The Time Traveler’s Almanac: The Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein

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The Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein

Section: Experiments

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 Rating


The cause and effect of time

About the author:

Steve Bein is a philosopher, photographer, professor, translator, traveler, and award-winning author of genre-bending fiction. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. HIs Fated Blades novels have met wit critical acclaim. Being divides his time between Rochester, Minnesota, and Rochester, New York. This story was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 2011.

Second week in a row now, reading a simple story with fantastic writing and a deeper message. This was actually one of our longer stories in the anthology so far, coming in at 18 pages, yet, it did not feel so. There were no slow parts, no info dumps of science, no struggle to understand anything; reading this completely effortless.

Ernie Sisco has been driving cabs in Boston for some thirty years now. A frequent occurrence is that people will forget items in the backseat on the cab: everything from wallets and jackets to even a baby! One afternoon, he picks up a young and smart-looking guy with two briefcases who asks to be dropped off at Harvard. Ernie puts one of the suitcases in the trunk, but the guy insists the other is too valuable to put in the trunk and says he’ll hold on to it. When the cab arrives at the destination, the young guy is so awe-struck with the look of Harvard and the buildings, that he completely forgets about the case he brought in the backseat with him. When Ernie notices later that day, he puts it the trunk to bring to the guy tomorrow – except when he puts it in the trunk, the cover pops open. Inside, he notices a suit covered in coppers wires and it has some sort of clock device on the front. Once Ernie gets home, he tries the suit, sets the clock, and suddenly notices that he has the ability to stop time.

Ernie Sisco has the feel of a real and genuine person. He is an average, fifty something year-old. He is a Bostonian, acting and talking like one with use of the word “wicked”. He lives a basic and simple life, is content with his cab driving job – often going to work late, or parking somewhere and reading an autobiographical-esqu book all afternoon. His is usually low on cash because of little work, but he enjoys his life. However, his wife is not too keen on his lack of motivations and is living with her sister for the time being. When Ernie discovers the suit can stop time, well, he thinks he can have the best of both worlds.

Ernie and his relationship to the suit is the heart and meat of the story. After he finds the suit, the next part of the story is him experimenting to figure out what it does, and seeing how he can use to his advantage. This is where he figures he can still slack off a work, but use the suit to steal some money, so it’ll look like he is working hard to his wife. After a while, Ernie starts to figure there must be some catch, and this is the next part of the story where Ernie seeks out the young man from the cab at a bar, pretends to not be the cab driver, and starts to a conversation to try to get him to talk about his research. In this conversation, we learn how the “time-travel” works, the consequences of it, and why the young man is so distraught and needs it back so desperately.

Even though how the suit works isn’t explain until the last third of the story, me giving a basic explanation of it, won’t spoil the story. The important information to story is how the young man used the suit and why he needs it back; then the revelations that Ernie has from this talk.

Bein does an excellent job at explaining this suit. Because the story is from Ernie’s POV (3rd person), everything is summarized as an average, Joe would try to summarize it as. Basically, this suit runs on borrowed time. With the clock on it, you select a date and an amount of time. Whatever amount of time you select, is how long time will be frozen for you in the present. Awesome right? Except this is borrowed time. Meaning if you borrowed 10 minutes from 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, when clock hits 1, you would blink your eyes and it would b 1:11. Why? Because you took away those 10 minutes to use earlier. While it may have seemed like a blink of an eye to you, to everyone else, you have been frozen solid. Seems like it would be easy to work around, however there is one catch to all of this…

My only point of contention with this story, has to do with when the time was borrowed from and how that “one catch” could be avoided. (Which is in the “Spolierific Speculations” below, and contains a major spoiler to the plot.) Aside from my theory, there was nothing that bothered me from the story. Even that didn’t take points away though, because it couldn’t have prevent the major issue in the plot. My thing is more of an afterthought about how we could “fix” it.


Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)

⊗⊗⊗

I totally understand the borrowed time problem with Ernest, and how he screwed himself because of the radioactive decay discrepancy that causes you to lose more time that you borrow. However, who says you have to borrow time from your life time? If I can set to it to any time, why not just borrow time from year 4025? I won’t even be alive for then! Maybe the machine only works for dates that you are alive, but how would know when you are dead? To me, that an easy fix for the problem of borrowing time, and the extended freeze from it. If Ernest borrows from some thousands of years in the future, he’ll never lose time with his family.

⊗⊗⊗

If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!


As of right now, I think this may actually be my favorite story, too. How the suit works (which isn’t actually time-travel) is fascinating, and the possibilities and consequences really drive home a couple of messages – most importantly showing Ernie what the most important thing in the world is. I loved the character of Ernie (might be biast on that though) 😛 and Steven Bein’s writing is effortless to read. The story is long for a short-story, but I didn’t even realize how long I’d been reading until I finished.

Be sure to check out my fellow time-travelers’ reviews!

Alesha Escobar
H.M. Jones
Timothy C. Ward

4/5 Rating

-DJ


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Follow along on Twitter with #TimeTravelThursday

To see a full list of The Time Traveler’s Almanac reviews and reading schedule, visit The Time Traveler’s Almanac Page

Feel free to join in any join time! Just leave a comment down below 🙂

See you next Thursday for Himself in Anachron by Cordwainer Smith

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15 thoughts on “The Time Traveler’s Almanac: The Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein

  1. Tim Ward says:

    It’s getting deep enough into the anthology that it’s hard for me to think which is my favorite, but this one was very good. Clever idea for the time use. I can’t remember anything that would explain why that wouldn’t be the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. aleshaescobar says:

    Loved this one! I had the same question as well, but overall, the concept was great and Ernie is endearing.

    Like

  3. I really liked the third person explanation of the story, too, because it allowed me to be, like Ernie, a little confused. I related to him so much by then, our reactions were in sync. Really great story with wonderful characters. And he mentioned Alexie, my favorite author, so double win!

    Like

    • Having Ernie summaries the time-travel was crucial to the story: built even more a relationship to his character, and made it more of a light fun story, than if we had to sit through Ernest’s explanation.

      That must have such a cool surprise! 🙂

      Like

  4. Reblogged this on hmjones66 and commented:
    #timetravelthursday from DJ

    Like

  5. Sharry says:

    Cool sounding story! I like the idea of “borrowed time” as the consequence of time travel. The lost time has to come from somewhere…now you’ve made me curious about this one!

    Like

  6. Oh, Steve Bein, the author of the Novels of the Fated Blades series?! I’ve been meaning to read Daughter of the Sword for like, forever. Really cool that he has a story in this, and that it’s your favorite so far. I certainly noticed the higher rating compared to what you’ve given in your previous Time Travelers Almanac reviews.

    By the way, I’m boggling at the fact that at 18 pages it’s actually one of the longer stories. I don’t think I’d deal so well with an anthology like that. I’m reading one like this now where every single one of my comments after each story ends up being something along the lines of “too short, wish there was more to it, I would totally dig this more if this was a full length novel…” :\

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is an interesting point. What do you think, group, have these stories left you wishing they were full length novels? I hadn’t thought about this, but with the exception of the excerpt of The Time Machine and the one I’m reading now by Douglas Adams, I’d say all the stories feel fully accomplished in their short form. This one started at the perfect time, included all the necessary elements and left with the kind of feeling I want when it ended. And this coming from someone who prefers novels to anthologies. I’m surprised I’m still doing this, honestly. It helped though that I buckled down one Sunday last month and knocked out November’s stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So far, none of the stories have felt rushed or incomplete – like they needed more page time. And also, I haven’t felt like any would have better off as a novel or would make a great novel. I find that kind of surprising now that I think of it, but were are still early in the anthology. I’m sure by the end, I will find I story I want turned into a novel, or one that has felt. Or maybe this just shows how good a job Ann and Jeff did at picking out what short stories to include?

        Like

      • I could probably speculate the main reason why I feel this way. Thing is, I’m big on characters. Sure, sometimes I can just read for the story, but the experience is so much fuller and that much more satisfying when I feel I can relate to a narrator or protagonist. In that sense, it’s not surprising that a lot shorts feel lacking to me; for that connection, I really have to look to novels.

        It’s also definitely comes down to the selection of stories too, especially in an anthology. In the one I’m reading now, there are some stories that feel really “throwaway” and a few that don’t have real endings. It’s very frustrating and now I’m also understanding the reason for mediocre average rating (the anthology is Press Start to Play, in case anyone’s wondering!) I’m glad to hear you think Ann and Jeff have done a good job at choosing what to include, because I think the editor’s job is definitely key!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yep! This is him! I’d never head of him before this, but I definitely be interested in reading his series after this story!

      I think the average so far is about 10? A couple being under 5 and few 20+. I can understand it being too short – I, too, prefer reading novels – but the thing is, none of these stories have felt “shortened” or incomplete; their message and the story itself felt completely whole. I’m sure you could always use any of these stories as a bases for a novel, but none have left me thinking that would be better told as a novel.

      Like

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