Archive for the ‘Time Travel’ Category

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“And It Comes Out Here,” by Lester del Rey

October 23, 2011

The Book: “And It Comes Out Here,” by Lester del Rey.  Originally published in 1951 in Galaxy Science Fiction, the edition read was in the anthology Mortals and Monsters published by Ballantine in 1965.

The Setting: Earth, present and future.

The Story: Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey… stuff.

The Science:  Time machines and miniature atomic engines. Nope, we don’t have that yet. What this story does nicely is put forth the notion that time travel is complex and has a great many implications that will get even more complicated.

The Reaction: Yes, so my story and science descriptions don’t do a very good job at convincing you to read this, but you probably ought to if you end up with a copy of it. It’s kind of fun, kind of familiar, but also a little… timey wimey.

The Cover:  Same as the last one

Next Up:  The Alien by Raymond F. Jones.

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“The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey

October 16, 2011

The Book:  “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey.  Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1951, the edition read was in the anthology Mortals and Monsters published by Ballantine in 1965.

The Setting:  A far future, Mars.

The Story:  The last of a fleet of intergalactic exploration ships returns to home base.

The Science:  This story starts with the idea that the human race has developed a way to rejuvenate itself – no one need grow old. People can live forever returning to youth when old age begins to creep back. The interesting thing about the idea as played here is that people are no longer choosing rejuvenation. The world, apparently, is dying and there’s no hope for anything better. So people are choosing to let their lives end naturally when they could have it otherwise. An interesting take on the eternity machine idea.

The Reaction:  This is a nice story. It worked well, with good characters and ideas. It’s melancholy, even morose, but it’s the right tone. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the tone should be morose, ultimately. I didn’t follow the leap the story made of 1+1=failure when it seemed to me that 1+1 could= a new hope.

The Cover:  ISFDB says the cover is Richard Powers, and it is even signed on the side, but it doesn’t have that cool feel Powers usually has. It’s got a collage feel and a sort of clockwork robot. This cover means nothing to me.

Next Up: “And It Comes Out Here,” by Lester del Rey

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“Spectator Sport” by John D. MacDonald.

April 8, 2011

The Book: “Spectator Sport” by John D. MacDonald. Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1950. Read in Science Fiction Omnibus, edited by Groff Conklin, published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Earth, the future.

The Story: A time traveler is upset that no one notices him, but finds himself in a position envied by most of the future residents.

The Science: The story revolves around virtual reality, but a very immersive sort that involves getting lobotomized and wired up. It’s sort of like being addicted to your Blackberry, but way more fun (except for the part where they flay your hands…). It’s a perceptive look at the future, one that might be easier to imagine today when so many people spend their time in non-physical based pursuits.

The Reaction: Short, quick, fun. It’s the right length for the story. No one gets fully developed, but that’s not the point. The point is: The future sucks more than the present, Cold War and all.

The Cover: It’s an anthology and clearly this cover has nothing to do with this story, but it’s gorgeous.  I mean, look at all those spaceships!  And they’re such space age spaceships of the future.  Love it.  But I’m a sucker for retro-future spaceships and rayguns.

Next Up: “To People a New World” by Nelson Bond.

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“Forever and the Earth” by Ray Bradbury

February 6, 2011

The Book: “Forever and the Earth” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in Planet Stories in Spring, 1950, the story was read in Long after Midnight published by Bantam in 1978.

The Setting: Earth, 2257

The Story: A failed author/independently wealthy eccentric gets some scientists to make time travel work so he can bring Thomas Wolfe forward in time to write stories about space and space travel, since no contemporary writers seem to manage it.

The Science: Time travel is always sketchy at best in these books, and more so in this one, where, at one point, Tom Wolfe manages to stay in the future through sheer force of will.  Science, however, is not really the main point of this story.

The Reaction: An interesting conceit, bringing an author from the past into the future to commission him to write stories. Despite that, I didn’t really care one way or the other. Maybe I would care more if I’d ever have read any Wolfe.

The Cover: Still the same.

Next Up: The Synthetic Man by Theodore Sturgeon.

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Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak

February 2, 2011

The Book: Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak. Originally published in 1950 as a novel (based on a serial in Astounding published in 1939), the edition read was published by Paperback Library (52-498)  and printed in 1967.


The Setting: Space, Pluto, and a planet at the far end of the Universe. The year: 6948.

The Story: Oh good golly, where to begin. Two newspaper men, somewhere near Pluto, find a thousand year old prison ship and a lovely young scientist in suspended animation within it. They wake her and learn that her lovely smart brain has been working for those thousand years and is now way beyond most normal human brains. Just then! A call from Pluto where scientists have intercepted signals from across the universe – thought signals! And the young woman, Caroline Martin, is able to communicate with the advanced brains! These advanced creatures, the Cosmic Engineers, need help. So the humans build a stargate and get to the Engineers to learn that our Universe will collide with a different Universe, destroying both. As they try to work out what to do, they come under attack from the Hellhounds, a hateful race that would just as soon have the Universe end. The humans have to travel forward in time to a distant future earth to get some science answers, which they do, but are sidetracked on their way back by an insane, omnipotent intelligence. Then they get back, defeat the Hellhounds, and save the Universe. Phew.

The Science: The science in this book all seemed pretty sketchy as presented. The idea of multiple universes is something that physicists are pretty cool with, but have no way of proving, since, of course, they are not within our universe. So that’s something. But I’m afraid that’s all I feel like talking about.

The Reaction: At first, I was really excited about this book. Oh! Another smart female scientist! How lucky! But then the book became one insane incident after another. I was forced to step back and realize what a mess this book was. There was too much story and not enough craft. The front cover has a quote “…enough thrills for five sequels.” Enough thrills for five separate short novels, more like. It was like a series of unfortunate Star Trek episodes, but without the characters.

The Cover: The cover is a definite high point. There’s a metal man with a ray gun, rocket ships, and people in space suits. It’s pretty awesome. That metal man? That’s a Cosmic Engineer, depicted quite nicely.

Next Up: NSF: “The Great Fire” by Ray Bradbury

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“Night” by Don A. Stuart

June 2, 2010

The Book: “Night” by Don A. Stuart (pseudonym of John W. Campbell).  Story originally published in 1935 by Astouning Stories.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: Earth

The Story: An anti-gravity experiment goes haywire, catapulting its pilot to very nearly the end of time.  But don’t worry, he gets back to his present.  A race of machines based on Neptune help him.

The Science: Again, Asimov comments on the science.

  • Anti-gravity and time travel: Here, I’ll let Asimov do the talking.  Take it, Isaac!

The story contains two notions that are very common in science fiction: anti-gravity and time-travel.  Both are quite impossible in the light of our present knowledge of the Universe.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity there is no way of insulating one’s self from the effect of a gravitational field, nor is there such a thing as gravitational repulsion.

As for time-travel, that would seriously compromise the law of cause-and-effect, of of the fundamentals on which science is based.  Breaking the law would introduce unusual paradoxes. […]

Science fiction writers have written very ingenious stories to take care of such paradoxes, but orthodox science will have none of it.

  • Sentient machines: The main character is rescued from the dead planet Earth by a race of machines based on Neptune.  They were built by humans to be curious and learn, but they’ve pretty much learned everything they need to know.  Now, all they really want is for the universe to end so they can stop existing.  It sounds like a downer, but these are no Marvin the Paranoid Android.  They’re just realistic.  Are machines ever going to reach such a level of self awareness?  Not for a while, but it certainly seems plausible to me.  Terrifying, but plausible.  Which is probably why it’s such a common component of science fiction stories and films.

The Reaction: I’m not sure if everyone in the 1930s just spoke like they were doing dialogue out of a bad film noir, but it seems to be the case in these stories I’ve read lately.  The beginning of the story has some bad narration, almost to the point of being hard to follow, but once we get to the re-telling of the adventure story, it livens up and becomes interesting because of the situation of the main character.  All in all, not a bad way to spend 20 pages.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Next Up: The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson.

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The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

February 1, 2010

The Book: The Time Machine from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G) Wells.  Novella first published in 1895.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Time Machine

The Setting: Earth during an unspecified present (one assumes the Victorian era) directly.  Earth in the year 802,701 by proxy.

The Story: The narrator, a weekly dinner guest of the Time Traveler, relates his experiences at two dinners.  More specifically, he relays the tale told by the Time Traveler of his harrowing adventures in the distant future 802,701.  The Time Traveler, in the future, discovers two races upon the earth – the gracile, childlike Eloi and the apelike, subterranean Morlocks.  He makes various theories about their origins and concludes that they represent the human race, with the Eloi evolved from the elite upper classes and the Morlocks evolved from a worker class.  He attempts to confront the Morlocks, who have hidden his time machine, but is foiled by the darkness.  When, eventually, he finds his vehicle, he escapes by the skin of his teeth from the Morlocks into an even more distant future, in the year about 30 million.  There he finds himself on a desolate beach under a red sky and is attacked by scary crab creatures.  Eventually, he gains control of himself and returns home to his dinner party where he eats some mutton and tells his adventures to his guests.

The Science: Science?  Well, I guess there’s evolution.  The story rather relies on belief in the theory of evolution to make it work, so I’m not sure how Pastafarians would receive the story.  As far as time travel goes, all we know is that the machine is rather frail, and there’s some quartz and nickel involved in it.  There’s some discussion of a theory of time travel, which is fine, but the actual mechanics of it are rather left by the wayside.  And the scene at the end, in the very distant indeed future, brought to my mind the evolution sequences in Don Hertzfeldt’s The Meaning of Life.  I think most of the project will be more Wellsian than Vernian – more “and this science-y thing happened” than “and this is the science that made the thing happen.”

The Reaction: I was underwhelmed, but I had a lot of preconceived ideas going into it.  I’m sure I’ve seen at least three different versions of the story on film before ever actually reading the book.  It was a good story – a story of discovery and speculation.  The only facts are what is seen; everything else is speculation.  I believed the tendency of the Time Traveler to constantly make up and revise theories about what he was confronted with, because that’s what I do every day.  For me, the most exciting part of it is at the very end, wherein the narrator witnesses the disappearance of the time machine.  I liked the potential of that moment.  Up until then, everything in the story was certain.  We know the Time Traveler escapes the Morlocks, because he’s telling the story.  But when he leaves again…  we don’t know the future anymore.

The Cover: Oh the cover!  Clearly, it is the Time Traveler in his time machine.  But what is going on?  Why is there a giant spoon behind him?  Why does it appear to have been colored in by a nine year old with access to only five crayons?  The world may never know.  Full points for relevance.  Points off for limited crayon selection.

Next Up: The Invisible Man, also by H.G. Wells