Time Travel Tuesday: L. Sprague De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur”

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is particularly interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I love the idea of big game trophy hunters going back in time in order to bag a T-Rex head, or something similar, for their trophy rooms – especially when their own heads ends up becoming trophies that the dinosaur instead takes from them. The second reason that L. Sprague De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur” intrigues me, though, has as much to do with Ray Bradbury’s “ A Sound of Thunder,” the story I featured here two Time Travel Tuesdays ago as it does with De Camp’s story. The two stories, you see, share an eerily similar plot, and I could not wait to compare the way these two masters of the science fiction genre approached their individual stories.

As it turns out, while Bradbury spent a good portion of his story explaining the nuts and bolts of time travel and exploring a time-travel paradox or two (the accidental changing of the present or future by a careless time-traveler), De Camp was much more concerned with his actual storyline and character development. Although Bradbury’s story was published approximately four years earlier than De Camp’s, the plot is not an unusual one in time travel stories, and I doubt that De Camp wrote the story because he remembered Bradbury’s earlier one. In any case, the two stories are very different from each other, and if I had to choose between them, I prefer De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.”

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L. Sprague De Camp

Two partners, one British and one Indian, run a business in which they contract with Washington University in St. Louis to use the school’s time machine on a regular basis to deliver them, their hunter-clients, and their support crew back to the age of the dinosaurs. As the story begins, our narrator (the Brit) has just turned down a potential customer who is too small and lightweight to handle the large guns required to bring down a dinosaur before the animal has time turn on the hunters and their guides. The guide feels bad about turning down the disappointed man and feels that he owes him a more detailed explanation. And what better way to explain this portion of company policy than telling the man a story of exactly what can go wrong when that company rule is bent or ignored?

As usual, on the hunt in question two hunters were chosen to time-travel with the guides and support crew. One of the two was a blustery loudmouth who got into an argument with our narrator even before signing the initial paperwork, the other a rather puny little man whose girlfriend begged him not to go on the trip at all. Shortly after being deposited on the ground by the time machine operator (where they were scheduled to hunt for the next month), the guides realized that bringing the loudmouth along with them had been a terrible mistake. The man insisted on firing when he deemed it to be to his own advantage to do so rather than waiting for one of the guides to give him the signal to shoot. Unfortunately, the boor was a poor shot, and he often spoiled the shot of his fellow hunter by unexpectedly shooting out of turn. The man was an obvious danger to himself and those around him.

The guides only found out just how dangerous he really was a few hours after they had returned to the present with the now very angry, and threatening, man in tow. But perhaps the hothead should have been more attentive when the potential paradoxes of time travel were discussed with him in the office and around the campfire at night. Let’s just say, that not every millionaire is particularly bright – this one certainly wasn’t.

Time Travel Tuesday: Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship”

 

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Richard Matheson

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story was written by another of the genre’s great ones, Richard Matheson. Matheson began to make a name for himself in 1950 with the publication of his very first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” and he is probably still best known today for I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, two of his earlier novels.

I have a real soft spot for today’s story because it so reminds me of my teenage years when everything was fresh and possibilities still seemed endless. Back in 1963, Twilight Zone was my favorite television series, and I doubt that I missed more than an episode or two during the several successful seasons the series enjoyed. As it turns out, one of the 1963 shows was an adaptation of “Death Ship,” the Richard Matheson story I am featuring today. The show also featured two of my favorite Twilight Zone actors, Jack Klugman and Ross Martin, so it is one of those that particularly stick in my memory. (I doubt, however, that I noticed at the time that it was from a Richard Matheson story.)

The story is about three future space explorers (way up in 1997) whose mission it is to find other planets upon which humans might survive. They are in the process of doing a low-altitude scan of a potential planet when a sudden flash catches the eye of one of the men. Deciding to land near the spot of the flash in order to see what caused it and to collect the usual surface samples, the men are about to get the shock of their lives.

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They discover that the flash of light that earlier caught their attention was a reflection from what seems to be the remnants of a crashed space vehicle much like their own. They are certain that no one could have survived the kind of impact that pushed the rocket’s main structure some fifteen feet below the surface of the hard ground they are standing on, but decide to explore the wreckage anyway. But almost miraculously, they find that the main cabin is still largely intact and manage to pry open its twisted door – where they find three dead crewmen.

Although all of this happens in the first six pages of this twenty-page story, I am going to end my plot summary here so as not to risk spoiling the story for those who have not yet read it. The remainder of the story focuses on the efforts of the three space explorers to understand the meaning of what they have discovered on this nameless planet. As the men consider several theories and the possible personal repercussions of each, the reader has to wonder right along with them as to what it all means.T

So is this a Time Travel story, or is it something else? You’ll have to read “Death Ship” (or watch Twilight Zone) to know the answer to that one.

Time Travel Tuesday: Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is a true classic from the pen of Ray Bradbury. Bradbury wrote fantasy and science fiction stories for more than fifty years and, as evidenced by his Grand Master Award, he is considered to be one of the finest writers ever to work in that genre. “A Sound of Thunder” first appeared in the June 28,1952, issue of Collier’s magazine and later was included in Bradbury’s story compilation The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953).

Time Safari, Inc. is ready to take its patrons back as far into the past as they need to go to bag the animal of their choice – and that includes all the way to back when dinosaurs dominated the earth. So when Eckels shows up prepared to pay ten thousand dollars to shoot a T-Rex, the game is on. It’s a bit of a celebration for Eckels because he is so happy that the country has just elected another president who believes in democracy, rather than the potential dictator the new president was running against. Even after being warned that twelve hunters and six guides have been killed on time safaris in just the past year, Eckels can’t wait to get started.

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Ray Bradbury

And then he gets his first look at the Tyrannosaurus rex that has been chosen especially for him – the guides already know it is going to die in just two minutes anyway when a huge tree will fall on it. This is also the moment that Eckels discovers that this animal is just too much for him, that he has more than met his match – and panic ensues. Without even realizing it, Eckels does the main thing he is forbidden to do; he steps off the floating hunter’s path and walks toward the jungle, crushing plant life all the way as he sinks into the muddy earth.

Can, as the guides of Time Safari, Inc. fear it can, the future be changed by something as minor as killing a few plants or insects while traveling sixty million years into the past? For his own sake, Eckels had better hope not, but now it’s time to see what awaits the hunters when they get back to 2055.

Time Travel Tuesday: Steven Utley’s “Where or When”

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Steven Utley

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is from Steven Utley, an American writer who died from a brain tumor in 2013 at the age of sixty-four. Utley was a prolific storyteller whose work was often found in magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Galaxy. “Where or When,” today’s story, is part of a series of time travel stories started by Utley in 1976 featuring a method of time travel he called “chronopaths.” This 1991 story first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and was also included in Where or When, the 2006 compilation of the chronopath stories.

As implied by its title, “Where or When” tells of a time travel trip that went wrong for two travelers right from the start. The two travelers, (one man, one woman) were part of a group expecting a soft landing in 1851 London, but after somehow getting separated from their fellow travelers, the pair experienced a rude crash landing in the middle of a thick forest. Now they no longer have any idea where they are – or, for that matter, when they are. What they do know is that two huge armies are fighting a pitched battle just a few hundred yards from where they are hiding amidst the thick trees.

wild03Our lost travelers are not at first particularly concerned about their predicament because they know that their guide will almost certainly be able to track them down as soon as he notices that they are no longer part of his group. But when bullets start scarring the trees near them, they realize that it is time to run for their lives – despite their guide’s instruction not to wander if they ever find themselves lost. And when the whole forest starts to burn (Civil War amateur historians will now know exactly where the lost travelers have landed), they can only hope it’s not too late to save themselves.

Despite the horrors of battle Utley describes in “Where or When,” the story is not without its humorous moments, especially the scene in which the male traveler is trying to extract the female traveler from the small tree into which she has crash-landed. The woman, already unhappy about the period undergarments she is wearing, is not feeling particularly cooperative at this point:

“Who in eighteen fifty-one’s gonna get to see what I wear under my dress?

“Well, you just never know do you?” and I gave her a wryly apologetic grin that absolutely failed to endear me to her, took out my trusty pen-knife again, and got around behind her. View from that side, she rather resembled an enormous blossom. Her legs, sheathed in long, lace-trimmed drawers, were the stamens, and her numerous petticoats, the petals.

I said, “Good God, how many petticoats are you wearing?

“Eighty or ninety.”

“There’s enough silk here for a parachute battalion”

 Steven Utley was a talented fantasy and science fiction writer, and “Where or When” is a good introduction to the author’s work. Utley managed to pack a whole lot of plot into this thirteen-page story that I have not touched upon here – curious readers can perhaps find the story most easily in the more recent (2013) compilation from Tor titled The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Time Travel Tuesday: E.F. Benson’s “In the Tube”

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E. F. Benson

This week’s Tuesday Time Travel story comes from the pen of E.F. (Edward Frederic} Benson, a British writer perhaps best known for his Mapp and Lucia series written between 1920 and 1939. Benson died in London in 1940 at age seventy-two. Today’s story, “In the Tube,” first appeared in a 1923 issue of Hutchinson’s Magazine.  

The story’s narrator recounts an evening he spent in the home of one Anthony Carling, a man known among his London acquaintances as a great storyteller and gentlemanly host. As the story begins, the formal evening has ended and all the guests but one are making their way home under terrible, icy conditions. The narrator is the only guest who will be spending the entire night in the Carling home. Now, even though it is very late, the two men are enjoying the warmth of a comfortable fire when Carling begins to tell his guest of a recent experience on the London Tube.

Earlier in the month, Carling tells his guest, on the last train of the evening he found himself sharing an entire car with only one other passenger, a man he feels he should somehow recognize. Arriving at the next station, the two men changed trains, and again they were the only two passengers in their car. Shortly after the train began to move, however, Carling realized that he was the train’s only passenger. The very next evening, Carling was astounded to meet the same man at his neighbor’s home and reminded him they actually met on the previous evening – but the man insists the he arrived in London from the country on this very morning and could not possibly have met Carling the day before.

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Scene from 1920s London Underground

The next evening, while once again catching the Tube’s last westward-bound train, Carling spots the same man standing near where the train will pull into the station. But to Carling’s horror, when the train does arrive, the man steps in front of it and is crushed to death. No one else, however, sees a thing – because Carling, he is certain, has somehow been granted a look into the future.

Now should he try to prevent the man’s suicide, or will confronting him with what he knows, only place the idea of suicide into the stranger’s head? Why does he have this special spiritual connection with a man he has only ever met one time? And what if their connection survives even death?

Benson is known as a writer of ghost stories, and the ending of “In the Tube” is probably more reminiscent of a ghost story ending than that of a time-travel story. But whichever type story you choose to call it, “In the Tube” is one thing for certain: an intriguing look at what the editor of The Time Traveler’s Almanac calls the “theory that time possessed a geography that could be explored.” And explore it, E.F. Benson does.

Time Travel Tuesday: Arthur C. Clarke’s “Time’s Arrow”

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Arthur C. Clarke

Today’s Time Travel Tuesday story, “Times Arrow,” comes from one of the absolute masters of science fiction literature, Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008). The story, which was originally published in 1950, explores one of earliest plotlines of time travel fiction: traveling all the way back to the age of the dinosaurs.

“Time’s Arrow,” although it is based upon the “hard science” of Clarke’s day, reads a little more straightforwardly than many of the stories I’ve reviewed on Book Chase in the last few months. Its plot is so straight ahead in structure, in fact, that I was able to predict the way it would end at approximately the halfway point of the fourteen-page story. That, however, did not lessen my enjoyment or appreciation for Clarke’s writing and storytelling skills. “Time’s Arrow” is a great read.

As the story begins, three Geological Society scientists are exploring “petrified mud-flats” upon which are impressed the huge footprints of an as-of-yet unidentified dinosaur. The three have been following the footprints for weeks as it becomes easier and easier to predict what the animal was up to as it crossed the mud flats eons earlier. They are now certain that the huge creature was tracking, and then chasing, some smaller animal that was about to be devoured by the larger one, and expect finally to uncover the spot in which the chase ended.

article-2596038-1ccd95cc00000578-132_634x354The three men are aware that another scientific project of some sort is being undertaken nearby, but they have been unable to find out anything about it. That changes finally when the Geological Society boss is invited to visit the physicists working the other project. When the boss returns to the dig and refuses to disclose anything about what he learned, the other two geologists decide to do a little detective work of their own. And that’s when they begin to believe that the other project involves time travel – and that the work is being done near them precisely because of the dinosaur tracks they have uncovered.

Now the two geologists think they understand why their boss is suddenly spending all his time visiting the other project instead of working with them on his own. Who would not rather witness the culmination of this dinosaur chase in real time rather than speculating about what a bunch of ancient dinosaur tracks might tell them about it?

But what if dinosaurs don’t fear man nearly as much as logic might say they will when confronted by such strange new creatures? What then?

Time Travel Tuesday: Pamela Sargent’s “If Ever I Should Leave You”

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It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for another Time Travel story…so let’s do it!

“If Ever I Should Leave You” is a story by Nebula Award winner Pamela Sargent that appeared in a compilation titled Worlds of If in 1974 before the author completely reworked it in 1984 for publication in another collection called Afterlives. Sargent, who has enjoyed a productive and long career in the science fiction genre, was awarded the Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction and fantasy scholarship in 2012.

As the story’s narrator somewhat casually reveals, at this point in the future the normal lifespan has reached three centuries, plenty of time to let everyone live out all their dreams by changing careers every twenty or thirty years as they become more and more bored with their current jobs. Science has found a way to keep the human body rejuvenating itself for that amount of time. But there is one catch: when the body suddenly loses that ability, aging comes rapidly and without warning. What seemed like an eternally-young body just weeks earlier, suddenly turns into a geriatric nightmare for its owner.

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Pamela Sargent

Yuri, our narrator’s partner has reached that stage of life, but he is working hard to limit the emotional impact his death will have on her. Yuri is using the Time Station to visit remote locales in the past where the couple can meet again after his death, thus easing his way out of her life rather than leaving it with the abruptness of his impending death. Even though she tries not to visit all the spots set-up for their meets too quickly, the narrator is down to her last set of time coordinates before she knows it. But then, just as despair is setting in, she herself begins to show all the signs of aging that marked Yuri’s rapid decline and death.

Determined to make the most of the time she has left, the narrator does the unthinkable by convincing an old friend who works at the Time Station to do something that is strictly forbidden: he arranges for her to visit a time she has already lived through. She just wants to see Yuri one more time as he was on the day they actually met.

But has she just made it impossible for her that meeting ever to happen? Or can she still do something to ensure that it happens just as she remembers it? She’ll know in four hours when she returns to the present…keep your fingers crossed.

Time Travel Tuesday: Henry Kuttner’s “Time Locker”

 hao_hc121212-1dp-mbThe Time Travel Tuesday story for this first Tuesday of 2017 was written by Henry Kuttner, a prolific author who died in 1958 at age forty-four. It should be noted that many of the stories and short novels published under Kuttner’s name were actually written by Kuttner together with his wife, C.L. Moore. The pair also produced work under the pen names Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell. (Very obviously, this was a period during which female science fiction writers were not as likely to find the success or acceptance experienced by their male counterparts – note Moore’s use of initials even when she wrote under her own name.)

“Time Locker” is the story of a drunken scientist who has no ideas where his inventions come from because he does his best work when drunk – a state of mind he strives to maintain during all of his waking hours if at all possible. Over time, the scientist has developed a partnership of sorts with an unscrupulous lawyer in which the lawyer buys the scientist’s inventions outright and exploits them for his own profit. Needless to say, the scientist – who often cannot even remember what his invention is supposed to do – is consistently being taken advantage of when dealing with this thief disguised as an attorney.

That does not mean that the lawyer always knows what he is buying, because he does not. But because he always makes money on his purchases, he is willing to take a chance on anything the scientist is willing to sell him. And that is precisely how he gets his hands on a “3 X 3 X 5” locker capable of holding objects even larger than itself. The beauty of the invention seems to be that objects placed inside the locker shrink to a tiny fraction of their former size – and return to their full size when removed from the locker. Surely, someone as crooked as our attorney friend is can find a use for a small locker capable of holding everything he owns at the same time.

51swzzy42lBut what if the magic locker is not what he and the scientist believe it to be? What if the objects placed inside it or not really shrinking, but are, instead, moving farther and farther into the future? And the biggest question of all: what happens if you reach inside and damage any of the tiny items you see there?

“Time Locker” is fun. It can be found in The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, a compilation of eighteen stories that was published in 2005 by Del Rey. The book is edited by Harry Turtledove (the dean of Alternate History storytelling) and Martin H. Greenberg.

Time Travel Tuesday: Adam Roberts’s “The Time Telephone”

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story, “The Time Telephone,” comes from Adam Roberts, a University of London professor of English literature and science fiction writer. The story was first published in 2002 in a compilation of stories titled Infinity Plus.

As “The Time Telephone” opens a mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter are talking on the phone, saying things that one would pretty much expect to hear in a conversation between a mother and her daughter of that age. But, as the mother explains to her daughter, there is one difference here: even as they are speaking, the mother is pregnant with the very daughter on the other end of the telephone line. Mom, you see, is calling from sixteen years in the past.

The girl is not at all surprised by this bit of information because she remembers once hearing that time-telephoning had been a big thing a decade or so earlier. She is excited that it is finally happening to her, though perhaps she should be more concerned by the question her mother has called to ask her:

“Are you glad you were born? Are you pleased to have come into the world?” 

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Adam Roberts

I don’t know about you, but if my pregnant mother calls from the distant past to ask me that particular question one day, I will have a hard time catching my breath long enough to make  sure that she clearly understands just how thrilled I am to be walking around today, thank you very much.

“The Time Telephone” is a reminder that time-traveling does not always go as planned. The story, in fact, ends with a telephone call that may have just gone very, very wrong for the whole human race.

Be careful what you wish for, all you wanna-be time-travelers out there. It’s not that simple, I’m afraid.

Time Travel Tuesday/Thursday: Molly Brown’s “Bad Timing”

c5024“Bad Timing,” this week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is appearing on Thursday because of the scheduled book review that filled the allotted slot this week (although the novel about Bonnie and Clyde that I reviewed Tuesday is so vividly written that I sometimes felt like a time-traveler riding in the backseat of their getaway car, so maybe it counts as a time-travel story of a sorts, too).

“Bad Timing,” Molly Brown’s first published short story, won the British Science Fiction Association Award for best short story of 1991 after appearing in Interzone, the longest running science fiction and fantasy magazine in Britain (the now bi-monthly magazine began as a quarterly publication in 1982). The story explores the dangers and frustrations of time-travel paradoxes.

Alan, who works in the Department of Archives at the Colson Time Studies Institute, gets quite a surprise one morning when he finally makes it to the job. A co-worker of his cannot wait to tell him about a 1973 story he just found in the fiction section of the archives, a story that has Alan “in it.” Not only does the story mention Alan by name, it describes him as an archivist at the Colson Time Studies Institute. Maybe even more shocking, especially considering how badly the story is written, it includes the correct explanation for why time travel is possible and details about Alan’s twenty-fourth century apartment and lifestyle.

By the end of the day, the beautiful author, dead some three hundred years now, is all that the unhappy Alan can think about, and when his co-worker finally leaves him alone he goes to the lab where the lightweight time machines (purposely made to resemble folding bicycles) are kept. But there is one problem, a big one: Alan, who has no idea how to operate a time machine, is forced to jump on before he can print more than the first five pages of the user’s manual. And there’s no coming back for the rest of the instructions now because, as it turns out, Alan is lucky if he can stop the time machine in the right quarter-century, much less the exact month and year he aims for.

The beautiful Cecily is back there somewhere and Alan desperately wants to find her before the moment that she described in her short story so that he can walk into her life just as she described it. But so far, he’s just as likely to arrive when she’s still in her mother’s womb or when she’s on her deathbed.

This is very much a case of “bad timing.”

Time Travel Tuesday: Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle”

 

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Nalo Hopkinson

Today’s Time Travel Tuesday story is Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle,” a story about a little girl who is not at all what she first seems to be. Hopkinson is a Jamaican now living in the United States whose story was first published in 2004 as one chapter of Futureways, a novel in which each chapter is written by a different author.

Greg, our narrator, is not a man who feels comfortable around children. He does not plan ever to have any of his own, but because he knows that he will “be pecked to death by the righteous breeders of the flock” for saying so, he is quick to point out that he doesn’t “hate them.” He just doesn’t understand them. And it doesn’t help that the little girl he has agreed to watch for an hour – the adopted daughter of friends – has a large head, that to his eye, makes her look more like an adult with a child’s frame than a child.

After his friends move to Vancouver, in part because they hope that their daughter will have better luck making friends in a new environment, Greg does not see them or Kamla for several years. By the time he sees them again, doctors have determined that Kamla suffers from DGS, Delayed Growth Syndrome (officially known as Diaz Syndrome in honor of the doctor who first identified the condition). The child’s oversized head and high degree of intelligence are two common symptoms of DGS.

a03666_lKamla is believed by her adoptive parents to be about ten years on the day they bring her to the art exhibit that Greg is in the process of installing. As he explains the working of the exhibit to Kamla, Greg is so impressed by her appreciation and understanding of his work that he develops a strong connection to the child. Her questions and remarks are so astute, in fact, that Greg has to force himself to remember that he is actually speaking with a child.

When Greg’s phone rings at 3:05 a.m. and Kamla is on the other end of the line, he begins to question the child’s mental health – but when she identifies herself as a time-traveler from the future and tells him what she has come back to find, she almost convinces Greg that she is telling the truth. Almost.

But what if what she says is true? What if she really is holding Greg’s “ticket to thefuture”?

 

Time Travel Tuesday: R.A. Lafferty’s “Rainbird”

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R.A. Lafferty

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is R.A. Lafferty’s “Rainbird,” a tale about one inventor who could just not leave well enough alone. The story is one of Lafferty’s early ones, and it was probably first published somewhere in the early 1960s.

History tells us that inventor Higgston Rainbird was a moderately successful inventor who worked in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth. He gets credit for an “improved blacksmith’s bellows” in 1785, for a chestnut roaster, a log-splitter, and a nutmeg grater with a new safety feature of some sort. But that’s pretty much the whole list.

Nowhere does Rainbird get credit for the steam automobile, the dynamo, creation of the steel industry, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, creation of the petroleum and petro-chemical industries, the airplane, the monorail, space travel, and the time machine. But he invented all of these things well before 1850, so what happened to them – and to Mr. Rainbird?

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The kicker in Rainbird’s long list of achievements is the invention of a time machine he called his “retrogressor.”  As Rainbird approaches the beginning of his ninth decade, he suddenly realizes that he could have achieved so much more if he had not wasted a decade or two following his research down what would turn out to be blind alleys. More than twenty years wasted, he thinks, as he imagines what could have been.  So what better way to make it happen than by climbing into his retrogressor for a little visit with, and pep talk to, his younger self – the result of that little trip being all of the spectacular achievements listed above that the new and improved Higgston Rainbird was able to invent at least one hundred years earlier than our history books now tell us they were invented.

But when once again approaching eighty years of age, the new Rainbird still regrets not having done more, so he climbs back into the retrogressor to have another chat with his younger, lazier self.

Let’s just say that the second pep talk does not go nearly as well as the first one.

R.A. Lafferty is a fantasy and science fiction writer who died in 2002 at age eighty-eight.

 

Time Travel Tuesday: A Life on Paper

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Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (who appears to be going for the Kurt Vonnegut look)

This Time Travel Tuesday story is from French novelist Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, an author who has had nine novels and more than one hundred short stories published. “The Gulf of the Years” first appeared in the 2011 compilation titled A Life on Paper.

Jean-Pierre Manoir is a man on a mission. He wants to intercept a little schoolboy on his way to class, who, as luck would have it, is running just late enough to make him stand out from the crowd of schoolboys hurrying up the sidewalk toward their schoolhouse. Breathing a sigh of relief at spotting the boy before it was too late, Manoir stops the boy and identifies himself as a cousin of the boy’s father, a soldier recently killed in a World War II battle.

445105278-railway-station-zoologischer-garten-rapid-train-station-british-sector-collection-william-wylerThe little boy, who has no siblings, and who misses his father terribly, is thrilled to learn that he has more family than he thought he had just a few minutes earlier. Now, eager to skip school and armed with a small bag of “fake sugar sweets,” the boy is only too happy to bring his new cousin home with him to meet the boy’s mother. Manoir, though, knows something that neither the boy, nor his mother is aware of: their street will be heavily bombed in just over an hour and the woman will be killed in the bombardment – unless, that is, Manoir can find a way to save his mother’s life this time around.

Jean-Pierre Manoir is, of course, an older version of the little schoolboy he has befriended. But is our time-traveler successful in saving his mother’s life, or does something go terribly wrong as he takes shelter with his mother and much younger self?

(Honestly, I couldn’t answer that question with any confidence even if I wanted to. I wish some of you would read this story and tell me what you think the ending means because I’m not sure what to think of it.)

Time Travel Tuesday: The Final Days

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David Langford

Today’s Time Travel Tuesday story is by David Langford, a British writer and editor who has won more than twenty-five Hugo Awards in his day. “The Final Days” first appeared in 1981 in a science fiction anthology called Spadeful of Spacetime. Langford, who grew up in Wales, studied for a physics degree at Brasenose College in Oxford where his love of science fiction is said to have flourished.

Rather fittingly considering the times, “The Final Days” opens near the conclusion of a presidential debate that is being held just four days prior to the presidential election. The two candidates, Harmon and Ferris, are not identified by party but it is apparent that Mr. Ferris is not at all comfortable in front of the cameras. By contrast, his opponent “sucked confidence from the cameras, glad to expose something of himself to a nation of watchers, and more than a nation.”

definitionofself_peephole-thumb-468x300-5802In this case, “more than a nation” does not refer to the rest of the world; it refers to people from the future that are taking advantage of “peepholes” back to the past. A group of present-day scientists, it seems, has accidentally discovered a tool to recognize the “little knots of curdled space” that indicate that someone is being watched from the future. The accepted theory, to which Mr. Harmon enthusiastically subscribes, is that the more watchers from the future a person has, the more important he will turn out to be in the present.

And tonight the debate is attracting a record number of future-watchers, a development that Mr. Harmon finds especially comforting since he knows that he personally attracts four times the number of watchers from the future that Ferris draws. But as the election date draws nearer and nearer, could there be another reason that so many future-watchers are focusing so closely on Harmon and not on Ferris? Should, maybe Harmon be just a little bit fearful about what makes him so interesting to people from the distant future?

“The Final Days” is only four pages long but its open-ended ending leaves a lot for the reader to think about. Personally, I do not usually like open-ended stories and novels, much preferring those that close the loop, and I wish this one had done that. But I admit that the way the story ended left me trying to come up with plausible endings of my own. There are a lot of them, and it’s fun to wonder which one the author himself may have had in mind when he wrote “The Final Days.”

Time Travel Tuesday: Red Letter Day

closedpackToday’s Time Travel Tuesday story is “Red Letter Day,” a story by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that was first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine in 2010. Rusch is a two-time winner of the Hugo Award, once for editing and once for fiction.

As “Red Letter Day” opens, the graduating seniors at Barack Obama High School have gathered in the school gym to pick up the packages that contain the robes and mortarboards they will be wearing to their graduation ceremony. It is a happy and exciting time for everyone, but one school counselor knows that the day is about to turn tragic for a handful of the kids she’s watching – because this is also Red Letter Day, the day on which every high school senior hopes to receive a letter from his or her fifty-year-old self.

The secret to time travel has been discovered, and although time traveling is known to be a very dangerous undertaking, in the spirit of democracy every citizen is allowed to participate in time travel once in their lives, and that is on Red Letter Day. A messenger from the future slips in and out, delivers the students’ letters, and then it is up to the students and their counselors to decide what the letters mean.

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Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Only two kinds of letters from the future are allowed. Their fifty-year-old selves can warn the students about one – and only one – choice, person, or event they need to avoid in order to have a more positive future than the one the letter-writer has experienced. Or if their 50-year-old self is having a wonderful time of it, an inspirational letter can be expected to arrive just before graduation day. But what are those students who don’t receive a letter at all supposed to think?

What could it mean? Is their 50-year-old self afraid to make a mistake in the letter that would make things worse instead of better? Does their older version decide that life is more interesting and meaningful if you are clueless as to what the future ultimately holds for you?

Or did your future-self not make it all the way to birthday number fifty?

As it turns out, the counselor assigned to the three students who did not receive a letter this year, did not receive one on her own Red Letter Day some thirty-two years earlier. But now that she is only two-weeks from reaching age 50, the counselor is looking forward to writing the letter that will put her young self at ease.

Surely nothing can go wrong now, can it?

Time Travel Tuesday: Time and Time Again (Ben Elton novel)

1250077060-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Like so many boys before and after me, I was transformed into a lifetime reader on the day that I discovered the science fiction genre. I was particularly intrigued by time travel stories involving the various paradoxes that writers so much enjoy exploring. You know the kind of thing I’m referring to, questions that at their most basic boil down to something like “what will happen if I accidentally kill my own grandfather fifty years before I was born?” It’s a good day when I discover a time-travel novel that takes itself seriously and doesn’t turn into just an excuse to set some run-of-the-mill thriller in a different century in order to make it appear to be better than it really is.

I’m happy to report that Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again takes itself very seriously, and that it explores an aspect of time-travel that is most often overlooked or ignored. The novel does, however, begin with a time travel cliché that had me wondering for a while whether I had made a mistake by beginning it. At first, Time and Time Again appears to be just another of those time travel novels where a time-traveler from the future returns to the past to kill or otherwise incapacitate one of history’s bad guys. These are most often referred to as “let’s send someone back to the past to kill Hitler” novels.

Hugh Stanton, ex-Army, is a man who cannot think of a single good reason to go on living. Not only has he been kicked out of the army, but a hit-and-run driver has recently struck and killed Stanton’s wife and two young children. So he plays along when his old Trinity College professor says to him, “If you could change one thing in history, if you had the opportunity to go back into the past, to one place and one time and change one thing, where would you go? What would you do?” After much debate, Stanton and Professor McCluskey agree that the best way to save the twentieth century from itself would be to prevent World War I from ever starting. But although he agrees to give it a shot (pun intended), Stanton remains a time-travel skeptic right up until the moment he steps out of a 1914 hospital basement.

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Ben Elton

Thus begins a great adventure in which Stanton is charged with preventing the assassination credited with starting the war. In addition, he is tasked with the assassination of a different head of state, effectively (or so it is hoped) ensuring that the century will begin in world peace rather than in world war. Along the way, Stanton falls in love and is almost killed but still manages to complete the job he was assigned during the 2024 Christmas Season.

But what if Stanton’s tinkering with history does more harm than good? Does humanity even deserve a second chance to get things right? How about a third or fourth chance?

Bottom Line: Ben Elton has filled Time and Time Again with so many unexpected twists and turns that even the most experienced time-travel fan is kept guessing right up to the book’s final page. This is one I recommend to all the genre fans out there that may have grown frustrated about how difficult it is to find a good time-travel novel these days. Time and Time Again is one of the good ones.

(Time Travel Tuesday No. 5)

Time Travel Tuesday: I’m Scared

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is Jack Finney’s “I’m Scared,” written around 1950. Finney is the author of what is perhaps my favorite time travel novel of all of them, Time and Again along with the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and even a comedy novel called Good Neighbor Sam, from which one of my favorite movies from the sixties was made. Mr. Finney died in 1995.

The narrator of “I’m Scared” has stumbled upon a phenomenon that has him badly scared – not so much for himself maybe since he’s already sixty-six, but for all those still young enough to be cheated out of the chance to live full lives. It all starts for him one night while he is sitting alone quietly reading a book and his radio program suddenly fades out and is replaced by a stronger signal. It is only later that he realizes that a man who has been dead for more than five years was moderating the second program.

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Jack Finney

Our narrator is a friendly sort who enjoys telling his radio show story to people, and before long they begin sharing similar stories with him – their own and those they have heard from others. For a year or two, the mysterious incidents being recounted are more amusing than they are scary and he enjoys collecting them, but then he realizes that both the pace and the seriousness of the strange incidents are increasing. Now he is hearing stories such as the one about the dead body of a man who appears to be from the 1870s that is found on a NYC street in 1950; the one about a man murdered by the same pistol found by a policeman the day before, a pistol still locked up at the police station; or the one about a man who snaps a family photo that turns out to show something so strange that it could cost him his marriage.

Our friendly narrator figures that if he has documented almost two hundred of these occurrences, there must be thousands of them from all around the world of which he’s heard not a thing. So what, he wonders, is “disturbing the clock of time.” And after he presents a plausible theory about what is causing all the slippages in the time continuum, modern readers will wonder why the same thing isn’t happening to all of us in 2016.

(Time Travel Tuesday No. 4)

Time Travel Tuesday: Yesterday Was Monday

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Theodore Sturgeon

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story comes from the pen of a man best known for his short stories and novellas, Theodore Sturgeon. “Yesterday Was Monday” was first published in 1941 in a magazine called Unknown. Sturgeon, who died in 1985 at age 67, was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000.

Harry Wright went to bed on Monday night at his usual time and slept for six hours just like he always does. Then he woke up – and discovered that it was Wednesday morning. Harry, though, isn’t the worrying type, so he starts getting ready for another day at the auto-repair shop where he has worked for the last eight years. He will just let the missing Tuesday take care of itself, thank you

But when Harry locks his door and steps out into the hall to find a little man hard at work methodically scuffing up the stairs with a hammer and chisel, he begins to suspect that the missing Tuesday does not mean to be ignored. It seems that the little man is only one piece of a large contingent of little men busily working away everywhere Harry looks – and they are all in the process of manually aging whatever object they are working on, be it a car, a house, or a place of business. Harry, never one to sweat the small stuff, just keeps walking toward the garage.

Harry believes himself to be an exceptionally talented mechanic, and he takes great pride in his work. This morning (which Harry knows should be Tuesday morning, and not Wednesday morning) he is looking forward to finishing up the job on the rear springs of a 1939 sedan he started on Monday. So when he sees that the job has not only been finished by someone else, but has been finished very well, Harry is in such a rage that he grabs the little man walking past him by the man’s leather collar.

After the little man breaks Harry’s hold on him and screams for help from a Supervisor, Harry finds himself face-to-face with a tall man dressed in a “single loose-fitting garment.” It seems that once someone like Harry gets lost in time, there is only one thing to be done: take him to the Producer to “find out what is to be done with him.”

Now Harry just wishes he could go back to bed and wake up on Tuesday morning.

(Time Travel Tuesday No. 3)

 

Time Travel Tuesday: Fish Night

 vinther1This week’s Time Travel story comes from one of my favorite novelists, Joe Lansdale, and was first published in an Arbor House Books anthology called Specter! in 1982. “Fish Night” is only six pages long, but it clearly illustrates the danger of messing around with time travel if you don’t know what you are doing.

The story opens in an American desert just as a beat-up old Plymouth breaks down, stranding an old man and a young college student who is working with the old man for the summer. The two are door-to-door can-opener salesmen, and things have not been going well for them. The young man is thinking about quitting the job early, and the old man is depressed because he knows that the era of traveling door-to-door salesmen is likely to end before he does.

But as the heat of the day turns to the chill of the night, the old man tells the student about what happened to him on this very stretch of road some twenty years earlier when another car broke down on him. The old man was reluctant to tell his story because he knew the boy would laugh at him, but the atmospheric conditions were so reminiscent of that earlier experience that he couldn’t stop himself.

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Joe Lansdale- Nacogdoches, Texas

It seems that the old man – who is completely convinced that he saw what he saw – was suddenly surrounded by swimming fish of a variety and quantity he had never seen. It was as if he were suddenly standing at the bottom of the sea and watching fish swim all around him. He remembers it being a pleasant and peaceful experience akin to a baby returning to its mother’s womb. The boy, of course, is skeptical. Skeptical, that is, until the next morning when the old man shakes him awake to see the strange fish swimming all around them and inside the car in which they spent the previous night.

Have these time-travelling fish come to the future, or have the two men somehow managed to travel back to the past? And what would happen if the old man decides to find a way actually to swim with the fishes?

Unfortunately, there’s only one way to find out.

Time Travel Tuesday: Swing Time

(I hope to run a regular weekly feature here for a while that I will call “Time Travel Tuesday” in which I feature a time travel story, novel, or novella each week. This is the kind of genre reading that turned me into a dedicated reader back when I was about ten years old…the rest is history. I would love to receive recommendations from anyone so inclined to share their favorites with me.)

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Carrie Vaughn

Swing Time is a story by Carrie Vaughn about two time travelers who share one of the most common motivators of those willing to risk their lives this way: get rich quick by looting the wealth of the past. As in most time travel stories, not everyone is capable of visiting the past or the future, and those who do partake in that luxury must keep their special talent a closely guarded secret. In this instance, only those who discover their own particular “catalyst” are able to find the hidden doors that allow them to move freely between the present and the past – or the future.

Madeline and Nat share the same catalyst: dancing. All either of them has to do to generate the special energy they need to move through time is to find a partner and a band. Soon enough, they have their choice of portals back into time, and it’s just a matter of choosing which door they want to enter. That does not mean, however, that Madeline and Nat are partners. Madeline, in fact, accuses Nat of following her so that he can take advantage of the research she has already done by stealing her targeted items before she can get to them. Nat, on the other hand, insists that it is simply fate that keeps throwing them together in different centuries.

And when twenty-second century cops finally catch up with Madeline, Nat might just get his chance to prove to her that she is lucky to have him around.

As far as time travel stories go, Swing Time is kind of a plain vanilla version, with nothing fancy thrown in for extra flavor. There are no paradoxes, no meetings with historical figures, and even the future does not seem a whole lot different from the present. It is a love story at heart, a typical one in which one of the partners is slow to warm up to the other.

(Swing Time was first published in the June 2007 issue of Jim Baen’s Universe. Its author has had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies and has had success as a writer of YA novels and stories for children.  She is best known for her Kitty Norville series.)