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Another World

Crosstime Traffic

By Lawrence Watt-Evans 

14 Mar, 2024

The End of History


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Lawrence Watt-Evans’ 1992 Crosstime Traffic is a collection of short stories1. It is not to be confused with Harry Turtledove’s Crosstime YA series, although booksellers sure did their best to flog the second to me when I looked for the first.

The edition I am reviewing is the original Del Rey, not the more recent FoxAcre, which seems to differ slightly in content.

Many of the stories showcase Watt-Evans’ unusual but reasonable view of how crosstime travel would work. Not in the traveler’s benefit, that’s for sure. Unlike many SF authors, LWE understands that the Many Worlds model has universes split at quantum-level scales, not human level. This means bifurcation is driven by atoms deciding whether or not to decay, not important historical figures deciding whether or not to mention their favourite spy novel. As a consequence, there are a huge number of parallel dimensions, many indistinguishable to humans. As a further consequence, navigation between universes is essentially impossible.

This model reflects a core value of LWE stories, which is that while the characters are deeply invested in the characters’ fates, the universe isn’t. It is up to people to find their path without assistance or fall victim to impersonal forces.

Curiously, although I have distinct memories of picking this up in the late 1980s under the title Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Dinner, the book in hand is very clear on both the title (Crosstime Traffic), that it never appeared under the other title, and that it first saw print in 1992. Either my memory has betrayed me or at some point I slid from one world line to another.

As one might guess from a 248-page book containing twenty stories, the stories tend to be short. LWE’s focus was and is on novels; presumably the brevity of the works is due at least in part because he had to cram writing them into the interstices between writing novels. Accordingly, the contents of the collection move briskly. None of the stories overstay their welcome.

While I enjoyed most of the stories, the stand-out section for me was the autobiographical introduction. There, LWE provides entertaining context for the content. LWE manages to do so without spoiling the stories themselves, hence I don’t have to warn you to save the introduction for last.

I now see that I would have been well served to read this collection before The Cyborg and the Sorcerers, as LWE’s comments shed light on that novel. Specifically, TC&TS is a reworked version of an early novel, thus its comparative infelicities. Oh, well. I reread them in the order that I reread them. No do-overs.

Crosstime Traffic is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Kobo), here (Words Worth Books)

I did not find Crosstime Traffic at either Apple (where it might have been crowded out by Harry Turtledove’s Crosstime Traffic YA series) or at Chapters-Indigo (where the Kobo edition should have but was not visible. I blame the National Energy Policy).

Now for the stories:

Introduction” (Crosstime Traffic) • essay

An informative essay by the author himself.

“Paranoid Fantasy #1” • (1975) • short story

Paranoia may be bad, but insufficient paranoia is worse.

“Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers” • [Harry's All-Night Hamburgers] • (1987) • short story

A young man unhappy with small town life considers the irreversible option of heading out crosstime.

“A Flying Saucer with Minnesota Plates” • [Harry's All-Night Hamburgers] • (1991) • short story

Harry must deal with a broken-down flying saucer.

“An Infinity of Karen” • (1988) • short story

A widower searches crosstime for a suitably single doppelganger of his late wife. Success seems guaranteed… as is failure.

“The Drifter” • (1991) • short story

A bored student participates in a crosstime experiment, discovering too late that the process involved has a terrible side-effect.

It’s quite possible that all the crosstime stories happen in the same sheaf of universes. There are many ways to get from one universe to another and all of them have serious drawbacks.

“Storm Trooper” • (1992) • short story

A cop tasked with dealing with victims of reality storms comes to suspect he might himself be such a victim.

“One-Shot” • (1991) • short story

A time traveler alters history by saving JFK from a specific assassin.

This would be the obligatory “Fritz Leiber was right” school of historical alteration story. Hmmm. Lightbulb moment. I think I just decided on my next Tears review.

“Truth, Justice, and the American Way” • (1992) • short story

While trying to find a position for a functionary of unfashionable ethnicity, bureaucrats outline events that distinguish their history and ours.

This builds up to a big reveal that mostly is an excuse to use the n-word. This is among the weaker stories.

“Real Time” • (1989) • short story

A time traveler does whatever is necessary to protect the one true timeline. Or so he tells himself.

“New Worlds” • (1991) • short story

Crosstime explorers open a portal to a new and unfamiliar universe that poses a new and unfamiliar challenge to the seasoned explorers.

“One Night at a Local Bar” • (1980) • short fiction

Even greatly transformed by technology, humans are still humans. Which is to say, bigoted assholes.

Science Fiction • (1991) • novelette

Two kids in a poor space colony embrace a bold project of the sort that often ends in obituaries.

“Watching New York Melt” • (1991) • short fiction by Julie Evans and Lawrence Watt-Evans

Blasé New Yorkers take calamity in stride.

I note that in our history, the Twin Towers’ destruction was not met with a shrug.

“Monster Kidnaps Girl at Mad Scientist's Command!” • (1992) • short story

A lonely and horny genetically engineered young man finds a socially acceptable outlet for his… urges.

“Windwagon Smith and the Martians” • (1989) • short story

Windwagon Smith of legend and Disney film is abducted by a Martian with a very particular purpose in mind for the inventor.

The Rune and the Dragon • (1984) • short story

Adventurers find themselves in possession of a stolen treasure. Its dragon owner is determined to recover it.

“The Palace of al-Tir al-Abtan” • (1989) • short story

A thief foolishly accepts a commission to infiltrate a powerful wizard’s stronghold.

The Final Folly of Captain Dancy • (1992) • novella

Ingenious Captain Dancy can improvise complex schemes to deal with every possible contingency… save, as his crew discovers, Dancy’s own death. It’s highly inconvenient when Dancy dies mid-scheme without briefing anyone.

“After the Dragon Is Dead” • (1990) • short story

What follows victory? Retirement? Or will personal issues preclude settling down?

1: Crosstime Traffic was Watt-Evans’ second collection, being preceded by about a month by The Rebirth of Wonder. Despite Rebirth being published by Tor, and despite it having an eye-catching cover, I have never seen a copy.