on 6 October 1998
I first came across The Big Time as an inclusion in the compilation book Ship Of Shadows, a hard to get library copy. That was in early 1998, and I was delighted to be able to purchase the recently republished story by itself.
Like all of Fritz Leiber's work the writing is supremely articulate and the story telling carefully, and craftily constructed, holding the reader from start to finish.
The main character twenty-nine and party girl Greta Forzane, takes us through events sited in an R&R centre for battling time travellers who find themselves becalmed on The Big Time along with a counting down Atomic bomb. A book which will need careful reading to get the whole picture, but well worth it; and for that great Gertrude Steinism: 'you can't time travel through the time you time travel in when you time travel.'
For the price I would have liked to to get a dust cover. But whatever, writng this good is worth the shortfall in packaging.
on 4 July 2016
I first read this book when I was a teenager -some time ago! I was inspired to re-read it by reading Iain Banks' 'Transition' which is about a similar subject - what happens when different groups in possession of time-travelling ability decide to change the past?
Written in 1958, Fritz Leiber's book certainly stands the test of time (no pun intended), but also shows the marks of having been written in the 1950s. The action takes place in a bubble outside of the real world, where time-travelling soldiers come to recuperate. It is part brothel, part saloon, part philosophical cafe - a kind of non-stop party, where the heroine is one of the hostesses.
It covers interesting and provoking moral dilemmas about the cruelty and tragedy of war and the seeming necessity for it. I suppose the book is really about World War II, but the addition of the ability to change history adds a new dimension as the soldiers destroy or promote civilisations that were dear to them, and destroy their own history.
A good book and worth a read. I have given it 3 stars rather than 4 because science fiction of this vintage is sometimes hard to read in our current age as the gadgets and technology look as up-to-date as a black and white Flash Gordon film. But it's a good book and will reward you for reading it.
Now - back to 'Transition'.
Spiders and Snakes and A-Bombs to bake! Fritz once again proves that he could handle almost any medium, any subject with this wild tale of a time war between these two S&S organizations (and the SS is deliberate). A war that stretches from 100 million years in our past to at least as far in the future - but all the action of this tale takes place in a very confined space known simply as The Place, isolated from the Change Winds that continually blow in from the Void. A Place where time-warriors go for some rest and recuperation from the stresses of fighting and a continually changing past and future, staffed by some rather odd individuals. There's Sid, nominally in charge, a 16th century Englishman, and Greta, who died both in 1929 and in 1955 in Hitler's Greater Chicago. Then there's Maud, everybody's idea of a grandmother, Doc, who normally staggers about in extreme inebriation, and Lilli, nurse and good-time girl from WWI.
Now throw in Erich, recruited from Hitler's army, Bruce, an early 20th century Englishman, a octopoid Lunarian from 100 million years ago, a satyr from far in the future, thrown into the Place at the end of their mission, and a couple of Ghost Girls just to liven up the party. Add one A-bomb, courtesy of rescuing a failed attack mission, and a gadget that cuts off the Place from everything - not just normal time, but even Change time and the physical universe.
This is the stage setting - and it does read very much like a play (Fritz was no stranger to the theater). And from these materials Leiber constructs a fascinating set characters sharply illuminated by stress, both from the Change War and internally, as the A-bomb is triggered to go off in half an hour. Each of the characters manages to present a different perspective on life, love, war and peace, and the purpose of intelligent entities, a discourse that gets wrapped up in something of a locked room mystery story, and is enfolded by very appropriate quotes from some of the great poets and philosophers of the world. The society of these Change War denizens is sharply evoked as almost a side-discourse to the main story, a society that is rich and complex, and invites comparison to Asimov's The End of Eternity's rather sterile and compartmentalized one. There is more meat packed into the slim bones of this work than many works four times its size manage to enfold.
A riveting tale, with suspense, drama, mystery, and an overarching structure that will make you think twice (and then perhaps again): "Familiar with infinite universe sheaths and open-ended postulate systems?" -a Heinlein quote used for the last chapter. Then everything is possible, and everything has already happened. And you are caught in the middle.
This book (which clocks in at just about 35,000 words - only a novella under today's standards) won the Hugo Award for best novel of 1958, and it deserved it.
on 4 June 2013
I admit that Fritz Leiber is one of my favourite authors, but at the same time his works are a bit difficult to comprehend at times. I found myself rereading parts of the book again and again, which is not helped by the fact that particular explanations about some plot elements are deferred until a bit later from the time you first encounter.
I am not sure if I'd put this on the same level as Gather Darkness, but it's still a great book which I'd recommend in a heartbeat.
on 10 August 1999
This book took me completely by surprise. Fritz Leiber kept me consumed in this book by writing some very original dialogue for his characters. For example, Greta Forzane, the lead character and narrator of the story, has such a delightful way of speaking that she kept me riveted throughout the entire book. It is also one of those novels that leads the reader to the most logical conclusion; then gives an even better ending then you could hope for. Fritz Leiber's "The Big Time" will remain one of my all time favorite novels.
on 16 July 2012
Hats off to Gollancz/SF Gateway for making so much hard-to-find SF back catalogue available as eBooks, and in particular for bringing "The Big Time" back: it's easily one of the best items in their list. Fritz Leiber's fiction, outside his admittedly great sword and sorcery work, seems to be becoming more and more obscure with the passage of time. That's a huge shame, as his work was rich, varied and characterised by better prose than almost all of the SF/fantasy writers of his generation. It's really good to see this available again.
The Amazon product description tells you what the story's about, so no further spoilers lurk herein, but there's lots more to say on what it's really about. Apart from being a better-than-average "time war" SF story, it's also a locked-room mystery. It's virtually a two-act play, with a small cast of characters in a single set. It may be meditation on the Cold War, and it's certainly a meditation on people in time of war in general. It's definitely a novel of character, about how different people - and they're a very different bunch of people, and aliens too - react under extreme duress. It's also an existential novel, in the true sense, as it constantly comes back to the question of how to live properly in a world without apparent sense. The drama emerges from that, rather than from plot contrivances, though there are more than enough cosmic McGuffins to set the plot in place.
That's pretty good to be getting on with, but what takes it up to the five-star level is Leiber's prose, which is witty and effervescent without ever becoming frivolous, and which makes its occasional turn into darkness more disturbing than a more po-faced style could ever be. The characters are drawn quickly but clearly, and are distinct and individualised, with differentiated personalities and voices (I emphasise this as it's still relatively rare in SF). And Leiber, as ever, is erudite, but knows that erudition and literary sophistication are often best worn lightly.
The style here could be characterised as a hip '50s breeziness, but it's not as dated or naff as that suggests. In fact, for a 1950s SF novel, it's barely dated at all, partly because Leiber was a wise old bird who knew how to avoid anachronism, and because his use of what Norman Spinrad calls "rubber science" is smart and carefully judged. That said, because of the focus on character rather than incident, this probably isn't for you if you like hard SF or space opera, even though it works on a cosmic scale (albeit in miniature) and ends with a true "sense of wonder" conceptual breakthrough. Brilliantly, that comes as a total surprise, even though it's been waiting there all along, like Poe's purloined letter.
It's not perfect. The first quarter or so is almost pure exposition of the "Change War" scenario, though it's delivered so briskly and entertainingly it doesn't intrude much. Some of the dialogue is a little forced. But overall it's a triumph. As a genre novel, it delivers all the pleasures it should, but with far greater literary sophistication than SF, particularly of this vintage, usually offers. It's also as serious, and stylish, as superior mainstream novels, but the SF subject matter allows it to probe and explore a range of issues in a way that's beyond the grasp of most mainstream literature.
And, amazingly, all this in around 35, 000 words. That's not much more than this review.
PS the Amazon description has one minor error: "The Big Time" did win the Hugo award, but in 1959 (for novels published in 1958), rather than 1956.
on 31 July 1999
I couldn't get through the first 15 pages. There was too much dialogue for my tastes. It reminded me of small talk at a dinner party.
I'm sure the book must get better, but the first person narrator, Greta, turned me off. I just couldn't picture myself listening to Greta yak on and on about her experiences. She's not boring, just not my type of personality. I wouldn't invite her to my dinner party.