SF short collection (old paperback read in early 90s). One story had insect aliens in a repulsive organic airship described as having a 'rind'


Apr 13, 2020
There is one story I'm certain was in this book, plus two others I can remember that may have been. I read it at my girlfriend's house, I think in 1994, but it was a well-worn paperback, likely from the 60s or 70s.

The one I am certain about concerned a man on the run after escaping the mines where dissidents are imprisoned by a (successfully) invading alien race. He seeks refuge in a small village, telling the people there they must protect him because he has information vital to the resistance.

When the aliens come for him, they arrive in an organic airship described, if I recall correctly, as akin to a bloated, mouldy orange, puffing gasses as it floats, with a thick rind the villager's small arms would not be able to penetrate. It lands, and insect-like aliens squeeze out of it, performing a buzzing, bee-like ritual dance as they try to coax the man out of hiding. Eventually the villagers prevail on the man to give himself up despite his horror at returning to the mines (where the aliens have humans digging vast shafts in the earth into which they then force enormous versions of their own insect selves, presumably to pupate).

When the airship dilates a sphincter to admit the man, one of the villagers fires a rocket or RPG inside, destroying the ship in one monstrous flatulent grunt. It turns out the village was the hub for the resistance all along, and the man almost ruined everything.

The second story, which I'm pretty sure was in the same book, was about a man and a woman shut in a room. The story is all about the man, who seems angry at the passive, silent woman. There is a crowd gathered outside, whom the man seems convinced is there to worship or attend upon him, but when he finally goes out onto the balcony to reveal himself, the crowd do not react. He becomes aware (I think) that they are breathing in time with the woman inside, and that they are there for her, not him.

The third story, of which I am less certain, involved a scientist's endeavour to drill a hole to the centre of the Earth. There he finds some kind of device or mechanism, the implications of which seem to be that the whole of Earth's history has been some kind of experiment or entertainment. He and those with him (military?) plant explosives to destroy the device, but when the rest ascend to the surface to escape the blast they see the scientist has stayed behind, swinging madly with an axe at the mechanism that has made a mockery of his life's work.

I have done a pretty considerable amount of searching for this book over the last couple of years. I had read SF pretty steadily during the 80s (6-8 books a week) but had never come across this author before. I have tried other archives, plot search engines, r/tipofmytongue and r/scifi, all without success.

I remember the writing being very, very good, much better than most of the SF I had consumed, with a distinct tone and mood, and I would very much like to find it again!