Henry Kuttner & C L Moore's "Vintage Season" (as by Lawrence O'Donnell) (novella, science fiction): On a dark side of human nature
Note the author is a pseudonym of Henry Kuttner & C L Moore couple.
Amazing thing about this story is it makes such a light read while addressing a very dark subject. All the dark issues are brought up near end; most of the story simply builds anticipation & develops characters.
Story is set at a time that is 1,000 years after "Charlemagne's coronation at St Peter's on Christmas Day". I've no idea of what date that would be.
Story summary.Oliver Wilson owns a "time-worn old house" that he has leased out for a month to holidayers. In May. Month seems to have a significance - but I didn't quite get it apart from "there never was a May like it in civilized times". The house also has servants who go home after serving dinner (I wonder if that says something about the period in which the story is set).
After he signed lease documents, he received a very very lucrative offer for sale - provided he sells before May end. Buyer is not interested in buying afterwards. His fiancee, Sue Johnson, has been nagging him to accept the offer, but he cannot find a way out of earlier lease.
On appointed day, the original tenants arrive. Sanciscos, three of them - a man named Omerie, & two women named Klia, & Kleph. They want him to get out of the place during lease period; he refuses - planning to make a nuisance of himself to force them out. He won't succeed.
Through the story, there is a certain mystery associated with the visitors. They refuse to tell where they come from, but they have amazing gadgets.
During climax, we will learn that they are time travelers from far future - where you have ample leisure. They are on an year long vacation - at different places & times, "a tour of a year's seasons. Vintage seasons."
A few days before the end of may, we see the other bidder try some underhand tricks to kick the current tenants out - without success. On the final day of the climax - we are not told if this is last day of May - the tenants receive a lot of guests. Turns out there are a lot of time travelers enjoying this May here.
Sometime in the night, the disaster hits. A meteor has hit somewhere close by, pretty much leveling the city. Everything is in chaos. But this house is left untouched.
Turns out, these visitors from future came to watch the spectacle! They not only knew about the disaster (& that this house will survive), but could have prevented it. But they are looking at people so far back in time, they don't feel any bond; visitors are we, locals are they. And besides, may be the intervention here will affect their cozy future - though no one has attempted to even find out.
In between, we also have a short romance between Oliver & Kleph. While most time travelers will promptly leave after watching the spectacle, one future artist - Cenbe - will remain. He will watch the aftermath; then go back to his time & present his composition to great applause.
In a final sad thread, Oliver makes a written note about the incident for any future time travelers that might have some pity. He has not yet figured out how to deliver it to them, when local administration will dynamite his home - along with his note & presumably him - "part of the futile attempt to halt the relentless spread of the Blue Death." "Blue Death" is apparently a deadly disease triggered by this meteor impact.
Notes.Among the many gadgets that the story talks of, 2 have remained with me:
- A tiny machine that produces "subsonics" that drives human listeners crazy. This idea also appears in another Kuttner/Moore story, "The Proud Robot".
- Tea cups that heat their contents as necessary.
- Rahul Jaisheel's "21 Minutes" is a less drastic variant of this story.
- According to IMDB, 1992 movie "Timescape", directed by David Twohy, is an adaptation of this story.
Fact sheet.First published: Astounding Science Fiction, September 1946.
Listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Stories of Henry Kuttner, C L Moore, as by Lawrence O'Donnell.