The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
1958 Hugo winner, and what an interesting surprise!
This is the Cure for the Common (modern) SF. Tired of the old rehashing of drawn-out plots and over-deep character explorations full of pathos, pathos, and more pathos? Then pick this one up. See the universes without being a Space Opera, enjoy the perks of touching all time without a time lord in sight. Drink your favorite alcohol and listen to your neighbor wax poetic. And oh yeah, don't get caught in the war across all Time. (The title of the book is kinda crappy. It's actually referring to the field of battle.)
So, this novel is about as far as you can get from modern SF.
It's laden heavily with a ton of interesting ideas and alternate reality sets and times thrown at you without explanation or depth, having a very quick progression of plot and and a stage as big as all time and all the spaces of an infinity of universes.
If that doesn't blow your mind, then good.
We're hanging out with the entertainment crew that services the space-time warriors that snipe big changes through history, a neutral zone that caters to the Snakes (one time-traveling faction) and the Spiders (another time traveling faction.) It's chaos, to say the least. Is it war, or is it really something else? No spoilers.
There's plenty to think about, of course. Wanna invert a huge pulsating brain or name drop the Comandant of Toronto or murder baby Einstein? It's fun as hell.
I got the impression that Heinlein's "All You Zombies" was a better Time Travel story, with more and deeper exploration of plot and character, but I'm also pretty sure that the two authors were playing with each other. Heinlein's story came out one year after this one won its Hugo. Fun fact: the 2014 movie Predestination was based on "All You Zombies".
BUT, Leiber's novel was NOT about going deep, but going really, really wide in an attempt to tackle a really big idea. What idea? Oh no. This is an easy and quick book, people. Enjoy it for yourself. :)
We zip here and there and everywhere, like a knee-jerk reaction to all the Golden-Age SF that had just come before. But Leiber takes all the old square-jawed heroes with all their can-do attitudes and amped them up to mind-blowing proportions, giving them an unlimited landscape, and then, for our "heroes" we're thrown into the minds of "normals" caught in the middle of it all.
Why is this the opposite of modern SF? Because it doesn't slow down to explore any single plotline or character in detail. So much happens so quickly that it's a delight and a blur and I feel like I need to sit down and deconstruct the living hell out of every paragraph and chortle at the wordplay and the thousands of alternate reality implications. There's SO MANY. :) It's like falling into Wonka's candy store.
Zip, zip, zip, zip. It kept a smile on my face and a snicker in my laugh for practically the entire novel. Even the late reveals reverse the fact that endless (literally) war is not quite as dark as we first thought. That immediately turns this novel into a comedy by the old traditions, and I feel like I've been needing something very light-hearted for a while, so this definitely fits the bill.
If you're getting the deep desire to have an idea-packed and an amazingly quick read, I'd absolutely recommend this novel. Fritz Leiber has such a light and clever voice! :)
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