‘Amanda And The Alien’ by Robert Silverberg
This is by far the oldest (and oldest seeming) story in the collection; ‘Amanda And The Alien’ is set datelessly in the future, was originally published in 1983 and is redolent of at least a generation before that. Amanda is your average American teenage girl whose plans for the evening are to “get blasted on her stash of choice powder and watch five or six of her parents’ X-rated cassettes.” The leap from analogue to digital has been so profound that it does make it hard for relatively recent SF written in the previous era to weather the credibility gap. Instead of realising her plans, Amanda instead spots an alien down the mall and takes it home to protect it from the Government. The alien has escaped from a facility where it was being held due to its deadly bodyshifting habit. Amanda recognises that it is an alien and not in fact a young woman because the alien can’t grasp fashion as instinctively as a teen girl:
“Your face paint is San Jose but you’ve got your cheek chevrons put on in the Berkeley pattern.”
Silverberg is a long way from being a teenage girl as well though and I was reminded of the fact that Philip K Dick thought that in the future all women would be topless secretaries with spraypainted breasts. His future is a mix of these unlikely fashions and cultural signifies from the previous decades: the cassettes they listen to are “Abbey Road and a Hendrix one and a Joplin and such” and the alien trips off oregano – “It can really make you fly”. There is a hippy whiff to ‘Amanda And the Alien’ that even in 1983 must have been stale.
The story – such as it is – consists of Amanda teaching the alien the ways of the world, getting it to swap into the body of her duplicitous boyfriend, having sex with it and then getting bored and shopping it to the police. Silverberg’s point is presumably about jaded youth but that is a pretty lame point for a middle-aged man.