Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Time Travel Megapack, edited by John Gregory Betancourt

Diverse in setting, style, and quality
This e-book file is one of many “Megapacks” offered by Wildside Press, a publisher that reprints content from classic pulp fiction magazines. Editor John Gregory Betancourt, who runs Wildside, has compiled 26 tales of time travel that were originally published from 1928 to 2013. These stories range in size from several novella-length works to three installments of the Ferdinand Feghoot series of one-page jokes that culminate in groan-inducing puns.

The subject of time travel is open to infinite possibilities, and the stories in this collection cover an appropriately broad sweep of settings, from the Pliocene Epoch in Clifford D. Simak’s “Project Mastodon” to the demise, from old age, of the known universe in the trippy “Nebogipfel at the End of Time” by Richard A. Lupoff. Despite such epic parameters, however, a lot of the stories here fail to impress with their utilization of the time travel element. In many cases, time travel is merely used as a tangential plot device in an otherwise run-of-the-mill adventure story, or as a means of setting up the punchline of a joke. Such stories rise to the level of clever, but strive for little more. One time traveler longs to escape his shrewish sister; another visits Oktoberfest; yet another becomes a con artist. The oldest story in the collection, “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” is the debut adventure of Buck Rogers in the 25th century. Unfortunately, it’s one of the weaker entries in the book, an uninspired military adventure that capitalizes on the “yellow peril” paranoia of its day by depicting a world ruled by an evil Chinese empire.

A few of the better selections do make the extra effort to really explore the scientific possibilities of time travel and the conundrums it may cause. The best story in the book doesn’t contain any time travel at all, but it nonetheless pushes the envelope of the genre. In H. Beam Piper’s expertly crafted “The Edge of the Knife,” a history professor’s unexplained visions of future world history end up jeopardizing his career. Two other Piper stories are also among the collection’s best: “Time and Time Again,” in which a grown man’s consciousness is transported thirty years backward into his own childhood body, and “The Flight from Tomorrow,” in which a deposed dictator from a hundred centuries in the future escapes his enemies by traveling to the past. In another excellent selection, “The Eternal Wall” by Raymond Z. Gallun, a present-day man dies in a car accident, only to have his mummified corpse revived a million years in the future. The collection’s most recent story—Edward M. Lerner’s 2013 novella “Time Out”—is a crafty and thought-provoking exploration of the mystifying problems that arise when you mess with the continuity of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a film adaptation in its future.

Like any other genre or period of literature, probably 90 percent of what was published during the pulp fiction era was garbage. Wildside Press performs a valuable service by not only resurrecting stories from these long-lost magazines but also curatorially separating the wheat from the chaff. Nevertheless, Wildside publishes such a large quantity of work that some mediocre content is bound to sneak in. Perhaps the true value of these Megapacks lies simply in the pleasure of making unexpected discoveries like—in my case—the works of Piper. Yet even the mediocre stories offer a pleasant glimpse into the glory days of the pulps. Reading this collection is a bit like sifting for gems in a bucket of corn. It’s the gems that make the book worth its purchase price, but the corn delivers its own brand of satisfying nourishment.

The Kindle file has a lot of typographical errors; not enough to hinder understanding, but enough to annoy. One of the shortest stories was pasted twice, so it appears duplicated in its entirety. The copy I downloaded even had the wrong cover image. Wildside publishes good stuff, but they should pay more attention to quality control.

Stories in this collection
Time Out by Edward M. Lerner 
These Stones Will Remember by Reginald Bretnor 
Project Mastodon by Clifford D. Simak
12:01 p.m. by Richard A. Lupoff 
Time Considered as a Series of Thermite Burns in No Particular Order by Damien Broderick 
Time and Time Again by H. Beam Piper 
Try, Try Again by John Gregory Betancourt 
The Eternal Wall by Raymond Z. Gallun 
The Man from Time by Frank Belknap Long 
Of Time and Texas by William F. Nolan 
The Edge of the Knife by H. Beam Piper 
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot (10) by Grendel Briarton 
Time Bum by C.M. Kornbluth 
Nebogipfel at the End of Time by Richard A. Lupoff 
Unborn Tomorrow by Mack Reynolds 
Lost in the Future by John Victor Peterson 

The Winds of Time by James H. Schmitz 

Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan 

The Man Who Saw the Future by Edmond Hamilton 

A Traveler in Time by August Derleth 

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot (71) by Grendel Briarton 

Flight from Tomorrow by H. Beam Piper 

In the Cracks of Time by David Grace 

Sweep Me to My Revenge! by Darrell Schweitzer 

The Solid Men by C.J. Henderson 

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot (Epsilon) by Grendel Briarton 

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