Monday, June 04, 2012

42. The 22nd Century by John Christopher

Huge find here!  I've been scouring bookstores in the Bay Area for the last couple of weeks and finally made it to The Other Change of Hobbit.  They have a nice used section and I discovered this pretty tattered paperback there.  I didn't even know it existed, but it is a real find, a collection of short sci-fi stories Christopher wrote for the magazines in the 50s and 60s.  It lists the names of all the publications that the stories originally appeared in, but none of the specific dates or issues, which is very frustrating. 

I am guessing that a lot of the stories in here are some of Christopher's earliest work. I know he was very prolific, writing in several genres under several names to make enough income for his young family. It makes sense that short stories to paying magazines would also be another opportunity for him.  These stories are all very much in the style and content of that period of science fiction (is it the Golden Age) and reminds a lot of the kinds of stories you hear in X Minus One old time radio series.  There are stories about space travel, humans interacting with alien species, future societies.  Some of the stories are short and clever, with the classic little twist at the end.  There are hints here and there of Christopher's dark, apocalyptic side but for the most part, the book feels very different than his science fiction novels. 

Interestingly, it is organized into 3 sections.  The first section, entitled "The Twenty-Second Century" is made up of 5 stories, all with the same protagonist, Max Larkin, a sort of super-manager in a future where the world economy is divided up into several major, competing corporations each responsible for one thing like Atomics or Communication..  These stories appeared in different magazines, but evidently to John Christopher, they were of a piece.  There is even a footnote referring to another story with this character that doesn't appear in this compilation.  The other two sections don't really seem to have too much uniting them together.

One of the stories that stood out for me (and spoiler coming here) takes place in the future, where scientists have finally figured out a way to see into the future, but you have to ask a very specific question and the response comes back in the form of a question.  They are working furiously to outpace the Russians and come up with the better weapon.  They figure if they can go into the future and find out the most powerful weapon, they will be able to take the lead once and for all. They perform their experiment, asking the question "In one hundred years time, what is the most powerful weapon?".  They get back a picture of a crossbow.  A little presaging of his own work, I would say!

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