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
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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The customary expedient of provincial girls and men in such circumstances is churchgoing. In an ordinary village or country town one can safely calculate that, either on Christmas day or the Sunday contiguous, any native home for the holidays, who has not through age or ennui lost the appetite for seeing and being seen, will turn up in some pew or other, shining with hope, self-consciousness, and new clothes. Thus the congregation on Christmas morning is mostly a Tussaud collection of celebrities who have been born in the neighbourhood. Hither the mistress, left neglected at home all the year, can steal and observe the development of the returned lover who has forgotten her, and think as she watches him over her prayer book that he may throb with a renewed fidelity when novelties have lost their charm. And hither a comparatively recent settler like Eustacia may betake herself to scrutinize the person of a native son who left home before her advent upon the scene, and consider if the friendship of his parents be worth cultivating during his next absence in order to secure a knowledge of him on his next return.

~The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

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Leila was scared. What had started off yesterday as a sort of game wasn’t fun any more. She was thinking she really shouldn’t have gone along with it. But he’d been so nice at the start – kind and caring. He’d said he was worried about her and told her she was pretty. Her mother called her plain. He’d said a young girl like her shouldn’t be out all by herself after dark. It wasn’t safe and it was very wrong of her mother not to look after her properly, which Leila sort of knew. He’d said he would take care of her and together they’d teach her mother a lesson. He’d given her chocolates – really posh ones with soft centres – and told her he’d bought her a beautiful doll and it was waiting for her in his flat. It wasn’t like she was going with a stranger – she would never have done that. She knew him, so did her mother, which made it OK.

~Taken by Lisa Stone

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….Tormad blew up his big buoy until his eyes disappeared. He had got it from the man in Golspie, and though its skin crackled with age it seemed tight enough. He could hardly blow up the second one for laughing, because it was the bag of an old set of pipes to which they had danced many a time as boys. It had a legendary history, for the old piper, its owner, had been a wild enough lad in his day. When he was driven from home, he cursed the landlord-woman (who had inherited all that land), her sassenach husband, her factors, in tongues of fire. Then he had broken his pipes, tearing them apart. It had been an impressive, a terrifying scene, and shortly after it he had died.
….Well, here was the bag, and perhaps it marked not an end but a beginning! They had had a little superstitious fear about using it. But they couldn’t afford to buy another buoy, and, anyway, they argued, if it brought them luck it would be a revenge over the powers that be. The dead piper wouldn’t be disappointed at that!

~The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn

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….Don Miguel’s mind swirled like water in a rotated cup. He put his hands to his head and struggled to think clearly. He had been trained to some extent in casuistry, and he could see the dim outlines of a logical sequence here. Postulate: the terrible women gladiators who wrought the harm originated in a non-actual world – a world brought about through the experimental interference of Society members with their own past history. Therefore the consequences of their acts were also non-actual, or potential. Therefore the rectification of these consequences must be not non-actual, if this was a safe case to exclude the middle…
….It came to him with blinding, horrifying suddenness that in fact, in the fact where he must now have found himself, all the nightmare so vivid in his memory had already not happened.

~The Society of Time by John Brunner

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….Hopkins stood and, as Ismay recalled it, first made “a tilt or two at the British Constitution in general, and the irrepressible Prime Minister in particular.” Then he turned to face Churchill.
….“I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return,” he said.
….This was an understatement. Churchill was desperate to know how well his courtship of Hopkins was progressing, and what indeed he would tell the President.
….“Well,” Hopkins said, “I’m going to quote you one verse from that Book of Books in the truth of which Mr. Johnson’s mother and my own Scottish mother were brought up – ”
….Hopkins dropped his voice to a near whisper and recited a passage from the Bible’s Book of Ruth: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
….Then, softly, he added: “Even to the end.”
….This was his own addition, and with it a wave of gratitude and relief seemed to engulf the room.
….Churchill wept.

~The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 271…

Episode 271

Total balance on the TBR this week – two out, two in, so remaining steady on 190…

Here are a few more that should fall off the pile soon…

Vintage Science Fiction

The Society of Time by John Brunner

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve read a few of the BL’s Science Fiction Classics series now and have found them consistently interesting, and always so far from authors completely unknown to me. This collection sounds intriguing…

The Blurb says: Drifting through a party celebrating 400 years since the Spanish Armada’s successful invasion of Britain, Don Miguel Navarro – Licentiate of the Society of Time – is shaken by the host’s possession of a flawless mask from an ancient Aztec festival. ‘Imported’ from the past, the discovery signals a breach in the Society’s policing of time-travel and imminent danger to reality itself. Today, a relic out of time; tomorrow, the rewriting of the course of history? In three ground-breaking novellas, John Brunner weaves an ingenious tale of diverging timelines and a battle for dominance over the fourth dimension.

The Society of Time stories were abridged when first collected. Here, the trilogy is reprinted in full along with two mesmerising standalone novellas: The Analysts and Father of Lies.

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Thriller

Taken by Lisa Stone

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited review copy from HC, and another that I fear from the blurb may not be for me. But it has high ratings on Goodreads, and I live in hope! We’ll see… 

The Blurb says: Have you seen Leila?

8-year-old Leila Smith has seen and heard things that no child should ever have to. On the Hawthorn Estate, where she lives, she often stays out after dark to avoid going home. But what Leila doesn’t know is that someone has been watching her in the playground. One day, she disappears without a trace…

The police start a nationwide search but it’s as if Leila has vanished into thin air. Who kidnapped her? What do they want? Will she return home safely or is she lost forever?

A thriller with a difference!

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Vintage Crime

The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library again! Apparently there were only five books in Carr’s Bencolin series and this is the fourth the BL has published so far, so I’m hoping they’ll complete the set eventually. Back in Paris for this one, and it sounds as deliciously creepy as all the rest…

The Blurb says: Last night Mademoiselle Duchêne was seen heading into the Gallery of Horrors at the Musée Augustin waxworks, alive. Today she was found in the Seine, murdered. The museum’s proprietor, long perturbed by the unnatural vitality of his figures, claims that he saw one of them following the victim into the dark – a lead that Henri Bencolin, head of the Paris police and expert of ‘impossible’ crimes, cannot possibly resist.

Surrounded by the eerie noises of the night, Bencolin prepares to enter the ill-fated waxworks, his associate Jeff Marle and the victim’s fiancé in tow. Waiting within, beneath the glass-eyed gaze of a leering waxen satyr, is a gruesome discovery and the first clues of a twisted and ingenious mystery.

First published in 1932 at the height of crime fiction’s Golden Age, this macabre and atmospheric dive into the murky underground of Parisian society presents an intelligent puzzle delivered at a stunning pace. This new edition also includes The Murder in Number Four, a rare Inspector Bencolin short story.

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Classic on Audio

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Let’s be honest – the idea of Alan Rickman reading to me in that wonderful voice of his is so delightful that the actual book is almost irrelevant. But happily the book sounds good too…

The Blurb says: Set on Egdon Heath, a fictional barren moor in Wessex, Eustacia Vye longs for the excitement of city life but is cut off from the world in her grandfather’s lonely cottage. Clym Yeobright who has returned to the area to become a schoolmaster seems to offer everything she dreams of: passion, excitement and the opportunity to escape. However, Clym’s ambitions are quite different from hers, and marriage only increases Eustacia’s destructive restlessness, drawing others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness. 

Considered a truly modern story due to its sexual politics and hindered desires it still holds relevance to audiences today. There is a tension between the symbolic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters that makes the listener question our freedom to shape our lives as we wish. Are we always able to live our dreams?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?