Transwarp Tuesday! The Society of Time and Other Stories by John Brunner

Paradoxically…

:mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: 

This new volume in the British Library’s Science Fiction Classics series contains three stories. The title story is the longest and rests somewhere between novella and short novel in length. The other two would probably be best described as novelette length. Each story deals with the idea of time in some way, but they are very different from each other, showing Brunner as an imaginative and thoughtful writer who, like many of the SF greats, often used his stories to reflect on issues within his own society. My limited reading of science fiction meant I hadn’t come across him before, but the introduction by Mike Ashley tells me that he was a well-regarded British writer of the second half of the twentieth century, though his major successes all came early in his career, mostly in the 1960s, the period from which all three stories in this collection date.

The Society of Time – itself a trilogy of sorts, but with an overarching storyline that binds the three parts together, this tells of an alternative history where the Spanish Armada won and Britain became a colony of the Spanish Empire. The story is set in 1988, coming up for the 400th anniversary of that victory, and Brunner does a good job of showing the ascendancy of an essentially Spanish aristocracy ruling over a still recognisably British population. A method of time travel had been discovered almost a century earlier, but is strictly controlled by the Society of Time to avoid the kind of paradox that could arise by people from the present interfering with and changing their own history. Don Miguel, new licentiate of the society and our hero for the story, is attending a social function when he spots an artefact that he recognises as Aztec and as being so new looking that he fears it has been transported into the present from the past. Is there some kind of smuggling going on? This would imply corruption within the Society. As Don Miguel finds himself caught up in the investigation, he learns much about the fluidity of time and the possibility that time travel is causing fluctuations in human history.

In the second part, a quarrel leads to an irruption into the present of a race of warrior women from a possible past, while the third part widens the idea of the Society out to show that there is another grouping of nations known as the Confederacy who are the adversaries of the Empire and have their own time travelling society. As the two forces go back in time to compete for ascendancy, the present and future are put at risk. It’s very well done, although I admit that sometimes the complex paradoxes left my poor muddled brain reeling – this is my normal reaction to time paradoxes though! Although I felt the ending was a bit too neat and obvious, it is an interesting look at how our present is very much determined by our past – we are a product of our history whether it’s a history to be proud or ashamed of.

Father of Lies – a group of young people have found a strange place where no one seems to enter or leave and where modern technology doesn’t work. They set up a base just outside the area and investigate. As Miles (our hero) enters the area on foot (since cars don’t work) and carrying an axe (since guns don’t work), he first spots a dragon flying overhead. Then he sees a young woman in peril… While there are aspects of the fairy tale about this one and lots of references to Arthurian legends, there is a real darkness at the heart of it. It’s very imaginative and Brunner does an excellent job of giving a full picture of the strangeness of this place in a short space. Again, my one criticism would be that the ending feels a little too pat and convenient.

The Analysts – I found the first half of this very strange and intriguing, and again felt that the ending didn’t quite match up to the quality of the bulk of the story. A society called the Foundation for the Study of Social Trends wants a building built to their exact specifications but the architect to whom they take their plans thinks it’s all wrong. He calls in Joel Sackstone, an expert visualiser who can imagine from plans how a building will work for its purpose. When Joel considers the plans for this building, he begins to see that it is not flawed as the architect thinks – rather it is designed to achieve a very specific purpose. He makes a mock-up from the plans and… well, I’ll leave you to find out for yourself what happens then. In this one, Brunner is using an imaginative story to look at racism within his own time – just beginning to be recognised as an issue in Britain at that time. As might be expected, some of the language and attitudes are out-dated now and feel somewhat offensive to our current sensibilities, but his anti-racism intent is quite clear, so I gave him a pass on that.

John Brunner

I thoroughly enjoyed all three of the stories. They show a lot of originality in dealing with what has long been an overcrowded sub-genre of time travelling stories, and he moves well between the somewhat harder edge of science fiction and the softer fantasy elements. In the first, longer story, he has room for some good character development in Don Miguel, and all of the stories are very well written. A good introduction for newcomers like me, while existing fans will be pleased that this is the first time The Society of Time has been collected in its original, unabridged form.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

27 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! The Society of Time and Other Stories by John Brunner

    • I find I seem to be really in tune with Mike Ashley, the editor of this series. He never picks anything that I’d think of as obvious – i.e, that I’ve heard of! – but he tends to go for the thoughtful end of SF rather than the action-packed shoot-’em-ups, and that’s working really well for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. These do sound like really interesting stories, FictionFan. I like the way the talented SF writers invite us to think about who and what we are, and how we got that way. Interesting idea about turning the Spanish Armada conflict the other way – that’s quite creative. You do make a good point about convenient, ‘tidy’ ends, but still, the stories sound quite good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s the kind of SF I enjoy – the stuff that reflects our own issues back to us. The action ones can be fun too, but I have to be in the mood for a shoot-the-alien type of book! I liked that for once a British writer of that era speculated about Britain having lost a war – not the usual jingoism I’d expect from that time…

      Liked by 1 person

    • The more SF I read, the more I realise how influenced the Star Trek writers must have been by classic SF, but they always managed to put their own original spin on them.

      Like

  2. It sounds like a fascinating collection of stories. I am intrigued by the first one in particular. I should keep it in mind, maybe I will have time in the summer to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not a huge fan of SF generally, but the editor of this series, Mike Ashley, always seems to find ones that have interesting things to say about the time they were written in. And being vintage, they’re always a reasonable length to be a quickish read!

      Like

  3. Well, I am very glad you reviewed this, I will definitely get a copy. It sounds like a very good re-introduction to John Brunner’s writing. I am trying to decide whether to wait until it is available here in hardcopy. Or buy the ebook at a very reasonable price. I suppose I could do both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely worth reading, especially since you’ve enjoyed Brunner before! Haha, two copies is sheer indulgence though… 😉 I’m glad these BL series books are available at such a good price for Kindle. It’s great having the paperbacks but they do take up a lot of shelf space after a while!

      Like

  4. I’ll certainly keep this book in mind. Mike Ashley always does an excellent job of writing introductions for these SF collections. Father of Lies is the one that intrigues me the most of these.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Although, I do prefer “thoughtful” over “shoot em ups,” in my current mindset, these stories might break my brain. I’m definitely not getting enough sleep. I did, however, just read a YA novel in verse that included time travel and parallel lives, so maybe I’m underestimating my ability to follow a more complicated narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Although time travel as a topic normally doesn’t appeal to me, this one sounds well done. And for some reason, the idea that time travel is discovered but closely guarded by the government sounds completely plausible to me, like I assume that’s the way it’s going to happen in the future…sort of like space travel I suppose?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Time travel isn’t my favourite subject either, but I must say this series has had a few that are gradually changing my mind. Yep, I’m pretty sure if we ever discover it, our govts will find a way to weaponise it… but then we could sneak back in time and unelect them before they can… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Another title to look out for—I was already captivated by the title and your synopses have only deepened my interest! The Arthurian-influence story sounds a little bit like the premise of Peter Dickinson’s famous trilogy The Changes except that another legendary character is implicated *cough* magician…

    Liked by 1 person

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.