“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

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“Try and Change the Past” by Fritz Leiber (1958)

TITLE: “Try and Change the Past” (1958)
AUTHOR: Fritz Leiber
CATEGORY: Short Story
SUB-CATEGORY: Time Travel, Temporal Paradox
SOURCE: TRIPS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg (Wildside Press, 1977)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Astounding, March 1958

Okay, I’ll just start picking stories at random from the two Robert Silverberg edited anthologies that I’ve been reading. The first one is from TRIPS IN TIME, and is “Try and Change the Past” by Fritz Leiber.

In the never-ending temporal conflict between the Snakes and the Spiders, one particularly shifty member of the Snakes (a well-deserved description, in the case of this dude) gets the bright idea of illicitly using his side’s time travel facilities to go back and change his own personal history, so that he doesn’t die and end up fighting in this damned war. Unfortunately for him, he ends up finding out the hard way that the four-dimensional spacetime universe has its own Law of the Conservation of Reality, and doesn’t like things to be changed, no siree.

“Try and Change the Past” is a clever and quite amusing story set during the Change War milieu of Leiber’s classic time travel/temporal paradox novel THE BIG TIME. The story was first published in the March 1958 edition of Astounding, at the same time that THE BIG TIME was being serialized in the March and April 1958 editions of Galaxy magazine.

I’ve always enjoyed Leiber’s writing, both SF and fantasy (despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of fantasy in general), and THE BIG TIME and its Change War setting has always been a favourite of mine. This particular short story, while I certainly wouldn’t rank it among my “most favourite short stories of all time”, is still an enjoyable and worthy addition to the Change War universe.

Rated: 3.0 out of 5.0

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

In my last post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about one of the anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the other anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. The second of the two anthologies is VOYAGERS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.

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.

Favourite SF Authors: H.G. Wells

This is the first of my Favourite SF Authors postings, and who better than the author who started it all for me, the man dubbed the “father of science fiction”, H.G. Wells.

The first time I saw George Pal’s film adaption of The Time Machine (1960) on television was probably the first event in my life which I can definitely point to and say without a doubt that “this was when I became a science fiction fan”. I was only about five, maybe six years old at most, and that one film turned me into a crazy time-travel fanatic. A couple of years later, as a direct result of being a fan of the film, I read the original novel, which was the first time I had ever read a proper SF book. These two events (plus a growing obsession with Doctor Who) changed my life forever, and I’ve been an obsessive SF fan ever since.

Wells wasn’t the first SF author by any means. Jules Verne and others had walked that road before him. Nor was he even the most highly-regarded among his contemporaries while he was writing. But he has outlived them all, and has been by far the most enduring and influential upon successive generations of SF writers and readers. Most of the contemporary authors who were once regarded as highly as or more highly than Wells are now no longer so well known, and many of them have faded into obscurity altogether. But Wells has stayed right at the top for all these years.

What was it that made him so important? I’d argue strongly that Wells was the first to seriously cover so many of the SF themes that we take for granted these days, writing about them as SF, as opposed to fantasy. Sure, maybe Verne had done it to a lesser extent, but his scientific explorations were almost always more concerned with the technological gadgetry (submarines, flying machines, “rockets” fired to the moon out of enormous cannons, etc) rather than true exploration of SF themes, and most of his stories were pure fantasies. In contrast, Wells examined a far, far wider range of real SF themes and how they relate to human society, and on a much deeper level.

Time travel? Wells did the first “proper” story (using a time machine, not dreams or other fantasy devices), in The Time Machine, which was also a sly but strong criticism of class differences within British society. Interplanetary invasion? War of the Worlds, which doubled as a strong swipe at the British Empire and imperialism in general. Genetic engineering and the morality of biological tinkering on humans? The Island of Doctor Moreau. Invisibility and the corruption of the corruptible who attain and abuse “absolute power”? The Invisible Man. Lunar exploration and anti-gravity, with more examination of society and class structure? First Men in the Moon. Accelerated time? “The New Accelerator”. The list goes on and on.

The really remarkable thing was that Wells was writing about many of these themes well over a century ago, which is something that I find almost unbelievable. Others had written about travelling to the moon or through time before Wells did. But these previous efforts fell squarely into the “fantasy” camp (travelling through time in dreams, going to the moon in balloons, or pulled by birds, etc). Wells was the first to write about them in a way that could be termed even remotely as “real” science fiction, both philosophically and in the way he explained them in a “scientific” way. And he also wrote about many other SF themes that no writers before him had ever explored. Many of these fundamental SF themes have now been done to death over more recent decades by countless other SF authors. But Wells was the first to imagine most of these themes and write great SF stories around them.

So many of the modern core themes in SF stemmed from the work of this one man, that I don’t think we can really conceive how differently the genre would’ve developed if he’d never existed. I think that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was the single most important figure in science fiction literature’s history, although there have been any number of other great writers who’ve challenged him for that position. But, in so many areas, Wells was the first to write about so many things, that I’d have to grant him “pole position”.

The rest, good as they were, followed in his giant shadow.