James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Mists of Time

Mists of Time

Millennial Review V: The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker (1970)

The Year of the Quiet Sun

By Wilson Tucker 

20 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


The Year of the Quiet Sun
Wilson Tucker
Ace, 1970
252 pages

A note on the cover art of the edition I have [copyright 1970 but priced $1.95 so somewhat later]: I think it is an early Whelan but there’s no credit and if there was a signature on the cover art, it’s been cropped. Minor peeve: it gives away a plot point not hinted at until page 129, I think and not made explicit until the end of the book. Bah.

I don’t think I much cared for this in the 70s. Too depressing. I still bought a lot of Tucker’s books because in the 1970s one could not be too choosy as the current variety didn’t exist. Tucker, near as I can tell, stopped writing professionally a long time ago and it is a damn shame: The Year of the Quiet Sun has held up well in the last thirty years and even though the future it shows never happened, that doesn’t matter. This is a fine book.

I think the reason I can hammer through these books so quickly is that the language is lean and functional. Even the Silverberg I have in the stack which is his attempt to show he has literary chops, is only about 80,000 words and while the introduction says it meanders, I bet it won’t be anything like the bloated monsters published today. No room. Tucker has less than three hundred pages to make his points and he uses all of them. Probably no market for this kind of writing today. Customers want big, padded bus-crushers that make them feel they are getting value for their nine bucks.

The Year of the Quiet Sun is nominally set in the late 1970s. The Bureau of Standards has a time machine. They recruit Brian Chaney, a futurologist, among other things [He’s in deep hot water for finding and translating a bit of midrash on which the Book of Revelations was clearly based] and two other men to use the Time Displacement Vehicle to explore the next thirty years.

Even by 1978, it’s clear that this TL has diverged from ours significantly: the war in South East Asia has continued and been escalated, the Chinese are involved and a small exchange of nuclear warheads has occurred: one kiloton nuke from the Chinese and two megaton nukes in retaliation. The H‑Bomb strikes are classified: nobody in the US is supposed to know about them. Again, a book of its time: parallels are there with Korea and the bombing of Cambodia.

If the classification has worked, the only people ignorant of the H‑Bombs are the civilians: nuclear bombs have distinctive signatures and scientists the world over must have known and been compelled to keep quiet.

President Meeks, a weak and self serving man, orders the first probe to be to 1980, to see if he will be re-elected. The three men are originally intended to arrive at about the same time. Instead, Chaney arrives first and heads off to Chicago where he discovers the city is divided by a wall built by black rioters. He does some library research into the riot and returns to the base. The other two pursued their own interests, discovering that the Joint Chiefs of Staff attempted a coup which was foiled by suspiciously well prepared FBI. It is suggested that the obvious source for the information was the time travellers.

An amusing note: there’s a plain reference to an old actor” who ran and lost in the 1980 election.

Cheney is disheartened to discover that the woman who recruited him, Katrina, will marry one of the other researchers, Saltus.

The next set of trips will be to 4 July 1999, 24 November 2000 and the last, Chaney’s trip, sometime after 2000 as Cheney does not care.

The first trip ends disastrously: the military man, Moresby, has landed in the middle of a war zone. A group known as Ramjets is attacking the base and has called in a nuclear strike on Chicago. He never gets the news back, dying in a skirmish with the Ramjets. He discovers before he dies that the Ramjets are black revolutionaries in league with China.

The second trip is more successful: Saltus gets home to Katrina. He discovers a little more about the events of 1999 and is nearly killed in a chance encounter with Ramjets.

Chaney arrives well past the year 2000. He explores the area, startling a white family outside the base fence. As soon as they see him, they flee. Soon after he find a grave which he believes belongs to either Saltus or Katrina. Two people approach; they are Arthur and and Kathryn, the children of Saltus and Katrina and the family has been waiting for him since civilization collapsed.

He meets with Katrina, now old. She gives him the disastrous history of the late 20th century, ending in a civilization leveling global war. She explains who the Ramjets were, and why the family fled: Chaney is black and no surviving white family will risk trusting a black man. Worse, Chaney never return home: the TDV has been sent beyond the ability of the people back home to retrieve him and he is marooned after the fall.

This was a surprisingly effective book. The romance is a few pages but conveys the events of 40-odd years. Chaney’s disappointment at his predestined failure to woo Katrina is well communicated but not sappy. The unstoppable stupidity which ends civilization seems credible, given a state of overt internal and external war lasting almost half a century. This is a world which makes pretty much all of the wrong choices. It is hard to come up a cogent review that communicates how good this book is but it is very good and people should look for their own copies.

Read more ➤

Millennial Review IV: Equality: In the Year 2000 by Mack Reynolds (1977)

Equality: In the Year 2000

By Mack Reynolds 

19 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


Equality: In the Year 2000
Mack Reynolds
Ace, 1977
272 pages

The more SF&F I read, the more I think a title of the form Phrase: Phrase is a bad sign.

Synopsis: This is a sequel to Looking Backward: From the Year 2000 , which was in a sense Mack Reynolds' reply to Edward Bellamy's book of a similar title: Reynold's Looking Backwards is dedicated to Bellamy. Julian West is a wealthy man who in the 1970s finds he has a fatal heart condition and has himself frozen. He wakes in the year 2000 to find the US has a new, centralized economy. Most people are not necessary to make the economy function so they are on guaranteed annual income, unemployed in the industrial sense but occupied in hobbies. Luckily for the author, West is a pretty ignorant man who asks just the right questions so that his hosts can natter on and on about the advances of the year 2000, in a style less interesting than your average parody of Marxist rhetoric circa 1977. West also has seen a lot of the seamy underside of the 20th century and has recurring dreams about it, in case the reader misses the point: Future GOOD, Past BAD. There's a minor plot about an attempted counter-revolution which is stymied with less effort than I am putting into typing this review and a love affair so lackluster and pallid it might have come from an Analog story.

I have received beatings which were more fun than reading this book. This surprised me, as Reynolds at his best was entertainingly Marxist but not in the airy fairy "I have never worked for a living, have no real-world experience and if you present evidence I don't like I have my fingers jammed in my ears" style of some authors. Reynolds did a lot of travelling and wasn't afraid to mix with the locals. ISTR he was arrested at least once for illegally crossing borders on the other side of the Iron Curtain and he used his experiences in North Africa in his Black Man's Burden series [which I am frankly afraid to go back and look at]. He didn't have any illusions about what was really going on in the Soviet Bloc, having been there without supervision. That said, this is a dull, dull book, with the exception of the 20th century scenes, which are more interesting but authentically unpleasant.

That said, one of its strengths from the POV of these reviews is that the characters West talks to go on and on about the progress between the 1970s and 2000. Oddly enough, a lot of the areas mentioned -are- just the areas we did advance in, except space. Like Bellamy, Reynolds thought centralized economies could avoid the inefficiencies of unplanned economies and outperform them. In the 1970s this was a perfectly respectable position to take, especially since the free economies of the day were performing in such a lackluster manner, rather like the crisis which inspired Bellamy in the 1880s. The problem is that in pretty much every field, the people of Equality have progressed much farther than is possible. In his essay in the 1950s about predicting the future, Heinlein commented that people tended to overestimate short term progress and underestimate long term progress. Equality is a perfect example of this: these people have effective immortality, for example, and STL interstellar probes [No PCs, though]. I think it's interesting to look at a book like this with Vinge's Singularity in mind, as I expect Vinge is making the same progress-without-limits errors, although Vinge does it much more entertainingly.

Read more ➤

Millennial Review III: The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (1957)

The Door Into Summer

By Robert A. Heinlein 

18 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


The Door into Summer 1
Robert A. Heinlein
copyright 1957
291 pages

A note about cover art: the edition I am reading [Del Rey, 1986] has really awful art. Not sure the artist has any experience drawing people but the cat is Just Plain Wrong. I like what appears to be a large waffle iron masquerading as a cold sleep chamber, though.

Synopsis: In 1970, Dan Davis invents several useful household robots, based on technology invented during WWIII. He is swindled by his fiancee and business partner, then sent on a one way trip via cold sleep to the year 2000. After some initial problems fitting in, Davis finds gainful employment while continuing to research what happened to his company, his business partner, his business partner’s step-kid and his fiancee. Eventually, after having the satisfaction of seeing his ex-fiancee ruined by time and indulgence [In language really very similar to that used to describe Mrs. Farnham in Farnham’s Freehold , actually], he discovers an unreliable method of traveling through time, makes his way to 1970 again, rights the wrongs done to him in that year [including saving his cat] and then travels ‑back- to 2000 where he marries his partner’s step-daughter, who we discover has centered her life around eventually marrying Davis in 2000.

I had such fond memories of this book. The problem is, a man hitting on an 11 year old girl was a lot less creepy when I was 11 than it is now that I am almost 40. I also never noticed how badly Davis handles interpersonal problems and how completely arrogant he is with other people: he has more respect for his cat than his fiancee, for example and a big part of the reason she can con him is because it never occurs to him that she might not do what he tells her to: he gives her voting stock but assumes she’ll never use it. As far as I can tell, Davis really thinks the universe revolves around him.

The point of divergence from our history is fairly early: WWIII happens in 1965, cold sleep comes in before that and solid state electronics never seems to have been invented, displaced by a very useful vacuum tube. By 1970, the world is unlike ours. By 2000, the differences are even more striking. Among other things, they have a limited form of antigravity and an even more limited method of time travel. RAH guesses wrong about what major changes were going to happen between 1957 and 2000, but I think he had the magnitude of the changes about right.

There are some odd gaps in applications of technology, though: the same device which makes robots work should be applicable to mathematical operation but isn’t used to replace slide rules. The time machine has the limitation that it has to balance a mass sent one way into time with another object of identical mass sent the same distance in time in the other direction. There’s no reason why the man who owns it could not get very, very rich by sending two copies of the financial pages of his newspaper a few weeks in either direction.

I am rather happy that WWIII never happened on schedule. I’ll happily forgo the moon colonies in exchange for not being radioactive dust downwind of London, England.

Not much of a fun read, sadly. The main character is really very unpleasant in ways I can’t ignore any more.

1: And would The Door in Sumer have been a great alternate name for Island in the Sea of Time or what?

Read more ➤

Millennial Review II: Millennium by Ben Bova (1976)


By Ben Bova 

17 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


Ben Bova
Del Rey Books 1976
295 pages

I’m cheating here: all the books I am reviewing are supposed to be set in 2000 but most of the action in Millenium is set in December 1999. Only about a page is arguably set in 2000.

Synopsis: In 1999, the predictions of the Club of Rome have more or less come true: the world’s population is 8 billion, resources are running out, and the two Great Powers, the USA and the SU, are beginning an unavoidable preparation for WWIII. As December goes by,events spin out of control, much as they did in August 1914

Read more ➤

Millennial Review I: Looking Backward: 2000 — 1887 by Edward Bellamy (1888)

Looking Backward: 2000 — 1887

By Edward Bellamy 

16 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


Looking Backward: 2000 — 1887
Edward Bellamy
Originally published in 1888

I had read Looking Backwards before as a child. When I got my new copy, I discovered that I had little recollection of the plot, aside from the minor aspect that a man of the 19th century goes to sleep and wakes up in an utopian America in the year 2000. Perhaps this is because, as I discovered on rereading the book, there is very little plot at all, the book consisting of the naive man from the 19th century asking questions about the milieu he finds himself in and his host, Dr Leete, answering them at some length.

Read more ➤

Millennial Reviews XXVI: The Fall of the Republic by Crawford Kilian (1987)

The Fall of the Republic

By Crawford Kilian 

10 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


The Fall of the Republic
Crawford Kilian
Legend, 1987
293 pages

Synopsis: It is the late 1990s and everything is falling apart. The US is under military law and everything is rationed. The only thing keeping a complete collapse from happening immediately are the Trainables, people who have been treated through a process which does not work on all people to be better and faster learners than the regular people, in effect smarter. Certainly, able to process information much faster.

Read more ➤