Collected when Brunner was at the peak of his writing form, this even dozen of his short stories, with a bonus poem thrown into the mix, offers provocative ideas and thrilling action mixed with conceptions of the inevitable future, the inventable future, the alternate future, the future to be avoided, and the future that is sometimes right now. A heady brew.
For each generation, there is a writer meant to bend the rules of what we know. Hugo Award winner (Best Novel, Stand on Zanzibar) and British science fiction master John Brunner remains one of the most influential and respected authors of all time, and now many of his classic works are being reintroduced. For readers familiar with his vision, this is a chance to reexamine his thoughtful worlds and words, while for new readers, Brunner’s work proves itself the very definition of timeless.
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About the Author
John Brunner started his career as a productive writer of Ace Double Science Fiction novels, sometimes writing both sides of the same double. He produced a wide variety of entertaining and well-conceived science fiction adventures before testing his ambitions with more and more complex and stylistically sophisticated novels. Among his triumphs are Stand on Zanzibar (Hugo winner for Best Novel), The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, The Shockwave Rider, and A Maze of Stars. Although he wrote relatively little fantasy, he was widely acclaimed for a series of short stories collected as The Compleat Traveller in Black. Brunner also wrote mysteries, thrillers, and several well-regarded historical novels.
Read an Excerpt
From This Day Forward
By John Brunner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1972 Brunner Fact and Fiction Ltd.
All rights reserved.
THE BIGGEST GAME
The first time Royston noticed one of the men in black was as he paused before entering the gym. The door of the gym was a big mirror; across the middle of it gilt letters asked, SATISFIED? and a foot below that it said, COME IN!
Royston was going in. He was one of the customers who came here because he was satisfied with himself, and meant to stay that way. He was more preening before the glass than actually examining his body. He'd learned how to exploit his magnificent physique and leonine blond hair when he was about fifteen. Now, at forty, he looked as well as he felt–terrific.
He smiled. Perfect even teeth showed in his reflected face. He cocked his head to judge the effect, and the movement brought the man in black into the corner of the mirror.
The man was just standing there, watching him–not doing anything. His face was as blank as a wax dummy's. Nonetheless Royston was embarrassed at having been caught openly admiring himself. Hastily he pushed at the door and entered the gym.
He'd forgotten the man in black well before the end of his hour-long workout. He enjoyed the atmosphere of this place so much that nothing could have distracted him. He knew–the masseurs and coaches had often told him–that just about every other customer of his age who came here did so in order to sweat off a pot belly or wear down a seat swollen with chair-polishing. Royston came to keep the shape and muscle-tone he'd had at twenty, and he was doing fine.
There was a bunch of pansies in today, from a theatre up the street with a big new musical in rehearsal, and a couple of them started hanging around him. A word from one of the coaches, however, sent them back to their buddies with disappointed faces. Royston grinned. It was two years since one of that sort had really bothered him. That time he'd been so disgusted he'd let the boy catch him alone in the changing-room–and broken his nose for him.
Since then, the coaches automatically warned them off.
Not that he minded them staring at him enviously, of course; envy even from that source set him up for the day. When he left–healthily relaxed, cleansed by a shower, his deodorant renewed–he was humming to himself.
But as the mirrored door swung shut behind him he stopped in his tracks. The man in black was still there, watching him.
Correction: not specifically watching him, but giving a quick once-over to each of the passers-by, as if waiting for an acquaintance whose face he didn't remember clearly. His expression, as before, was an absolute blank.
Royston shrugged. Well, if the guy had friends who stood him up for a solid hour that was his worry. He caught sight of an approaching cab and hailed it with a shout. There were more important matters to consider.
He pondered them during a pleasant afternoon alone in his apartment. He reached his decision while pulling through his .255 Mannlicher, and worked out the details of what he must do to implement it while putting some clear lacquer on the newly polished barrel of an elderly jezail. Nothing was further from his mind than men in black when he left home for his crucial date of that evening.
Until he saw that a man in black, with a face of complete vacuity, was sauntering along the road not far away.
Instantly he was alert. In his chosen way of life he had long ago learned not to dismiss such events as coincidental. He had meant to hail a cab as soon as possible; instead he took to the busy underground and went four stations in the wrong direction before emerging to locate one. Through its rear window he kept a watchful eye on any vehicle which might be following his, and–just in case–got out two blocks distant from Lulabelle's home.
There was no one suspicious in sight. Maybe it had been coincidence after all.
Of course his detour meant that he was late arriving–but in view of the decision he had come to earlier, that was the reverse of a drawback.
Lulabelle was twenty-four and extremely pretty. She was married to a man only a few years older who obviously knew hardly anything about women. His family had settled a small fortune on him when he married, since which time he had apparently acted under the impression that if he gave his wife enough cash she wouldn't want anything else. Royston, whose face was his fortune, knew better and had exploited that knowledge.
In fact, the only thing wrong with Lulabelle was that her husband was due back from his business trip to Japan in one week's time, and Royston's regular deadline for withdrawal from a compromising situation was seven days.
He had been tempted to put off the fatal moment. Lulabelle had accumulated a good deal of frustrated passion since her wedding day, and moreover she was of a generous disposition. Still, there were plenty of women in the world, and his habit of leaving himself several days to disengage had always saved him from unnecessary complications.
With a slight pang of regret he set his plan in motion. Over dinner he bored her by telling her a story about a man-eating leopard. He told it very well, considering it wasn't true, but she had heard it before almost word for word. Later he was cooler than usual, and pretended not to be paying attention while she retailed some gossip to him–in fact he took it in with care, of course, because scandal was always useful, but he made sure his eyes were wandering and his comments were random ones, polite but empty.
It worked. It always worked. Hurt and puzzled, Lulabelle pleaded tiredness when he took her home from the restaurant where they had eaten, and refused to let him come in. That too was according to plan–it was a reflexive response, the withholding of sexual privileges on a basis of "See what you're cheating yourself out of!"
He was standing on the front steps of her apartment block trying to persuade himself that the proceeds from a gold cigarette lighter, cuff-links, a jade statuette and sundry other recent presents was a fair recompense for his self-denial, when he saw that a man in black was standing across the street, his face as impassive as a wall.
A chill trembled down his spine, and he concluded that his early night was a very good idea.
The next morning was bright and sunny, but he woke to it in a black mood. Lulabelle must be put out of his life as of last night, and no qualifications. That would teach him to break his customary rule about living spouses. Japan was a long way off, but rumours of infidelity seemed to reach suspicious husbands, regardless of where they might be, as surely as though they had been relayed by satellite.
Time to go hunting again, then, and this time for a prey less dicey than Lulabelle.
He thought with nostalgia of Moira Parmenter, the widow who had set his standards for him ten years ago. He shook his head over the recollection of her suicide. Such a pity! It could have been avoided if he'd perfected his technique for letting women down gently a year or two sooner. Now he had nothing to remember her by at all; the Mercedes convertible, the matched pair of Purdey guns, everything had gone the way of all flesh-pots.
And the bitch didn't even alter her will in my favour first!
Still, even if the Moira Parmenters of this world were exceptional, the species she typified was common enough.
He ate breakfast with a book on tiger-shooting open beside his plate. His African background had been reliable for a long time, and he could expertly intersperse his yarns of adventure on the veld with hair-raising examples of how the stupid blacks were letting their countries go to rack and ruin, but recently he had picked up a fine tiger skin, too good to waste, and there were no tigers in Africa.
Once or twice he had thought of going on safari in reality. A long time ago he had actually made plans for such a trip. Then someone came up and he had to postpone it, and when he was next in a position to afford the outlay the idea didn't seem so attractive–scorching sun, insect bites, a diet of biltong and canned beans ... So the Mannlicher and the .455 elephant gun and the rest stayed on the wall, and the hunter remained content with his chosen prey.
For–and he chuckled as he stowed the book about tigers next to his leather-bound volumes of Rowland Ward game records–wasn't he the big game hunter par excellence? What game could compare with a human quarry?
He had trophies aplenty on his walls which he claimed to have won, but had not; in his bank account, though, there were others of a different kind which he had. And there was danger in his hunting, too–several times he had himself become the hunted, stalked by private detectives and angry husbands. He laughed at the recollection of how often he had fooled them, then grew suddenly grave.
Did he have a case of the same thing on his hands at the moment, with these men in black who had three times so far turned up at the same spot as himself? It wasn't likely; they didn't behave like any detectives who had followed him before, and they seemed to make no effort to conceal their presence. Suppose, however, the husband was unwilling to believe in his wife's adultery, or eager to avoid a fuss about it, and had merely instructed them to warn off this man who was setting siege to her ...?
He shrugged. The only sensible course at the moment was to begin a round of innocent activities and see what happened. He was due for a visit to the barber. That would be a suitable first step.
He was shaken rigid when he rose from the barber's chair and dusted the last hair-clippings from his neck with the towel he was obsequiously handed. Turning towards the street window of the shop, he discovered a man in black gazing expressionlessly at him.
Making no attempt to disguise his interest, he remained there while Royston paid up, put his coat on and left the shop.
This is too much!
Royston set his lips in a narrow line and turned along the street. At random he paused to study the window display of an oculist–something he would normally have avoided by instinct, for the threat of having to wear glasses was a recurrent nightmare and his eyes were too sensitive for contact lenses.
The man in black had followed him, and had now halted and was blatantly waiting for him to move on.
That settled it. His plan for letting Lulabelle down gently was shot to blazes, and he was going to have to take the chance of her suffering an attack of conscience and confessing to her husband. With these men in black trailing him, obviously to frighten him off since they were so open about staring at him, he wasn't going to call her up, let alone go near her home. Logically the end-result of the process which had been set in motion was not meant to be a divorce suit. More likely it would be a razor slash, or vitriol.
In a very grim mood he turned into a convenient restaurant for lunch.
The mood lightened miraculously. He had been sitting at his table a mere ten minutes, with the restaurant growing more and more crowded, when he saw approaching someone who alerted all his professional instincts.
A mature woman, to put it kindly. Pearls, very probably genuine uncultured. Slipping real mink off her shoulders as the headwaiter deferentially guided her past his table. It was the work of a moment to organise a gentle trip, and a flurry of apology, and a series of concerned inquiries as to whether she was hurt ... and an invitation to share his table by way of recompense for the inadvertent offence he had given her.
Almost hungrily–in the spiritual rather than the physical sense–she accepted the proposal.
The more he looked her over, the more convinced he became that she was a gift from Providence. Her face was still quite pretty, but promisingly vapid and made up with a kind of anxious thoroughness. Her clothes had cost a great deal but she hadn't been able to buy the talent to wear them successfully. In short, she had every trait of the kind of woman he could tie around his finger.
He rose to her bait with the most dazzling smile he had achieved in weeks, guided her through the menu and wine-list and chose a meal for her which was already spiced with flattery before it was served. He introduced himself; he steered the conversation around to the romance of travel; he improvised a story which put the recently acquired tiger skin to excellent use.
She didn't contribute much to the conversation, but what she did have to say was music to his ears. Her name was Mrs. Arnheim and she was divorced from someone in plastics. She was wallowing in alimony. The divorce was more than a year in the past and she was lonely. Travel to her had nothing to do with romance–it implied taking a cruise on which there were ten women for every man. And so forth. Faced with a situation like this, Royston could hardly compare himself to a big game hunter. He felt more like the general who was awoken at two in the morning by a frantic aide reporting that the country was being invaded, who said, "Look in Drawer B," and went back to sleep.
He paid for her lunch with good grace. He never begrudged a small investment in an undertaking that was guaranteed to repay dividends.
When he was helping her into a cab afterwards, she laid a bejewelled hand on his arm, called him dear Mr. Royston, and looked several invitations at him. He leafed rapidly through a mental index, settled on dinner as the next step, and made a date.
That evening his phone rang several times. He let it ring. There was a man in black across the street, who stood for more than an hour clearly visible under a lamp before he moved away.
His first outing with Mrs. Arnheim was not the unqualified success he had expected. There was a man in black at the adjacent table in the restaurant, sitting alone and eating with a kind of machinelike absent-mindedness. He had nothing in common with the other men in black apart from the colour of his clothes, a general similarity of build and the lack of expression on his face. Nonetheless Royston found himself automatically thinking that this was the first time he had seen one of them do anything but stand and stare.
It was his turn to do the staring. The man seemed to be consuming his food in a trance. He appeared to be chewing to a regular count–so many movements of the jaw up and down, with a rhythm as inflexible as a metronome's, swallow, re-load and chew again, the tempo bearing no relation to what had been on his fork.
Royston berated himself silently. Looking at the matter in objective terms, what evidence did he have that all these men in black were associated? At any given moment there might be thousands of men in black suits on the streets of London. Perhaps having his self-esteem piqued by the one who had caught him admiring his own reflection had made him subconsciously more sensitive to their presence. In any case, he was going to steer clear religiously from Lulabelle, and if he stuck to that decision he would have nothing to worry about.
He Snatched his attention back to Mrs. Arnheim, and had the biggest shock of his life when he discovered that she also was eating in that strange mechanical fashion.
What was going on? Had someone revived that health fad about chewing every mouthful forty-three times, or whatever the number was? He almost demanded an explanation, but caught himself in time. Personal matters were not yet on that programme for ensnaring Mrs, Arnheim.
He fixed a date for a theatre the following night, and took her home in a mood even bleaker than yesterday's, though he disguised it under a veneer of practised charm. When he got out of his own cab in front of his apartment a short time later he was expecting to find another of the men in black somewhere nearby. He was right. In the same place as last night, at the edge of the pool of brightness cast by a streetlamp.
Abruptly his patience snapped. Telling the cabby to wait a second, he strode over to the silent watcher.
He hadn't been as right as he'd thought. This wasn't another of the men in black. It was the same one who had been in the restaurant an hour ago.
"Hey, you!" Royston snapped. "What's the idea of following me around?"
The man stirred and half turned to confront him. For one horrible instant Royston had the impression that his face was melting, like wax in a flame. Then the man spoke, his voice as neutral as his features.
"Following you, sir? You must be mistaken."
And the face was not that of the man in the restaurant.
Royston felt his jaw drop. What was this–a hallucination? A trick of the light? Conscience deceiving him into thinking that any man wearing black was pursuing him? The word paranoia loomed up in his mind.
Excerpted from From This Day Forward by John Brunner. Copyright © 1972 Brunner Fact and Fiction Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
- The Biggest Game
- The Trouble I See
- An Elixir For The Emperor
- Wasted On The Young
- Even Chance
- The Vitanuls
- Factsheet Six
- Fifth Commandment
- Fairy Tale
- The Inception of the Epoch of Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid
- The Oldest Glass