[Reading Room] Needle In A Timestack by Robert Silverberg

Cute and slightly terrifying story of two men competing for the same woman, but this time they have the power to go back and change the past.

(Compare this to Geoffrey A Landis’s story where nothing the time-traveler did in the past could affect the future in any way.)

Silverberg does a great job of creating signposts for readers that make the effects of time travel seem almost mundane (one character tastes cotton in his mouth when the past has been changed, another gets a persistent twitch under the left eye…).

As writers today, we wouldn’t have a character stop to explain why the gadget in their pocket was buzzing (We wouldn’t write, “My phone buzzed again. It did that every time a friend send what we called a ‘text message’ from a similar device, over the wireless cell network…” No, we’d just say, “My phone buzzed. Alan again.”)

Similarly, these characters simply mention the significance of the sensation the first time and then use it in the story to signal to the reader that someone’s been time-traveling again.

It was nice to read a story with potentially disastrous technology that wasn’t completely dystopian. It did seem a little shallow at times, though, because I’m so used to ‘realistic’ takes on doomsday technologies in current stories. Not sure how I feel about that, being an upbeat and optimistic person who likes a laugh, but felt a little cheated by this story.

How Stories Age

It’s funny how stories age. I guess we can’t worry too much about that. We just have to write the best stories we can, and keep writing them as we change and age. Some of our work will survive. Some will become embarrassing. And that’s OK.

As something of a side note, it’s interesting to go back and read older short stories and find things I wasn’t expecting.

For example, I’ve never worried too much about the sex (or gender) of the person who wrote a story or of the main character. I’ve never worried too much about older social attitudes that we have, thankfully, left behind, showing up in stories where we couldn’t expect the author to have a more modern outlook.

But in spite of not going around looking for these nits to pick, I am increasingly impatient with stories in which the women are cardboard cut outs. I don’t know if I should curse Alison Bechdel for bringing it to my attention, or simply shrug and accept that there’s so much good writing out there no that DOESN’T fail the Bechdel test, that it’s OK for me to be more picky.

I’m not willing to cut myself off from a world of literary history, just because the writers weren’t inclusive (or not-horribly-racist), but I can’t seem to help having a niggling, deep down dissatisfaction when a good writer excludes half the population or is clueless about basic human dignity.

Again, I’m glad these stories were written, and I won’t not read them because they aren’t inclusive. The writers were working with what they had. Some were better than others. But me? I’m certainly becoming less likely to read and praise them just because somebody tells me I should.

Read this story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac

Do you worry about reader or posterity when you write? How do you feel about stores that have aged badly in one respect, while still having other features to recommend them? Join the discussion in the comments.

[Writing Prompt] Non-Linear Tales

We’ve looked at the parts of the story. We’ve looked at point of view. We’ve learned the rules. Now I’m inviting you to throw it all out of the window.

The Prompt

Write A Non-Linear Story

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