I found this story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac, (Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, Ed).
This is one of the best time travel stories I’ve ever read, and I’m a huge fan of the sub-genre.
Although this story was first published in 1988, I haven’t seen anyone else treat time travel and it’s consequences like this. In fact I’m amazed no ones turned this into a script [1. Assuming they haven’t] (it’d be perfect for Black Mirror).
It’s in the same anthology as Richard Matheson’s Death Ship, and the style is much more dreamy and poetic. It was a bit jarring and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Soon, however, the ideas and the drama, as well as the characterization (a tragic figure who does not demand your sympathy) won me over.
There is science, or at least pseudo-science, in this science fiction story (which, in my mind, is what separates sci-fi from ‘speculative’ fiction that is more likely to say ‘what if the oceans rose, or humans evolved a third arm or if our tastes about beauty changed beyond recognition…). It is not, however, so complex that you need to understand it.
If you’re the kind of person who can go, “Ah, this is the McGuffin. OK, that sort of sounds like it might make sense” and keep reading for the characters and the consequences, then you’ll probably enjoy this.
Which is not to say that there isn’t twisty, sci-fi goodness to be had. You’ll have to pay attention. And you’ll have to work a little bit to keep up. I love short stories that make me work a bit, because they make me feel clever, or at least that I haven’t wasted my time.
And it’s all the better if there are characters to care about, tension and scares built in. (I don’t want to feel like I’m the only one doing any work. The author can’t be lazy or so obscure that they’ve forgotten they’ll have readers one day)
Do you explain everything to your readers, in chronological order, or do you make them work a little to keep up?
Read the story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac
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