The Winds of Change… and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov
The Winds of Change… and Other Stories is a 1983 collection of Isaac Asimov’s latter-day short pieces; just one of the 506 books he came out with during the course of his incredibly prolific career. The 21 stories in this collection were, with two exceptions, written between 1976 and 1982, and all display the clarity of thought, wit and erudition that are the hallmarks of all of Doc Ike’s work. Four of the stories in this collection — “About Nothing,” “Death of a Foy,” How It Happened” and “Sure Thing”— are short shorts, or “vignettes,” as Asimov calls them. Most of these are mere setups to terrible puns; puns that do leave a goofy grin on the reader’s face, however.
- “A Perfect Fit” presents us with a world in which computers are so ubiquitous that the poor individual who is computer illiterate is quite unable to function; a world, perhaps, not so distant from where we are today!
- In “Belief” (1953), a college professor discovers that he has mysteriously acquired the ability to levitate. The problems that attend his newfound power make up the basis for this consistently amusing tale.
- “Fair Exchange?” is a time-travel paradox story that shows off Asimov’s love of the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan. This compactly written story leads to a surprisingly tragic conclusion.
- In “For the Birds,” a fashion designer is asked to construct wings for the residents of a low-gravity space settlement. His design solution for the inhabitants of the orbiting colony is both delightful and surprising, culminating in a wonderful final line.
- In “Found!,” one of my favorite stories of the bunch, a man-and-woman team of computer technicians encounters an unknown space parasite whilst repairing the Earth-orbiting Computer-Two. This is a fairly creepy tale of first contact that ends on a distinct note of paranoia. Nice job, Doc Ike!
- “Good Taste,” another of my faves, presents us with the Lunar-orbiting space colony of Gammer, and deals with an annual contest that determines which resident has come up with the year’s finest fungal delicacy. Asimov throws in much background detail to make his story fleshed out and believable.
- “Ideas Die Hard” (1957) is a story that Asimov himself says (in his intro; he introduces ALL the stories in this book, incidentally) is dated. It concerns two astronauts who are making Earth’s first voyage to the Moon, and the stresses, both physical and psychological, that they endure. Dated or not, I still enjoyed this one.
- “Ignition Point!” gives us a company of the future whose computer can write speeches guaranteed to “ignite” any audience. But things work a little too well, in this well-done and cautionary tale.
- “It Is Coming,” another story of first contact, tells of an approaching alien ship, and how Earth’s supercomputer, Multivac, assists in the looming crisis. It is a fairly suspenseful tale that also ends on an ominous note.
- “The Last Answer” is one of the more unusual stories of the bunch. Not science fiction, it describes one man’s experience in the afterlife, and even goes so far as to suggest what God’s main intent is with us. Pretty intriguing stuff.
- “The Last Shuttle” is a very short tale, almost a mood piece, describing the feelings of the pilot of the last spaceship lifting off from an abandoned Earth. For what little it is, I suppose it’s well done, but still, if fails to have much of an impact.
- The book rebounds in a big way with “Lest We Remember,” a terrific story about a man who’s injected with an experimental memory drug. As in “Belief,” however, newfound abilities bring nothing but problems….
- In “Nothing for Nothing,” some interstellar space traders land on Earth during the Ice Age of 15,000 B.C. and discover that our world, primitive as it may be, still has something to barter. That the aliens would not be familiar with the Earth commodity is a bit hard to swallow, but still, the story is entertaining enough.
- The next two stories in the collection, “One Night of Song” and “The Smile That Loses,” feature the inch-high spirit Azazel, whose further adventures Asimov detailed in the 1988 collection “Azazel.” These are both highly amusing tales of the mischievous imp providing two Earthwomen with, respectively, the gift of superb voice and the present of a magical photograph. Fun stuff, indeed.
- “To Tell at a Glance” takes us back to “Good Taste”‘s world of Gammer. This time, a young female tour guide must discern which of five guests is a Terran saboteur on the eve of Earth’s “Tricentennial” (that’s Asimov’s word; we all know it should be “Tercentennial,” right?). This one is reminiscent of the author’s 1957 story “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda,” and is an excellent piece of sci-fi/action/mystery writing. Another bravura job from Mr. Asimov.
- The collection concludes with the eponymous “The Winds of Change,” the author’s favorite of the bunch. It is, remarkably, basically a 14-page monologue in which a physics professor tells his two rivals how he has used time travel to exact a sort of revenge. It is an unusual story in both content and style, and ends on yet another note of warning.
All in all, then, still another fine collection from one of science fiction’s masters, showing us that, even in his latter years, Asimov’s ability to spin an entertaining yarn was completely undiminished.
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