Sunday, June 1, 2008

C L Moore's "Tryst in Time" (novelette, science fiction): A romance spanning multiple lifetimes!

Quote from short story titled Tryst in Time by C L MooreWhile Moore throws in some unconventional ideas on how to build a time machine & a short discourse on philosophical implications of time travel here, overall it's among the least entertaining stories from her.

It might have been non-boring at flash fiction length; at current length, it's so draggy author herself has to tell us near end (via protagonist's loud thinking) that story end is near & we should not yet throw it out!

Story summary.

Eric Rosner is a restless man of 30 whom the circumstances have handed out a time machine (via Walter Dow, a friend inventor). The machine doesn't have very good controls - in fact, you have no clue to where you will end up - in past or future, or how far away.

This machine also works on a different principle than H G Wells' (as also the legions inspired by that): in Wells' machine, you are traveling as in just another vehicle - only the dimension across which you are moving is time & you can control speed. In Moore's version, you "anchor to that bedrock of essential, underlying inertia which is the base upon which matter builds & ... allow time itself to whirl by! ... & 'up-anchor' in another age". This anchoring is done by increasing "your inertia sufficiently to make you immune to time & space & matter. You will be inert mentally & physically. You'll sink down, so to speak, to the bedrock, while time flows past you." You throw a switch to begin this anchoring process. Machine will travel "until one small part, insulated from the inertia in a tiny time space of its own, trips the switches again & up-anchors."

So during travel, you yourself are effectively in some kind of stasis field. Machine is shoulder-worn via a harness.

Similar putting accepted wisdom on its head is also seen in Henry Kuttner's - "The Big Night" (I don't know if she contributed to that story). Here, hyperspace travel is by physically throwing your spaceship into the faster-than-light moving "currents" of hyperspace, & let these currents carry you to destination!

When discussing time travel, we also get a dose of philosophy: "I can transport you into the past, & you can create events there which never took place in the past we know - but the events are not new. They were ordained from the beginning, if you took that particular path. You are simply embarking upon a different path into a different future, a fixed & preordained future, yet one which will be strange to you because it lies outside your own layer of experience. So you have infinite freedom in all your actions, yet everything you can possibly do is already fixed in time."

Anyway, the current story is not really of time machine; that's just an aid. Once the time travel adventure starts, story is really a collection of lots of tiny stories. Time traveler ends up somewhere - always amidst people, though in different civilizations. Most of the time, he meets or sees a woman who seems to unconsciously recognize him & always looks the same; in many cases, she's about to die a horrible death. Slowly, he will realize the object of his travels - to fall in love with this woman.

Only it didn't quite come across as love. I mean - she's so completely dispensable! She exists in all time & he has a time machine; so if the version he's seeing now is about to die or cannot be had for some reason, he will meet her in a different avatar at a different time!

Of course, in the last episode we will see the happy union of this timeless romance.

At least one episode of his adventures is set in the mythological Cyclopean civilization (something from Greek mythology?).

There are parts near end that sound like from one of the schools of ancient Indian philosophy!

See also.

  1. Paul J Nahin's "Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, & Science Fiction" makes a short reference to this story.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of C L Moore".

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding Stories, December 1936.
Rating: C
Related: All stories of C L Moore.