DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#2. STEVEN GOULD “Peaches for Mad Molly.” Novelette. First published in Analog SF, February 1988. Nominated for both the Hugo (2nd) and Nebula Awards.

   Another author whose work this is the first time I’ve read. Looking ahead at the rest of the Wollheim anthology, that is going to be a very common thread connecting these stories. Gould is best known for his popular series of “Jumper” novels, books for Young Adults about a teenager who is able to teleport from one place to another.

   As for this story, some time in the Earth’s future, it is presumed, many (if not most) of the planet’s inhabitants live in apartment buildings two kilometers tall. Some who do not, and there are a few, live on the outside of the buildings, much like the homeless people of today live on sidewalks under bridges.

   Some do so by choice, however, either for a sense of independence or the thrill of adventure. Such a one is the unnamed narrator of this story, a man who climbs up and down the outside of the building using ropes and grapples and with a whole lot of flair. On the occasion of Mad Molly’s birthday, he decides to surprise her by going down and fetching her some fresh peaches. It means, however, crossing the floor 520 to 530, claimed by the Howlers as their territory.

   This is a very picturesque tale, and it has a huge amount of visual appeal, but when it comes down to it, our hero is the same person at the end as he was the beginning. One new friend, perhaps, and a lot of dead enemies, both of which I concede are all to the good.

   But what, if I dare ask, is the difference between this story and a western in which the hero must cross a territory claimed by the Comanches to find a store on the other side that carries and sells peaches. Peaches wanted by a dear old lady who would like to be surprised by some?


Previously from the Wollheim anthology:   DAVID BRIN “The Giving Plague.”