A Step to the Stars
, edited by
(Cosmos Books, $15.00, 173 pages, C-format paperback; 2004.)
This is the second collection of The Best of Philip E. High (reviewed
elsewhere on this site), collecting together the highlights of High's
writing career in the short form from 1956 to 1970. The present collection
gathers stories written over the past few years and previously unpublished.
As might be expected, when compared to the 'Best of' collection, these
later offerings do not quite reach the standard of his earlier tales,
though are remarkable for a writer approaching his ninetieth year, and
are always entertaining.
work, edited by Philip Harbottle, to be published by Cosmos Books. The
The same themes and concerns are apparent in A Step to the Stars
as in the Best of... collection: a sharp eye for the shortcomings
and failings of humankind, and the explication of betterment through
In "Steps to the Stars", a mysterious portal opens up between Earth
and a strange world; investigation discovers the world to be inhabited,
and prey to invasion from barbaric alien hordes. Humankind rush to the
aid of the oppressed, vanquishes the invaders and become heir to knowledge
of life beyond death.
Again, humanity is transformed when subjects using virtual reality,
in "Virtual Reality" unwittingly bring the events and experience of
VR to existence in the outside world. It's a neat twist on the routine
VR story. In "Tune out of Time",
a time-traveller discovers that humanity is no more than an experiment
'dumped' on Earth in the far past, for epiphinal purposes. Again, it's
a clever take, this time on the old time-travel and alien-intervention
story, which High manipulates to his own ends.
In "Pioneer Plus", perhaps the best story in the collection, colonists
unable to return to Earth from a well-realised, hostile alien world
are saved by a unique form of communication with supposedly hostile
"The Thing at the Bottom of the Garden" begins with the hoary old
cliché of an alien visitor to Earth and creates an interesting,
and amusing, take on the idea: the authorities jump to the conclusion
that the strange visitor is hostile, while quite the reverse is true...
The other stories in the collection, while not as intriguing as the
above, are almost always readable and entertaining. The only story that
didn't work for me was "The Price to Pay", the confusing story-lines
failing to intersect satisfactorily in a story which, again, proclaims
the salvation of the human race.
It's encouraging to have available the more recent work of this veteran
writer, thanks to the hard work of editor Philip Harbottle and print-on-demand
publisher Cosmos Books.
(A note on the cover: it's a vivid, stirring, 1950s homage by Ron
Turner and admirably sums up the spirit of the stories in A Step
To The Stars.)
Elsewhere in infinity plus: