Needle In A Timestack by Robert Silverberg
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3/5 Rating
The butterfly effect!
About the author:
Robert Silverberg is an American writer widely known for his science fiction and fantasy stories. He is a many-time was designated a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. His books and stories have been translated into forty languages. Among his best-known titles are Nightwings, Dying Inside, The Book of Skulls, and the three volumes of the Majipoor Cycle: Lord Valentine’s Castle, Majipoor Chronicles, and Valentine Pontifex. His collected short stories, covering nearly sixty years of work, have been published in nine volumes by Subterranean Press. His attraction to the time travel theme is most notable in his novel-length work in books such as Hawksbill Station, House of Bones, and Up the Line. This story was originally published in Playboy in June of 1983.I think telling someone the genre of a story is “time-travelling” is actually a spoiler itself. Time-travel isn’t always used as the big twist – sometimes a story starts by saying they have the technology – but when you read an anthology where the bases of every story is going to be time-travel, well, the author is going to have to be creative if they want to use time-travel as the main twist.
It was interesting reading last week’s story, Ripples in the Dirac Sea (my review), where time-traveling to the past could not affect the your future, then to read this story, where not only does traveling into the past affect your future – creating the butterfly effect – but it is also readily available and as common as going away for the weekend on a vacation.
All of a sudden Nick got the taste of the cotton in his mouth – he only gets that taste when he is being phased. A phasing is a result of someone traveling into the past and altering something that affects you in the present. Because time-travel in a common hobby for people nowadays, phasing can happen quite often. They can be something small – like you wake up with a different hair cut – or it can be something major – like no longer having a wife.
When Nick got that taste he instantly called his wife, Janine, to see what see she remembered. After someone has been phased, they have a couple of hours where they remember their previous life and can figure out what has been changed before everything in their life seems completely normal. The reason Nick is calling his wife is because he believes these changes are being target directly at his life by a man with the name of Tommy, who happens to Janine’s ex-husband, and wants nothing more than to be married to her again.
So the positives:
I love time-travel stories where going into the past can effect your future. It gives a whole other level of depth and complexity to the plot, and I’m fascinated by the idea of the butterfly effect – where one seemingly small choice can end up having huge effects on your life.
One of the things that has always bothered me about changing my past in time-travel is how it would affect my memory. While I travel into the past, there a technically two separate me, and thus, there are two separate minds; so when I come back to the “present” – from where I originally left time to travel back – which memory would I have? Wouldn’t the me who time-traveled have no relocation of actually traveling, because I went back and changed the past, thus changing the reason I needed to travel back in time in the first place? I could go on analyzing this, but the point is, changing the past will change your memory. However, I really liked how Silverberg addressed this problem, but giving characters a 2 hour window where they can remember their previous self before everything “new” to them, becomes the normal and they forget anything has changed.
But the negatives:
With time-travel stories, it’s almost inevitable at times that you are going to need to be lenient on the accurately of the actual time-line. That okay. It’s difficult to write this type of genre without creating loop-holes, so if a couple of minor things don’t add up, no sweat. This story, I could not let slide all the loop-holes. It’s one thing for a single person to have the ability to change the past and affect the future of the same time-line, but in a world where anybody can do it, anytime they want, just for the cost of a vacation (how many people in the world do you think go to Disney every weekend?), our history would constantly be changing, and people would constantly be experiencing phasings. It only takes one single to change – a seemingly “minor” event – and you have instantly whipped out an entire family tree! With how this works in the world, people would constantly be coming into and out of existence! There is just as good a chance that one of these effects, could cause the person who made travel-travel or the people responsible for putting out for mass consumption (who would possible think that time-travel for anybody anytime for vacation would be a good idea???), to cease existing or cause them not be a part of the time-travel! Then what? How do you get back to the present when you destroyed the technology that allowed to go to the past in the first place? I could rant further, but you see where the many problems with accessibly for time-travel is going.
Putting that aside, and saying you just went with the flow, it is a nice plot about love; about a man going to any ends to keep the women he loves in his life. Very nice and touching, but, unfortunately, the plot surprised me. I say “unfortunately” because the surprise was, there were no surprises! It was as straight forward as it appeared to be; no shocking moments or unexpected turn of events. I can almost guarantee that if you guess how the pot of the this story would unfold, you would be correct.
I think that the reason I wasn’t expecting a “you get what you see” type of the story was because of the characters. Again, it was because I over estimated what I was seeing. Nick is solidly developed, and consistent throughout the story, but I cannot say that for Janine and Tommy. The words spoken and actions taken by Janine, do not add up the type of character she is portrayed to be at the beginning, and the same goes for the jealous ex-husband Tommy. I thought these “changes” in the characters was the authors laying the ground a big twist! However, it was simply bad character development brought about by their inconsistency.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
How many of you thought the wife was actually behind the phasing? It made perfect sense. She says that she loves Nick and doesn’t wasn’t to go back to Tommy, yet when the phasing happened again, she tells Nick not to talk to Tommy about it or go to the authorities. She wants to sit back and merely hope that Tommy gives up.
Then when the marriage is finally split up, Nick is throwing himself out there to find where she is, and when he finally finds her (because apparently she didn’t try his phone) she decides to give up because in a few hours they will forget anything even happened. Does that sounds like a wife who is madly in love with her husband? NO
To add to my belief that it was the wife, was the meeting of Nick and Tommy. I didn’t get the vibe that Tommy was hiding anything. I didn’t see any hints or clues that he was pretending with Nick and was responsible. Yeah he seems to still have feelings for Janine, and then we find out Tommy travels often to fix little things about his personal life, but there was no actions from Tommy during that meeting with Nick to make me suspect him more than the wife and to believe that he was putting up a front for Nick.
If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!
The bottom line is, it’s not an unreliable narrator that tricks you into thinking one thing (the narrator is actually 100% truthful and accurate!) but bad character development. It was inconsistencies in the characters that leads me to questions the narrator.
Despite how much I just tore this story open, I did enjoy reading it. I do take points away for the loop-holes in the time-travel, but, while reading, I was able to put that aside to watch the butterfly effect in action, and I loved Silverberg’s 2 hour memory window as a solution to one of the problems of time-travel. And believe it or not, I was actually into the plot, because I actually thought there was more to it and the characters… wasn’t until I finished that I realized the reason why
Not a bad story – great time-travel use! – but it’s a straight forward, you see what you get.
Be sure to check out my fellow time-travelers’ reviews!
Preston Leigh’s Leighgendarium
Timothy C. Ward
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To see a full list of The Time Traveler’s Almanac reviews and reading schedule, visit The Time Traveler’s Almanac Page
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See you next Thursday for Another Story or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin
I love reading what you and the other bloggers thought. It is interesting how we all see the story. I loved the story and it is by far my favorite. I liked the first story we read until the last two paragraphs. The story we read last week was just awful. I was starting to lose hope in this anthology but this story redeemed it for me.
These past two stories, me and you have been night and day XD We’ve only read 3 stores so far, and we both had the same opinions on the first story, but part of me kind of hopes we each stay near opposites end, because it’s great reading different takes on the story to see what did and didn’t make a story for some else
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It is interesting to see what other people get out of a story and why they like or dislike a story….or in my case hated last weeks.
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I love butterfly effect time travel stories! I got excited when you said there was a nice plot about love too (interesting relationships are always a big plus for me, especially in short stories when I need a main thread to really focus on) but then apparently it didn’t really go as you’d like. I briefly viewed the spoiler, but didn’t want to go too deeply into it in case I ever want to read this.
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Butterly effects are my favorites, too! If you take this story as it is, and don’t think outside of the box – into what would happened if the everyone in the world could time travel when they wanted to and that it only takes one bad seed to change history as we know it – then it is a good story. When I was reading, I didn’t mind it too much, because I was assuming those regulation issues would be addressed.
I guess, how it would be regulated and monitored ins’t relevant to the plot story, but if everyone, including people up to no good, could travel…. you see where I’m going.
But if you’re asking should you read it? Yeah. It’s a good story and worth the read.
I would have loved to see more character development, too, which was why I rated it down. The time travel questions I was left with, however, I was able to suspend. I know that sounds funny, but I liked the story so much, loved the ideas so much, that the inconsistencies didn’t bother me as much. I just enjoy how much people’s opinions differ on what really ticks them off. I can really get that from you, and I appreciate your feedback, which I think is valid.
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When I read it too, I was able to suspend it, and just see where the story took me – and I did enjoy the story. But when it was done, because the availability never got addressed, the whole world being able to do it, people only sometimes experiencing small phasing and they don’t complain about them – it didn’t seem practical or believable.
Reblogged this on hmjones66 and commented:
Another Reviewer’s insights~time travel thursday
What you mentioned in the spoiler section–I was suspecting that as well! Now THAT would’ve made a nice twist that could’ve possibly made me forget the confusing worldbuilding.
Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only one 😛
If that had been the case, I’m not sure that I would let the time-travel go, but it definitely wouldn’t have bother me as much because of the plot. But when it ending up being straight forward and completely predicable, there was nothing to hide those mistakes.
This has been such an interesting discussion. I wish I had more time to get into it on each of the blogs.
My interpretation on the ease of phasings was that they are illegal, but so inevitable that their society is in a state of chaos. That could also be why the wife didn’t fight as hard, because she just hoped that it wouldn’t lead to that, but if it did, and this goes to why she didn’t fight hard after it happened, because these things happen, and all you can do is move on since your memory and sorrow over changed events is only temporary. It’s been over a month since I read this, but I read it twice, and think he more or less resolved all of my problems. I don’t think that she wasn’t as much in love, I just think she was more resigned to the futility of their options: 1)she didn’t want him to kill him prematurely, 2)trying to investigate an illegal phasing would be like taking a “baseball bat to a spiderweb” and then once it was done with 3)she knew it would be too hard to figure out how to unravel what he’d done before her memory was gone, and maybe it was too sad to belabor the point verbally. What would I say in that instance? I don’t know, but what I do know is I was eyes deep in their emotional turmoil. Great story.
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I could easily see that it was illegal, but if that was case, why not mention it? When the narrator first mentions how small phasing are common, all Silverberg had to add was, “due to some illegal and unmonitored time-travelers, occasional small phasing are common”. That’s all he had to do; a few words. Not even a paragraph. And by doing that, then it would have explained a lot of holes both the with time-travel availability and the wife’s motivation.
I think this story was about love first, and time-travel second. While it was good love story, nothing stood out to me about it, and because of that, there was nothing to block me for seeing the holes in the time-travels.
It was one of those stories where I enjoyed it while reading it, but afterwards, I realized how much – or what I felt – what missing.
Almost forgot: I actually added that “baseball bat to a spiderweb” sentence to my Goodreads collection of quotes when I was reading 🙂
[…] giving you a warning now, I have nothing positive to say about this short story. Last weeks story (my review), I did have problems with it, but those were after the fact; while I was actually reading it, I […]
[…] know I was very frustrated with Needle in a Timestack before (my review) because of the failure to explain or take into account how the time travel and butterfly effects […]