Time-Jump by John Brunner (1973) I know I’m reliving my youth, but I picked up “Time-Jump” by John Brunner for some classic science fiction. It was published in 1973 but contains his pulp science fiction stories from the periodicals of the fifties and the sixties. This is a short collection of ten of his time-related tales. At first glance, you’d think “these stories have all been done before” until you realize that these classic tales are the originals. Written before Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, they expanded the stories of the time to strange and occasionally silly heights.
Mr. John Killan Houston Brunner (1934-1985) was an English writer many complained of being “too American,” which meant he wrote stories that actually sold. He won a Hugo for best science fiction novel and a British Science Fiction Award.
For this collection, the stories are strange and original (at the time). I’m reminded of Peter Jackson’s comment when directing the Lord of the Rings. He feared making Gandalf too stereotypical until he realized Gandalf WAS the original stereotype. These stories are similar in that they are the foundations the current world of science fiction is written upon.
Galactic Consumer Report No.1: Inexpensive Time Machines – In the near future, time machines are so common that they are sold in department stores. This version of Consumer Reports tests half a dozen of the lower priced and warns buyers of such things as incomplete temporal spheres (one consumer’s head was stuck in the past and used as a carnival target until the government could put him back together), invisible machines that leave the voyager trapped in the past when they can’t find their transport, and lack of mechanics in the dinosaur age. Very tongue in cheek, it treats itself as a serious, helpful guide for people buying time machines.
Speech is Silver – I don’t know if this story of a man whose voice is used to soothe millions of troubled sleepers into nighttime tranquility would fly today. It’s not the poor underpaid smuck getting his revenge against a heartless company that’s the problem but his hypnotizing a pretty secretary into letting him have his way with her. Oddly off-putting.
The Warp and the Woof-Woof – A wonderfully clever story of Martian invaders who devise a plan to teleport an astronaut to Mars to stop his participation in the space program (and prevent a perceived human invasion) only to accidentally teleport the astronaut’s dog. Unfortunately, the little power-mad Martians smell just like rabbits, and the big dog is hungry. Clever because it’s told from the dog’s POV.
The Product of the Masses – A fine example of how Mr. Brunner interlaces a strange plot with explosive character development. On an alien world, a team of experts is called in to create a clone/cyborg of the giant agrarian creatures who inhabit the planet. The “by the book” scientist in charge of the project is shocked and dismayed when the other animals attack her undercover observation post. The problem? The scientist in her drive for perfection has created the alien equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Rachel Welch, and Betty Page all rolled into one and wonders why the males are hitting on her so aggressively during the mating cycle.
Galactic Consumer Report Number 2: Automatic Twin-Tube Wishing Machines – Similar to the time machine consumer report, this one rates machines capable of granting your every wish. But, like most wish fulfillments, this one comes with multiple drawbacks: taking a year to produce a meal for two people, creating furniture too hard to sit on, and creating air conditioners designed to remove all oxygen from the planet for alien invaders. Most interesting (and comical) were the human brain to wish machine interfaces. Be careful what you wish for.
Death Do Us Part – Another original take on the familiar ghost story. An English lawyer is visited by a dapper ghost during a drought. In the centuries since the baronet’s died, running water has kept him from seeking help from a solicitor to help him with his divorce. His bride, killed with him by highwaymen, has become an unbearable shrew, and the ghost can’t live with her for another minute. The lawyer, points out the “until death do us part” clause and finds the ghost a new home in a mansion some Americans feel would be more “English-like” if it had its own ghost to rattle around the place. But what’s to become of the shrew when she finds her way to the lawyer’s bedroom?
Coincidence Day – A zoo keeper and his wife have a lot to deal with on Coincidence Day at their alien zoo. Rarely do more than fifty percent of the animals wake up during the same cycle, but it’s always an extremely busy day because everyone wants to visit on Coincidence Day. A well-connected zealot wants all the creatures freed, the police arrest the zoo keeper, and one of their most popular animals accompanies him to court. The first shock revealed is that the alien “animal” is working on his thesis on how laws apply to different planets. The second shock is that the “animals” are simply alien guests getting a first-hand view at Earthlings. The third surprise? The zoo keeper and his wife are about to travel to another planet where they will sit in a cage for a couple years and observe other species. Thought-provoking on several levels.
Whirligig – What happens when a blues band is invited to a strange and ritzy party to perform some of their hits but their employer and the venue are definitely hush-hush? The guests are oddly dressed, and the birthday girl is hitting on one of the members. The band leader figures it out when the sexy birthday girl puts on a record of one of the band’s hits – a record the band has never recorded. Yet.
Galactic Survey Number 3: A Survey of the Membership – Probably published years apart in different pulp magazines, hitting the trough three times might not be so bad, but this silly installment of how long and complicated alien bureaucracy is when producing a magazine that appeals to everyone isn’t that appealing to me.
Nobody Axed You – Saving the best for last, this dismal and hectic view of television in the future follows the frantic life of a star/producer/writer of DOA, a show about influencing the overpopulated world to commit suicide or murders in creative ways. Every day, the hero must produce a new, suggestible show without blatantly breaking the law. He’s doing a bang-up job until his wife and co-star becomes pregnant and a pariah. With the sponsors breathing down his neck, he has to find a way to raise his ratings and get out of his career-ending domestic situation. It’s enough to push a guy over the edge.