The Emigration Bureau has run into a small problem in their attempt to send humans to other solar systems. When traveling at nearly the speed of light the humans lose mass and shrink to only one inch tall. So far only convicts have ‘volunteered’ for these secret experimental trips in exchange for their freedom, even though the puzzle of how to restore mass to them once they arrive at their destination hasn’t yet been solved.
Edwin Fermeti and Aaron Tozzo who work at the Emigration Bureau have an unorthodox idea. They will go back in time and find out from one of the famous twentieth century pre-cogs how to deal with their re-entry problem.
These ‘pre-cogs’ turn out to be science fiction authors of the 1950s. Tozzo and coworker Craig Gilly travel back to 1954, kidnap author Poul Anderson from a San Francisco science fiction convention and bring him to the future hoping he can use his precog abilities to tell them how they can restore mass to the humans in space travel. Anderson initially escapes from them but gets recaptured and writes them a story which does include the formula they need. They can’t send him back to his time with knowledge of the future so first they wipe his memory.
They realize their error as soon as Anderson is gone. Because his memory was wiped he couldn’t write the story the future was based on, and the ripple effects from this change create an alternate reality where Tozzo, Gilly, Fermeti and the Emigration Bureau itself is transformed into something from a different story.
When Anderson returns to 1954 the only clue he has to his adventure is a piece of paper with notes scribbled on it which he doesn’t remember writing and which he hands over to be auctioned off at the end of the convention.
The inclusion of a boatload of Dick’s sci-fi contemporaries and the fish-out-of-water scenarios are both great. This is a very meta story. I’m only a wannabe scholar of mid-century sci-fi (I had to look up half the authors he mentioned), so I have a feeling a lot of it went over my head.
Cast of characters
- Aaron Tozzo, Craig Gilly – work for the Emigration Bureau
- Edwin Fermeti – Tozzo and Gilly’s superior
- Donald Nils, Pete Bailey – prisoners on a trip to the Proxima system
- Poul Anderson – Hugo and Nebula award-winning author who Tozzo and Gilly kidnap in 1954
- A.E. van Vogt, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Jack Williamson, Evelyn Page, Margaret St. Clair, Robert Bloch, Tony Boucher, Howard Browne – science fiction authors who have cameos at the convention