I am desperate to remember a book of short stories by an author, I believe, to be a San Francisco native or transplant.

In one of the short stories he wrote about an alien working in City Lights bookshop. My 40 year old memory remembers a paperback cover that had a plane ascending into the sky.

I have a fuzzy memory of another short story about a soldier in an alien landscape. If I can recall, the landscape was desolate and desert-like. The soldier knew he was going to die but there was a twist of how he perceived reality that I can’t recall. The soldier may have destroyed himself in the end.

I bought the book about 5 years ago. The employee recommended the book from a section in the sci-fi collection of local SF authors. I think he mentioned that the author was deceased. My best guess is that the work was compiled and presented from the stories he completed throughout his career which may have halted around the 1990s.

  • 1
    Philip K. Dick springs to mind as a deceased San Franciscan SF author, though the alien in bookshop story doesn't ring a bell. Dick knew the City Lights bookshop well as he mentions it in the introduction to some of his books. Oct 20, 2021 at 16:06
  • Could the author be Jay Lake? He wasn't from SF, but he wrote a short story about an alien working in an SF bookstore (Borderlands Books though, rather than City Lights). The cover of his anthology, Last Plane to Heaven, does have a plane ascending on it. Oct 20, 2021 at 23:02
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez Yes, and it does include a story about an immortal soldier that ends with him deliberately going to his death. That should be an answer! Oct 21, 2021 at 5:06

1 Answer 1


My answer misses as many points as it hits, but I will put it forward anyway...

Jay Lake was a science fiction author born in Taiwan and lived much of his life in Oregon, so did not have a particularly strong connection with San Francisco. However, he did co-write a short story with Ken Scholes that was set in San Francisco called "The Starship Mechanic". In the story an alien named Penauch has fallen to Earth, and works at Borderlands Books (rather than City Lights):

The floor of Borderlands Books had been polished to mirror brightness. A nice trick with old knotty pine, but Penauch would have been a weapons-grade obsessive-compulsive if he’d been human. I’d thought about setting him to detailing my car, but he’s just as likely to polish it down to aluminum and steel after deciding the paint was an impurity.


It was easier keeping Penauch in the bookstore. The owners didn’t mind. They’d had hairless cats around the place for years—a breed called sphinxes. The odd animals served as a neighborhood tourist attraction and business draw. A seven-foot alien with a face like a plate of spaghetti and a cluster of writhing arms wasn’t all that different. Not in a science fiction bookstore, at least.

It turns out that Penauch is a malfunctioning starship mechanic, who is later collected, and repaired, by the ship's crew, who come to Earth disguised as "Todds":

It was raining men in the Castro, literally, and every single one of them was named Todd. Every single one of them wore Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts and Birkenstocks. Every single one of them landed on their backs, flopped like trout for a full minute, and leaped to their feet shouting one word: “Penauch!”

The full story can be read at Tor's site.

It was collected into an anthology of Lake's work called "Last Plane to Heaven" published posthumously after Lake's death in 2014 from cancer. The anthology indeed has an aeroplane on the cover, and includes a short story entitled "Love Story" concerning a soldier in the Gobi desert, who encounters an alien who distorts reality. This somewhat resembles the other short story mentioned in the question.

Book cover of "Last Plane to Heaven", showing an aeroplane flying across a starry sky

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    You’re my hero- this is it <3! Thank you, kind soul
    – Marissa
    Oct 26, 2021 at 3:43
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    Glad to help @Marissa! Can you click on the green tick to "accept" my answer, so people know that the question is answered? Thanks! Oct 26, 2021 at 5:09

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