ON OUR WAY TO THE FUTURE edited by Terry Carr

TITLE: ON OUR WAY TO THE FUTURE
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1970
FORMAT: Paperback, 253 pages.

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • Greenslaves by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • A Better Mousehole by Edgar Pangborn (1965)
  • Ballenger’s People by Kris Neville (1967)
  • King Solomon’s Ring by Roger Zelazny (1963)
  • Sundance by Robert Silverberg (1969)
  • Be Merry by Algis Budrys (1966)
  • Under the Dragon’s Tail by Philip Latham (1966)
  • A Taste for Dostoevsky by Brian W. Aldiss (1967)
  • Cyclops by Fritz Leiber (1965)
  • Goblin Night by James H. Schmitz (1965)

We’ve certainly got an interesting anthology here, an oldish one from 1970. It’s also the first anthology posting (but definitely will not be the last) on this blog from another of my favourite SF anthologists, Terry Carr.

This anthology isn’t restricted to a single theme, as were the two Robert Silverberg anthologies in my previous posts, and is more of a general multi-theme “ten science fiction adventures in tomorrow” kind of thing, charting our journey into infinity, our way into the future. There’s a wider variety of stories here by big-name SF authors, stories which, up until the time of publication, had never appeared in paperback before.

As usual, I’ll continue working my way through the stories in this, and the previous anthologies, completely at random, in a totally haphazard fashion, pretty much as the whim takes me and when I get free time to do so. I usually just lift a book, any book, from the “to read” stack, and read any story that takes my fancy. Next time, I might do the same, but with a completely different anthology, and so on.

I don’t have any real system for reading, but usually pick my favourite authors first, then work my way down to least favourite (or authors I haven’t encountered before), The main postings themselves are more for providing general overall information about the various anthologies and individual author collections, but will also be interspersed with posts on the individual stories as and when I have read them.

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“Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny (1966)

TITLE: “Divine Madness” (1966)
AUTHOR: Roger Zelazny
CATEGORY: Short Story
SUB-CATEGORY: Time Travel, Temporal Paradox
SOURCE: TRIPS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg (Wildside Press, 1977)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Magazine of Horror (Summer 1966), published again in New Worlds (October 1966)

Okay, here’s my second random pick from TRIPS IN TIME, “Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny.

A tortured man is having seizures, during which he is seemingly being forced to relive a sequence of recent events in reverse. The doctors claim that this is all unreal, and that he is enduring a strange hallucination caused by a combination of epilepsy and grief from some unspecified recent trauma or loss. But we are led to believe otherwise, that he is actually trapped in some kind of temporal paradox, during which he really is reliving these recent events in reverse.

The seizures/time reversals are getting longer, starting off at a few minutes long, then hours, then seemingly days in length. And they are rushing inexorably backwards towards the point of origin, the mysterious unnamed trauma which seems to be the cause of everything. He can watch these events, but it seems he is helpless to change any of them. The laws of cause and effect have been turned upside down, and the actions which started the chain of events would not be revealed until the end of the story.

Things begin to become clear as actions continue to unfold backwards, through the funeral, the tragic phone call in which he is informed of his girlfriend’s death in an 80mph car crash, and finally onto the initial event which caused everything, that fateful final argument between them that led to her storming off in anger. Will he be able to say those all-important words to her once he actually reaches the crucial moment, or will he once again be unable to change anything, and be forced to watch helplessly as events unfold tragically, yet again?

“Divine Madness” is at heart a tragic love story with an ingenious SF twist at it’s core. There never is any explanation given for the strange time reversal paradox, why it was happening to this guy or what was causing it. Nor is there any need for an explanation. It just IS. I know that many SF authors and readers like to have the clever stuff revealed in every detail (I can be one of those people, at times), but sometimes I do think it’s nice to leave the occasional thing unexplained and mysterious.

Zelazny’s beautiful use of language always was a cut above many of his contemporaries, and I really liked the lucid descriptions of the reversal scenes – birds flying backwards, the cigarette growing longer and unlighting back into the lighter, the Martini being undrunk back into the glass, the fountain sucking the water back into itself, the birds replacing the bits of the candy bar that they were uneating, and various other everyday minutae unfolding in the opposite direction from the one they are supposed to occur. Some of these scenes are both beautiful and ingenious.

Over the years, the “time reversal” story has become a fairly familiar gimmick in SF literature, sci-fi movies and television series. I certainly remember an entire episode of the UK comedy sci-fi television series Red Dwarf built on the idea – I wonder if the creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, ever read “Divine Madness”, as I know they’re huge SF literature fans. But when Zelazny’s story was published in 1966, (twice, first in the Summer edition of Magazine of Horror, and again in the October edition of New Worlds magazine), “time reversal” was a much fresher and less clichéd SF device than it is today.

Whilst this may not be the only “time reversal” story in SF, I can only think of one other off the top of my head that tackled the subject in such an elaborate manner, the much more light-hearted and comedic “Round Trip to Esidarap”, written by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., which was published six years earlier than “Divine Madness”, as “Esidarap ot Pirt Dnuor” in the November 1960 edition of If magazine. Maybe there are other “time reversal” stories of this type out there, but I can’t think of any right now.

However one thing’s for sure. Few, if any, SF authors could write as fine an example of the form as Roger Zelazny has given us with “Divine Madness”.

Rated: 3.5 out of 5.0

TRIPS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

TITLE: TRIPS IN TIME – Nine Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHED: Wildside Press, 1977
FORMAT: Trade paperback, 152 pages.

Recently I bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. For my first proper post, I’ve decided to recommend one of those classic SF anthologies and list the contents. The first of the two is TRIPS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

The anthology is a collection of quirky time travel stories, which span a thirty-five year period, the earliest being originally published in 1941, and the last in 1976. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • An Infinite Summer by Christopher Priest (1976)
  • The King’s Wishes by Robert Sheckley (1953)
  • Manna by Peter Phillips (1949)
  • The Long Remembering by Poul Anderson (1957)
  • Try and Change the Past by Fritz Leiber (1958)
  • Divine Madness by Roger Zelazny (1966)
  • Mugwump 4 by Robert Silverberg (1959)
  • Secret Rider by Marta Randall (1976)
  • The Seesaw by A. E. van Vogt (1941)

This looks like a very interesting anthology of short fiction. Some of these stories I remember well as old favourites (the Priest and Leiber), others I vaguely remember (Sheckley, Anderson, Zelazny, van Vogt, Silverberg), and the other two I’m not familiar with at all (Phillips, Randall).

Apparently this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to an earlier one, VOYAGERS IN TIME (1967), which is a more traditional/typical collection of time travel tales. That’s the other paper book I mentioned, and I’ll get to that anthology once I’ve finished with this one. It will be nice to compare the two collections of short stories.

I’m looking forward to working my way through TRIPS IN TIME (however slowly, and most likely not in order of the contents listing), and will make a short progress report in this discussion thread as I finish each story.