Roberts, acclaimed SF writer, recommends

(CLASSIC: from The Brick Moon and Other Stories, Waking Lion Press)

Hale was a prominent 19th-century American preacher and writer, the friend of Presidents and commoners. He wrote all manner of books, including a range of genre-defining science fiction. This tale, for instance, is the first ever ‘space station’ story: American entrepreneurs build am artificial satellite out of brick, 200 metres in diameter. They plan to launch it into polar orbit (passing over Greenwich) via a gigantic flywheel device, so that it will be visible in the sky and sailors can use it to calculate longitude. But it is launched prematurely by accident, with some of its designers and workmen, and women, on board. This turns out not to be a disaster: the inadvertent space travellers find life perfectly agreeable, and even preferable, to earth. The whole thing is written with an easy charm and no little humour, and although the physics are a little screwy (launched via flywheel? somehow preserving its own mini-atmosphere and gravity?) it is an imaginatively spacious and engaging conception, the kind that makes you want to write your own sequel. It’s particularly fascinating to me that Hale, a passionate unionist during the American Civil War, would write this story so soon afterwards, in effect celebrating a little piece of America that successfully secedes from the USA.

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(MODERN: from A Spaceship Built of Stone and Other Stories, The Women’s Press)

Tuttle’s modern classic (it was collected in A Spaceship Built of Stone and Other Stories [Women’s Press 1987]) reimagines the alien encounter in a superbly rich and dream-haunting way. ‘Dream-haunting’ is right, I think, in part because the story is built around the notion of a teacher at an American university using dreams as a teaching tool. He himself has a recurring dream in which he visits a ruined desert city, and descends to the tunnels and caverns below where the ancient inhabitants are waiting patiently. He meets a young woman he on the bus, and discovers that she has had the same dream. It transpires many people are dreaming it. The news reports the discovery of a ruined city in the deserts of New Mexico that once housed the long dead Anasazi people; and of course our protagonists recognise it from their dreams. It follows a sort-of dream logic, which is nonetheless written with a beautiful clarity, that the Anasazi people appear amongst modern humanity, as if they have always been there, and the only person who appears surprised by this the hero of the story. He speculates that they are humanoid aliens who used dreaming to ready the world for their coming, so that they can slip neatly into place as just one more culture on the planet. The whole thing is written in so understated, well-observed a manner that it comes beautifully alive.

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