The Big Time: A concept novella

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Fritz Leiber The Big Time audiobookThe Big Time by Fritz Leiber

Available free on Kindle.

The Place is a recuperation station outside of space and time where Spider soldiers in The Change War go for rest and relaxation between operations. This war has been going on between The Spiders and The Snakes since the beginning of time and Soldiers have been drafted (resurrected) into “The Big Time” from many points in history. From outside of time, they can plunge in at crucial moments and manipulate events to serve their cause, or they can change things ex post facto, which is why sometimes memory and history don’t quite match.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAll of the story happens in The Place, which is sort of like a cosmic Cheers except that it’s run by an Elizabethan bard instead of a washed-up baseball player. The soldiers and entertainers at The Place spend their time drinking, dancing, singing, and discussing world events (not surprisingly for a story written in 1958, concerns about Nazis, communism, and Marxism predominate). When a life-threatening crisis suddenly occurs in The Place, the cast begins arguing, fighting, and suspecting each other.

I love Fritz Leiber and I love his concept of soldiers outside of time influencing the outcome of world events. So I was expecting to love The Big Time, which won a Hugo Award. But I didn’t love it. The narrator, Suzanne Toren, is incredible — she very successfully handles male and female voices and the accents of Germany, Rome, ancient Crete, 16th c England, 19th c “Southern Steamboat” American, and 20th c Chicago. Unfortunately, the story is told from the perspective of Greta, a 1950s Chicago party girl. Ms Toren’s rendition is superb but by golly, 1950s Chicago party girl ain’t that pretty. (Brother, it gets lousy awful fast, man!)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBut my main issue is that almost all of The Big Time is dialogue and Greta’s internal soliloquy. I did enjoy wondering along with the characters about who The Spiders and The Snakes are, when “now” is, and how much more change their patched-up threadbare reality can take (the monologues on this topic were fascinating). But I was hoping to witness the Soldiers influencing real historical events. The few parts of the book where these events were described were anachronistically wonderful. (Did you know that they almost dropped a nuclear bomb on Crete in 1300 B.C.?)

The Big Time is a concept novella which reads more like a stage play (probably why it won a Hugo). Even though I loved the concept, I would have loved it more if I’d seen it in action. And even though the audio production was perfection, by golly, I don’t want to listen to another concept novel narrated by a 1950s Chicago party girl!

The Big Time — (1957) Publisher: Have you ever worried about your memory because it doesn’t seem to recall exactly the same past from one day to the next? Have you ever thought you might be changing because of forces beyond your control? Have you ever thought that the whole universe might be a crazy, mixed-up dream? If you have, then you’ve had hints of the Change War. It’s been going on for a billion years and it’ll last another billion or so. Up and down the timeline, the two sides — “Spiders” and “Snakes” — battle endlessly to change the future and the past. Our lives, our memories, are their battleground. And in the midst of the war is the Place, outside space and time, where Greta Forzane and the other Entertainers provide solace and R and R for tired time warriors.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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