Three masterful alien-contact novellas from sf's premier collaboration. In the title piece, three space-travelers are appalled when they happen upon a world where a bizarre, intruding alien transport system has distorted the local civilization into a brutal, horrifying feudalism: Nazi-style overlords; peasants; and criminals who are condemned for ""wanting strange things,"" then consigned to ghastly extermination camps--where, as experimental subjects, they're required to poke at lethally dangerous alien mechanisms. Here, as in all three yarns, the lean narrative panache--fresh characters, vivid or harrowing scenes--conceals some subtle, wickedly incisive, and undidactic philosophy. Less original, but equally powerful, ""The Kid from Hell"" follows the rehabilitation of vicious child soldier Gack (born and raised on a planet where mindless warfare is endemic) after he's brought to an Earth of peace and comfort. And ""Space Mowgli"" is an absolute triumph: a team of scientists, rendering a near-lifeless planet fit to accommodate homeless humanoids, discovers a crashed spaceship and an eerie, elusive child survivor; weird, provocative encounters ensue, as the scientists puzzle over the Kid (is he an alien? a construct? a modified human?); and the Kid--who has a human conscious mind but an alien subconscious--struggles to reconcile this divided psyche and comprehend his human/alien mentors. A magnificent trio, the best Strugatsky arrival in some time.