Some stories just stay with you. You read them once, and then again, and then one day the book earns a permanent spot on your shelf. You find yourself dipping back into the story years later and enjoying it every bit as much as you did the first time.
Ben Bova wrote one of those stories that got stuck in my brain and never left. I found it almost by accident. I was in the 7th grade and one of my teachers, Mrs. Howe, kept a shelf of books in her room loaded with paperbacks we could read in class or even borrow to take home. One of these was a battered 1967 edition, 7th printing, of Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons. Now, I was never much one for horror stories or the supernatural, but buried among the chillers was a true science-fiction tale titled Stars, Won’t You Hide Me?
That’s the story that pulled me in. The last human survivor of a colossal war against implacable aliens flees in his one-man starship, but the Others will never give up the chase. They have judged humanity guilty of a terrible crime and the penalty is the extermination of the species. But time dilates as they race through the universe at the speed of light. Ages pass, then eons, billions upon billions of years until our protagonist races on to the end of the universe itself, one step ahead of the aliens. I can’t claim it’s a work for the ages, but for a teenager stumbling his way into the science-fiction genre, it was positively addicting. Mrs. Howe noticed how much I liked the book and at the end of the school year gave it to me. I don’t know if she realized I was reading the same story over and over, but I was thrilled to have it. And I’ve never gotten rid of it.
Stars, Won’t You Hide Me? was originally published in The World of Tomorrow in 1966 and picked up for the Rod Serling anthology the following year. My copy is ugly as an old boot, so worn it doesn’t even have a cover. The original was either torn off by clumsy teenage hands or, more likely, it was a remaindered book that the teacher acquired for pennies and added to her class library. It has a large stain on the title page from a spilled coke, and that blotch shares the page with the teacher’s signature and the date she gave it to me. Old glue is exposed on the spine. The back page (Send for your free catalog of Bantam Bestsellers today!) is crumpled and barely hanging on.
I’ve long hoped to find a better edition, but I’ve never seen the story published anywhere else. I thought Stars, Won’t You Hide Me? had been well and truly lost to memory, but was astonished to find that the Rod Serling book has its own Wiki page, and I was able to download a cover image from there.
To track down any new editions I decided to go straight to the source. Ben Bova is still as prolific as ever at the age of 82, and his website has a complete bibliography, writing tips, chronology of his “grand tour” novels, and plenty more. I wrote to him, giving a brief version of this tale and how much his story affected me. He replied almost immediately. “You’ve made my day!” he told me. You can imagine what a thrill it was to read an influential story as a teenager, to carry the book around for decades through several moves and purges, and then 40 years later to correspond with the author by eeeelectronic mail. It’s not exactly the future I envisioned back then, but in some ways it’s more amazing.
Bova told me that the story had been reprinted in two other collections: Forward in Time (Walker, 1973) and Escape Plus (Tor, 1984). Although the paperbacks are long out of print, Forward in Time and Escape Plus are both available as e-books on Amazon. They may not be there for long, however. Bova recently signed a deal with Baen Books for a three-part omnibus of every short story he ever wrote. Stars, Won’t You Hide Me will be part of the Bova Omnibus, Volume III, due out in about three years.
Just goes to show—give a kid a book, you never know what direction it will take him. Thanks, Ben, and thanks, Mrs. Howe.