I think there were ~4 short stories in the book, all of which were interspersed with an alien "librarian" leading two alien "students" through the human section of the library (humans being extinct at the time of the telling).

One of the stories was about a teenage female who was given a new starship and promptly followed her favorite explorers (two semi-famous guys) out into uncharted territory. She lands on an uncharted planet, again following her heroes, only to find their ship abandoned and their corpses nearby. After replaying their "dashcam" she sees them go mad, try to have sex, and then die. Feeling thoroughly creeped out, she leaves the planet. When she wakes up, she has a little voice in her head...from the microscopic parasite she was infected with on the planet!

The twist is that the parasite is actually friendly, but it can't help but cause pain, madness, and eventual death as it grows. On its own planet, in its normal host (a cow-like creature), the alien is more of a symbiote than a parasite and its growth causes intelligence and civilized behavior rather than madness and death.

Eventually, she sends out a warning and pilots her ship into the sun in order to save humanity.

Another story was about an old chick that had a bunch of cosmetic surgery to look young...or something. Heck, I read it like ~20 years ago!


1 Answer 1


The Starry Rift, a collection by James Tiptree, Jr. (pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon) comprising a framing short story, two novellas, and a novelette. This collection has its own Wikipedia page, and it was the (unaccepted) answer to the question "1980/90s scifi book about a librarian who recommends 3 short stories to two students at an alien university". The story you described in detail, about the girl who catches an alien parasite, is "The Only Neat Thing to Do". The descriptions below are quoted from an Amazon customer review by Rory Coker. The stories are:

"In the Great Central Library of Deneb University" (short story).

"The Only Neat Thing to Do" (novella, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1985, available at the Internet Archive):

In the first story, a teenage girl is given a "Space Coupe" as a birthday present, and shortly sets off on an unauthorized journey into unexplored space. She becomes infected with a mind parasite which is shortly going to eat her brain. The problem she must solve is getting the word back about the danger, without infecting the rest of the human race. Tiptree doesn't make me believe for one second that there could exist a planet where natural evolution could result in all mind and intelligence being carried by microscopic parasites, while all large animals are mindless, brainless hulks who function only when the parasites create brains for them. Or that the parasites must be carefully trained as children in "parasite day school" to avoid killing their hosts. That's not the point. Her aim is to take that bizarre situation as a given, and work out the logical consequences. In this, she is somewhat like one of her obvious influences, Murray Leinster.

"Good Night, Sweethearts" (novelette, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 1986, available at the Internet Archive):

The second tale is more conventional space adventure. A solitary man who makes his living salvaging space junk finds himself in a situation where he must rescue the most beautiful woman in human space (and her clone!) from insanely vicious space pirates. Tiptree's delight in describing the mechanics and details of her imaginary interstellar space ships, space communications, and resulting space puzzles to be solved by the characters, is obvious throughout.

"Collision" (novella, first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, May 1986, available at the Internet Archive):

In the final tale, explorers encounter a hitherto-unknown, technologically advanced galactic empire of three-sexed kangaroo-like aliens. The aliens are religious fanatics who practice sacrifice of their own kind, and who have good reason to destroy any humans they encounter instantly and with no questions. [It's those pesky space pirates, see story 2, again.] The explorers face the problem of avoiding an interstellar war, by somehow making the aliens understand that the human race doesn't consist entirely of pirates. This story is the only one of the three that contains fantastic/supernatural elements, and they don't help either the reader or the plot in any way. Again, Tiptree can't make the three-sex system plausible, and that's not her goal.

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