Tuesday, May 19, 2009

William Tenn's "Brooklyn Project" (short story, butterfly effect, free): Governments can get away with anything in the name of security

Quote from short story titled Brooklyn Project by William TennMain idea satirizes US government around the beginning of cold war with USSR. Apparently, the security excuses got to crazy limits - enough to bug the author, in any case. But theme seems to be so universal; readers everywhere & at all times should find something familiar. And it's an interesting colorful story even without its political overtones.

Story summary.

"Brooklyn Project" is on the lines of "Manhattan Project" - developing a "chronar", a kind of time travel device, in extreme secrecy. It works as a see-saw that moves through time - something you want to send in one time direction, & another nearby counterweight that goes in the other direction for balance. Government thinks it's the ultimate weapon, since you could put one near an enemy target & move it in some time direction to ensure the whole enemy city or country moves through time in a different direction!!!

At the heart of the story is a cocky but unnamed government official, "the acting secretary to the executive assistant on press relations", whose attitude symbolizes that of the government. He is briefing a group of a dozen journalists about an experiment about to be conducted: a recording device will be sent 4 billion years into the past, & a corresponding counterweight will go appropriate distance in future. Two will see-saw, damping half the time-distance every iteration. At each stage, the device will capture vital data about the earlier earth.

Only, the minor differences the visit makes to a few molecules in these distant times begins to have crazy butterfly effects in our time. But only reader will notice that; government official is as arrogant as in the beginning since no one living can notice the difference...

See also.

  1. Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (1952): Very similar plot idea - minor past modification by time travelers changes now noticeably. This Bradbury story is probably far more widely read then Tenn's; but to me at least, it reads like an amateur piece (yes, I know saying this is sacrilege to some) compared to Tenn's classic. Also, Tenn's came first.

    Note: Use of the phrase "butterfly effect" to designate unexpected associations in chaotic phenomena apparently has a linkage to this Bradbury story.
  2. A E van Vogt's "Seesaw" (1941): The idea of a sort of see-saw in time travel - two counter-masses traveling simultaneous in opposite time-directions - is also found in this earlier story of Van Vogt.

    Tenn is a professed fan of Van Vogt - so idea might have been consciously borrowed.

    This Van Vogt story, incidentally, is the first of a series of variations on the same idea that probably includes a novel too. Best known titles of the series are a short story (+ novel pair?) called "The Weapon Shop" aka "The Weapon Shops of Isher". In my book, "Seesaw" is a more interesting story, even if less well known. Possibly because I've little taste for feudal societies, something the "The Weapon Shop" features but the original doesn't.

Collected in.

  1. Isaac Asimov & Martin H Greenberg (Eds)' "Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 10 (1948)" (anthology).

Fact sheet.

First published: Planet Stories, Fall 1948.
Rating: A.
Download full text from Mindless Blather (later needs scrolling down; story begins about half way down the page).
Related: Stories of William Tenn; time travel fiction.