The Big Time

Fritz Leiber
The Big Time Cover

The Big Time -- In a little play

Tar Daddoo

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

The Big Time portrays a universe in which two factions battle to change time to suit their purposes. We see this all from the point of view of an "Entertainer" who works at a Rest and Relaxation facility that sits outside time and occasionally opens a door into the temporal world. Soldiers who engage in the battle to change time enter when the door is open and rest before re-entering the war at a new time and place. The action all takes place during a moment when some soldiers step outside time for a brief rest.

Is the science of the premise explored?

As is often the case, there is not much theory behind the notions of a temporal war or a place that sits outside of time. We are provided reason to believe that history has changed, but not much explanation of how it's done. (I mean this in the Physics sense, since we are told how weapons from the future are sometimes introduced to change the course of a war.)

One of the most interesting discussions concerns how to think about people's lifelines when they can change as history is changed. The Soldiers and Entertainers are demons. They were snatched just before death and offered a "life" outside of time. They consider themselves doppelgangers -- copies of the versions that live in the temporal world -- since history might change and permit them to live beyond the moment when they were recruited. In addition to the Demons there are Ghosts and Zombies. I was a little confused on these two, but I believe Ghosts are former Demons whose timeline changed so that they were dead at the time of recruitment. As for Zombies, I think that's everyone else following death.

One of my complaints with The Big Time is that it is more about being outside history than outside time. Time in the entertainment place still has duration and sequence. It is just separated from history. Equating this with timelessness is incorrect.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

The story is first person from the point of view of an Entertainer. Much of the story centers on a discussion about whether the temporal war and their role in it is worthwhile. This raises some interesting questions about the value of history.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

Since The Big Time is all about changing history, the effect on society is of paramount interest. Unfortunately the objectives of those interested in changing history remain obscure.

How well written is the story?

The story reads a bit like a play in that the action is constrained to a very limited place, people pass through, and most of the interest lies in what people say rather than in what they do. As such, it feels a bit claustrophobic for a novel, but, thankfully, it is short.

Can I recommend the book?

I can't say I liked this book. It seemed more like a long short story than a novel, the protagonist is not especially interesting, and the Science Fiction premise is a bit confused and confusing. At times the story reads like an absurdist play. You remember. The ones they made you read in High School. The ones that had no point and that was the point.

I'm probably being unfair. It does start to make a bit more sense as it unfolds. My biggest complaint is the conflation of time and history. If the characters in this story are outside time, why do minutes or hours mean anything? Why do events have a sequence? In truth, it is more like they are outside history, not outside time.

Tar Daddoo