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Brown, Fredric and Mack Reynolds – “Dark Interlude” (1951)

02/14/2013

A welcome narrative shift, shifting back and forth between the dialogue between a contemporary sheriff and man in the South after the climax of the story, and the 3rd person presentation of the events leading up to it, with the climax itself occurring off-stage, as it were.

Jan Obreen, a man from a post-scarcity, post-agriculture period 4000 years in the future, is sent back to the present day, but not before the scientist in charge of the procedure waves away any concerns the reader might have about time travel: “The paradox is immediately pointed out–suppose he should kill an ancestor or otherwise change history? I do not claim to be able to explain how this apparent paradox is overcome in time travel; all I know is that time travel is possible. Undoubtedly, better minds than mine will one day resolve the paradox, but until then we shall continue to utilize time travel, paradox or not.” Take that, nitpickers.

You will not be surprised to learn that this scientist also manages to express futuristic befuddlement at the mores of the 20th Century, telling Obreen that he would appear in the United States, “one of the ancient nations–as they were called–a political division of whose purpose we are not quite sure. One of the designs of your expedition will be to determine why the human race at that time split itself into scores of states, rather than having but one government.” Our period and Obreen’s, it seems, are separated by a “bad period of several hundred years–and most books and records had been lost.”

Arriving in a field in the American South, Obreen encounters a woman named Susan (“Her dress was of another age, for in his era the clothing of the feminine portion of the race was not designed to lure the male…. He had read that primitive women used colors, paints and pigments of various sorts, upon their faces–somehow or other, now that he witnessed it, he was not repelled.”) who takes him in, dubs him John O’Brien, and ends up marrying him. His trip, we find out, was one-way, and so he sets about preparing a time capsule to bury for 4000 years, even while making a new life for himself in the 1950s.

The other narrative, an interrogation scene between the Sheriff and Susan’s brother, is revealed to be taking place after Obreen has been killed by the brother-in-law. It ends the story with:

“He said that by his time–starting after the war of something-or-other, I forget its name–all the races had blended into one. That the whites and the yellows had mostly killed one another off and that Africa had dominated the world for a while, and then all the races had begun to blend into one by colonization and intermarriage and that by his time the process was complete. I just stared at him and asked him, ‘You mean you got nigger blood in you?’ and he said, just like it didn’t mean anything, ‘At least one-fourth.’”
“Well, boy, you did just what you had to do,” the sheriff told him earnestly, “no doubt about it.”

The idea of individual races melting away becomes a commonplace in later science fiction, but I think this is a rather early example of it, particularly given its explicit contrasting with the prevailing attitude of much of the country.

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From → Earth, Race, Time Travel

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