Richard C. Meredith’s 1976 Run, Come See Jerusalem! is a stand-alone dystopian time-travel novel.
86,159 BC: Dr. Eugene Stillman’s time machine materializes in mid-air and plummets to the ground. It’s wrecked. An inauspicious beginning to his adventure.
Matters will get much worse.
The World Ecumenical Church is, despite its name, American rather than global; it’s in no way ecumenical. Once seen as a laughable American cult, judicious marketing, a successful Presidential candidate, and a well-timed crisis have left the Church the effective American government by the 2030s.
The Church has designs on the rest of the world. Other nations will be crushed and annexed, as were Canada and Mexico, or scorched in nuclear fires, as were Japan and Cuba. Such powers as are still independent, like Europe, are only independent for as long as it takes the US to find a way to conquer them.
While most Americans go along to get along, there is a Resistance. One which Dr. Eugene Stillman has no interest in joining. However, the Resistance has considerable interest in recruiting Stillman. Not only is Stillman a military veteran, Stillman works for the Chronal Corps and has access to a government-owned time machine.
It’s easy enough for Resistance agent Melanie Proctor1 to seduce Stillman. Because he has a well-developed sense of self-preservation, he resists the idea of assisting the Resistance in their bold scheme. Still, horniness is a powerful force and, in the end, he agrees to do as Melanie demands. He will re-target the Chronalcage the next time he is dispatched to the past. Once in the Chicago of 1971, he will shoot and kill the Anointed One’s mother before she can give birth to the Church’s founder.
It’s not at all clear if it is possible to change history on such a scale. The results of this intervention are unknown. However, the current timeline is so unbearable that the Resistance figures any other history will be better. It may be right.
The plan is straightforward, perhaps even foolproof, on paper. But the Church’s Proctors get wind of it. Melanie is arrested and Stillman only barely manages to launch his Chronalcage. Because he was rushed, he misses his target date by tens of thousands of years. Worse, the time machine is wrecked on arrival, marooning Stillman in the distant past. Were this not bad enough, Stillman discovers on arrival that he is ill.
The Proctors are not done with Stillman. Thus, a second Chronalcage materializes next to his wrecked machine, crewed by men determined to arrest or kill Stillman. Stillman manages to commandeer the functional time machine — but not before being badly wounded. Even though delirious with pain and fever, somehow he manages to end up in Chicago of 1871.
Dr. Houston English takes pity on the bleeding man he finds in the street. Dr. English’s beautiful daughter Sharon quickly falls for Stillman’s charms. Good reason for Stillman to put aside dreams of altering the future to embrace a very attractive past. If only the future were not still looking for Stillman….
I think I’m now obligated to hunt down a copy of John Boyd’s 1968 The Last Starship from Earth, which I recall having a lot of similarities to Meredith’s novel.
Obviously, the notion that a cabal of fascist religious extremists could exploit a crisis to take over the US is implausible. Obviously. However, in the author’s defense, we should note that by the time American democracy collapses, it has lived through several limited nuclear wars. It’s hard to imagine a crisis any less than devastating than nuclear war that would inspire Americans to hand their country over to malevolent nutters. [Editor’s note: yeah, right.]
Readers may be mildly disappointed that Meredith’s prose and plotting are at best serviceable. I am sure that they will be appalled at the speed with which Stillman abandons Melanie (last seen being hauled off by Proctors to some dreadful fate) for Sharon. In his defense, Stillman is a terrible person, motivated by self-preservation and libido. Had the Proctors been content to leave him alone in the past, he would no doubt have settled down with Sharon2, consigning Melanie to the occasional guilty thought.
Meredith having died in 1979, there’s no way to ask him whether he intended his protagonist to be a consummate jackass. Perhaps that was just the effect of writing in the swinging Seventies? Given the consequences of Stillman’s Quest for Quim, I am inclined to think that Meredith meant Stillman to be a jerk.
Although Meredith’s body of work was small, he did manage to work in two of the three basic models for time travel (many worlds, a single mutable past). Perhaps he’d have written something featuring a fixed past had he lived past forty-one.
Run, Come See Jerusalem! is hecka out of print.
1: Although her surname is Proctor, Melanie is not a Church Proctor. That’s just her name. Stillman found her name off-putting but not sufficiently so that he could overlook her impressive bosom.
2: Settled down for a time period determined by how long it would take him to abandon Sharon for the next infatuation.