Thursday, February 6, 2020

Forgotten SF Collection: Now Then!, by John Brunner

As I've mentioned many times before, I quite enjoy early John Brunner. So, for this "Forgotten Books" outing, I thought I'd resurrect what I wrote about a fairly early Brunner collection of novellas. On the whole, it must be said, these are minor Brunner.

(Cover by Hector Garrido)
Now Then! is a John Brunner collection from 1965. It includes three unrelated novellas: "Some Lapse of Time" (24,000 words, from Science Fantasy #57, February 1963), "Imprint of Chaos" (17,500 words, from Science Fantasy #42, August 1960), and "Thou Good and Faithful" (19,000 words in this version, originally published as by John Loxsmith in Astounding, March 1953 -- the original version was a bit shorter at about 17,000 words).

"Some Lapse of Time" is a dour anti-Nuclear War story. A doctor discovers a dying tramp. The tramp turns out to have an unusual deficiency disease, and to be unidentifiable, and to speak an unknown language that might be related to English. The doctor begins to have terrible dreams as well. It turns out that the tramp has been sent back in time from a post-Holocaust world -- but will anyone believe this?

"Imprint of Chaos" is the first to be published of the "Traveler in Black" stories. I haven't read these stories, which appear to be rather popular. [I read them later.] This story involves the Traveler, who has many names, but one nature, traveling around his world giving people what they want. In this fashion he resists chaos. This story is somewhat episodic, but the bulk of it concerns an man who wanders into the Traveler's world from our world, and who is treated by the inhabitants of a certain city as a god (you see, they hadn't any gods, and they had decided they wanted one ...). I've got to say I found this pretty minor stuff -- I hope the other Traveler stories are better. [They are.]

"Thou Good and Faithful" was Brunner's first story for a major magazine, and for some reason he published it as by "John Loxsmith". Within a year it had been anthologized as by "K. Houston Brunner", the form of his name Brunner used most often in those days. For this collection, Brunner (as was his wont) revised the story, expanding it slightly from 17,000 to 19,000 words. It is a typical Brunner revision -- no change in plot, no added scenes, just a general reworking of the prose. The story concerns an exploring ship in a crowded galaxy that comes to a potentially perfect world. Beautiful climate, and no intelligent natives. But some robots are discovered -- who made them? Over time, the mystery is solved (well, not so much solved as the robots eventually just tell them what's up). The story is overlong -- it probably should have been about 10,000 words. It does have a fairly interesting theme concerning the ultimate destiny of intelligence.

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