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Bester, Alfred – “Time Is the Traitor” (1953)

06/18/2013

So there’s this guy John Strapp who is really good at Deciding (“note the capital D”) things, to the point that companies throughout the universe constantly hire him to make their decisions for him. The one rule is that anyone by the name of “Kruger” has to be kept away from him at all times. Of course, we get to see what happens when that rule is broken, which is that Strapp sees him, somehow knows he is named Kruger, shouts “You! You son of a bitch! You goddamned lousy murdering bastard! I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve waited ten years!” and shoots him.

To make a long, bad story short, it turns out that ten years prior, Strapp’s fiance was killed by a drunk driver named Kruger who promptly fled the planet and was never found. Unhinged by this, Strapp gained his Deciding powers, but also his penchant for killing Krugers – this is the 6th time it’s happened, after which his staff arranges payoffs, fake identities to take the fall, etc etc. Deciding is a lucrative business.

The really bad part: he has also spent the last decade sexually assaulting every woman he can find who bears a strong resemblance to his fiance – explained away as the idea that even if she was one in a million, in a universe of 1700 billion people, there must be an exact match somewhere. It isn’t even worth trying to figure out how that leads to a “rape compulsion,” trust me.

The backstory is supplied by an ex-boxer actor who has been hired by Strapp’s staff to pretend to be his friend and figure out what’s going on. In the course of this he becomes a real friend, though, and when the staff decide not to try to fix their boss’s psychological issues in favor of continuing to make huge sums of money off of him. This conflict set in motion, the boxer convinces a scientist to clone the fiance, conveniently downloads her memories from the “Centaurus Master Files,” and she wakes up without realizing it’s 11 years later. Strapp, that genius super-Decider, never thought to try any of this, apparently. Because of the time dilation, though, she doesn’t recognize Strapp and he doesn’t recognize her, so he leaves, presumably to continue ruining lives while enriching himself and his staff, and the boxer and ex-fiance fall in love.

I was no great fan of Bester’s “Oddy and Id” from 1950, and this is basically the same story of super-ego vs. id, only festering with misogyny this time.

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