Can the award-winning science fiction novels of the past actually still be worth reading several decades later? Do they have messages, technology, and characters that are pertinent in modern society? Have I just been reading rehashed versions of past award-winners? There's only one way to find out...
read and review the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning novels.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber, was published in 1957 and was the 4th Hugo Award winner. I'd like to start this post by saying that I've read and loved many stories and books by this author in the past, including many in his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series. I fully expected to love this book, too--I was disappointed.

TBT uses many standard sci-fi concepts and characters: time travel, ETs, cosmic war, futuristic technology, and specialized jargon. Some of these it uses well, some it uses hardly at all, and some are used in ways I (for the most part) just didn't appreciate.

The book's ETs are a minor feature of the story, but are somewhat unusual and interesting in concept. There are only two of them--one from 1 billion years pre-modern Luna and one from 1 billion years post-modern Venus. The future tech is nebulous and not completely explained, but each piece of it features prominently in what passes for action in the story. These aspects of the novel are handled well, in my opinion.

Although the book is nominally about time travel, it's only used in the sense of "if you could put together a dinner party and invite anyone--past, present, or future...?" In this case, it's a waystation in the void outside of a cosmic war instead of a dinner party, and the guests and hosts don't really get to choose each other, but that hardly matters. Each of the characters is from a specific locale and time, and comes attendant with the language and mannerisms of that locale and time.

To illustrate his clever grasp of the language of each character's locale and time, Leiber has the characters soliloquize. A lot. I applaud his use of varied styles and vocabularies, but wish that he'd focused a bit more on pacing and story and a bit less on monologues. I've met a few people who put this book on their favorites list just because of this, though, so it's certainly a polarizing preference. There's one ongoing bit by the narrator that I did enjoy tremendously, in fact, and which gave me an amusing easter-egg hunt to focus on--she has her own religious swearing vocabulary (based on god-invocations in multiple languages) which includes "Hey, Zeus!", "Shaitan shave us!", "Nervy Anna enfold me", "Got mittens", "praise/thank the Bonny Dew", "Kreesed us!", and "Crisis!" For the most part, though, I got horribly bogged down in the multiple slangs and jargons that represented the cross-time collection of characters.

Which brings us to the cosmic war. As explained by the oldest character in the book's timeline (the ET from Luna 1 billion years ago) at the end of the story, it's not really war at all. Just evolution, which he explains is the same thing on a different scale. Luke-warm ending, with no sense of payoff or "ah ha!" moment.

Overall, this book was like a "Murder in a Box" mystery party that's massively overacted by well-educated people. Been there, done that--don't really need or want to read it.

In another situation, I probably wouldn't have read past the first one or two chapters of this book. Because there's another Leiber lurking down in 1965 on my list, and it might be related to this one, I made myself forge ahead. As I mentioned earlier, opinions on this book range widely-- but my advice is to skip it. Rating: 2/5

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