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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

The Big Time

Copyright 1958 by Fritz Leiber

SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point    Superb (5/5)

I first read this in 1969 and most recently on the 24th July 2002

Vernor Vinge might write about big space battles, but they're nothing compared to this world from Fritz Leiber. The entire universe is divided into two camps, those of the Spiders and the Snakes. They and their supporters battle desperately throughout billions of years of past and future time. Yet for all its vast scale, it's a secret war, one that you and I will likely never perceive, however much our civilisations are overthrown, our history perverted and our lives destroyed.

But in the Big Time, that special region outside of normal time and space, the Spiders and the snakes observe the changes they make to reality, and feel the Change Winds rushing through them as one side or the other manages to alter the course of history.

Still, all this big stuff takes place in the background. This novel is concerned with the goings on in the lounge of a small R&R station floating in the Big Time. It's asking questions about life, the universe, whether the ends justify the means and, in particular, what exactly to do about the small atomic bomb on the floor of the aforementioned lounge.

We view the story through the eyes and ears of entertainer and hostess extraordinaire, Greta Forzane, as she observes the differing beliefs and moralities of her fellow entertainers and the soldiers they serve. There's Sid the senior man, Doc the far-gone alcoholic, Maud, Beau and the new girl, Lili. The recuperating soldiers are Erich, Bruce, Mark, Caby and a couple of aliens, Sevencee and Illhilihis. We learn what Greta already knows, that both she and her associates are both better and worse than appearances suggest.

I reread this, after a gap of a few decades, more from a sense of nostalgia than any expectation of real enjoyment. But I was so surprised. This is a wonderful novel, a heck of a book, as indeed any book that includes even a couple of lines from T. S. Eliot's Gerontion had ought to be). In fact it's a classic and unique SF Masterpiece with a quite different perspective from normal time-travel SF. It's a powerful yet often humorous drama and would (in my humble opinion) make a superb stage play.

And if there is a war, Greta, and I must fight, be there to succour me.

Loaded on the 19th August 2002.
Cover of The Big Time