Platinum Pohl by Frederik Pohl
This is a collection of 30 short stories and novellas. It’s a mixture in terms of publication date and subject matter. I was disappointed in a few cases with stories with some mumbo-jumbo in them.
Merchants of Venus
This story is not related to "The Space Merchants", in which marketing is used to try to get people to emigrate to Venus. It has the common element that the protagonist is a small businessman who isn't above a bit of conning. The story does involve Heechee artifacts left underground in Venus. He's hired by a rich man to go on a treasure hunt for Heechee artifacts. The guide is desperate for the money because his liver is failing and can't get a transplant without the money. Still, he doesn’t want to give away his best ideas of where Heechee goods might be found. And there seems to be something odd about the rich guy.
The Things That Happen
A man who is a bit of a celebrity "psychic" tells how he got into the business, some of the tricks of the trade and what happens when he tries to collect a $50,000 reward for anybody able to convince some skeptics that he really has the power. Entertaining, at least for those of us who don’t mind thinking of professional “psychics” as conmen.
The High Test
A series of letters written by a young man to his folks back on Earth after he moves to another star system. He tells of his experiences as an instructor / tester for people [human and other] trying to get driver's licenses for spaceships. The students vary quite a bit in skill, attitude and intentions.
My Lady Green Sleeves
A future society that is segregated based on occupational categories. The story is told from a prison in the society. The prisons are not so rigidly segregated which raises issues when prisoners seize control there.
The Kindly Isle
An executive goes to check out a hotel his company is considering buying on a Caribbean island. While there he finds the local people are very friendly and helpful. He finds the hotel needs a lot of work, but looks to be a good investment. He meets a woman tourist who helps him get over his dead wife. He sees a man he worked with years ago when he worked at a government bio-war research facility. By the time he decides to try to meet the former co-worker, the other man has disappeared…
The Middle of Nowhere
Humans are making settlements on Mars, a desert planet with thin air and odd plant life. There are Martians, who are almost never seen in person. However, the Martians attack humans. In particular, they have some way of detecting vehicles - and humans have found vehicles are very often destroyed by Martian weapons when they go out. As a result, humans travel by foot when they can. But the heat of the day, the cold of the nights and the daily afternoon sandstorms limit how far one can go by foot. When Martians attack a town for the first time, soldiers take the risk of trying to go there by car...
I Remember a Winter
Not really SF. A fictional reminiscence of growing up in the 1930's, and some of the milestones in life after that.
The Greening of Bed-Stuy
An effort to transform the slum into a hi-tech environmental showcase - various "green" energy sources and building designs. Meanwhile we're shown the life in an impoverished neighborhood, the real obstacles to implementing such a project, etc. There’s politics to deal with, gangsters to deal with, and that’s not always two separate things.
To See Another Mountain
A future Einstein-like physicist developed the "Theory of Congruity" that equated the forces of nature. Now he's 95 years old, living in an isolated psychiatric facility on top of a mountain. A TV crew and the US President show up one day - the President is going to give him an award. The scientist acts up... He is in a group therapy session and so on.
An interesting idea, but I had issues with the conclusion.
In the early days of hyperspace interstellar travel, a government starship is damaged by a micro-meteor while in hyperspace. The ship goes back into normal space, but the crew doesn't know where. The accident has made them unable to know where they would go on another hyperspace jump, and they have no way to retrace their previous travel. The crew tries various ideas to try to find their way home. Meanwhile, their supplies are too limited to get anywhere by slower-than-light travel.
Food for thought and some points often overlooked in other SF. However, the resolution rubbed my scientific sensibilities the wrong way.
Spending a Day at the Lottery Fair
A family goes a carnival to have fun and in hopes of winning a job. They meet tourists from other countries who have a different view of the fair and the peculiar system it reflects.
The Celebrated No-Hit Inning
A very talented baseball player, who is quite full of himself, is taught a lesson by being introduced to the baseball of the future.
Some Joys Under the Star
Quite a tapestry of subplots for a short story. A comet is passing near Earth. But it's not just a comet - it has a spy station for aliens. When they detect humans have a technological civilization, they try to take action, but it doesn’t go as expected. Meanwhile, there are subplots about a young couple going to watch the comet (and maybe a bit more); a psycho / rapist; a possible oil war between the US and Venezuela; and a man planning to blow up a plane to get attention.
Servant of the People
An older Congressman runs for re-election against an android at a time when intelligent robots have the right to vote.
Waiting for the Olympians
An alternative history in which the Roman Empire never fell. The Romans now are the central power for the whole world. The Romans are exploring space with manned flights in the solar system and probes to other stars. Radio signals are received from aliens. The aliens and Romans communicate as they await the aliens coming to Earth. The character narrating the story is a Roman SF writer looking for a new book idea.
A world where people rate everything and everyone. And some political commentary.
Shaffery Among the Immortals
A mediocre astronomer longs for greatness. He continues to strive to come up with a great new theory, make an important discovery or invent a new product. But time after time he is left with failure. As he faces changing plans at the observatory he works at, he finally leaves his mark in history.
The Day the Icicle Works Closed
A colony in another star system falls on hard times. The colony's economy had depended on a resource naturally occurring on the planet. But when it is synthesized elsewhere, there's not much left. A group of people decide to make money by kidnapping a politician's child, but get caught. A public defender is assigned to represent them, although the evidence seems clear cut. The lawyer becomes more interested in the case when he finds one of the defendants is an old girlfriend. The story also takes place in the context of the city being run by a political machine. In researching for the case, the lawyer finds things aren’t what they seemed.
After mammal-like life is discovered on Mars, two con-men who have been claiming knowledge of extraterrestrial civilizations find their business is not doing well. They meet each other and try to figure out how they can continue to fleece the public under these new conditions.
The Gold at the Starbow's End
The US sends a slower-than-light spaceship to Alpha Centauri with four men and four women. The mission is supposed to explore an Earth-like planet there. The trip will take a number of years, so the crew is given mathematical and scientific problems to keep them occupied during those years. But the voyage isn't quite as advertised.
It has an interesting premise and a memorable portrayal of the situation on Earth. However, time scale issues and some mumbo-jumbo detract from its plausibility.
Growing Up in Edge City
A future society where people live in an artificial urban environment and everyone is monitored in a coldly logical machine-like way. (Although the machines are clearly limited in their abilities.) A precocious youth finds an abandoned area of the city and from there finds the outdoors. There are some people living out there. Later, the monitoring detects sand and other clues to the fact he had been outside. He is given a disciplinary hearing for his actions, and must decide where he goes from there.
The Knights of Arthur
After a nuclear war, three former submarine crew members are trying to survive in what remains of civilization. One of the three was once seriously injured and now has his mind in a mechanical contraption. It's not a walking robot. It can be attached to a typewriter to let it print out messages. He can hear what you say and has an electronic eye. His two friends are forced to let the boss of New York City make him the control center for a power plant. What can they do next?
Creation Myths of the Recently Extinct
Very short story. Aliens who want to eliminate Earth's life forms to prepare the planet for themselves think they might be able to arrange it by sending down a black monolith to the early hominids.
Parents faced with a choice about a mentally disabled son and an experimental operation of an unusual kind.
Let the Ants Try
In 1960, after a nuclear war. A scientist takes some mutant ants back in time to see if they will evolve an intelligent species. He thinks that might give humans a competitor so humans will stick together rather than fighting among themselves.
A scientist starts to develop a theory that somehow or other when a scientist begins to produce real progress in the world, things begin to happen that bog him down in other matters. At a conference, he meets another man who is interested in his ideas and offers him an administrative post on a project looking into the question.
The Day the Martians Came
Reporters fill a motel in Florida while a NASA spaceship returns to Earth with a few seal-like creatures from Mars.
A speculative look at boy meets girl 1000 years from now. Genetic modifications of recently conceived human embryos means the boy isn't exactly what we'd expect and the girl is even less so. Their ideas of marriage and mating are quite different too. Along the way we get a view of a technology not much short of a "singularity".
The Mayor of Mare Tranq
An alternate history in which a trip to see JFK's motorcade in Nov. 1963 gives an aging air force officer a chance to be an astronaut. The first lunar landing with Neil Armstrong doesn't work out as it did in our history books, and the rest is [alternative] history.
Fermi and Frost
Story of a nuclear war from a somewhat different perspective. Not focusing on the government or military carrying out the war, and not a portrayal of the barbarism afterwards. Just a telling of the anticipation as the world stands on the brink, the destruction, nuclear winter smothering what remains, and then the final end - both versions.