tag: Time Travel

Orpheus with Clay Feet

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First published in Escapade 1964

“Orpheus with Clay Feet” is another meta time travel story along the lines of “Waterspider” which Dick wrote just before this one. 

Jesse Slade has an unfulfilling job helping people legally dodge the draft for the war in Proxima, so for some excitement he decides to take a vacation at Muse Enterprises. Through them he can be sent back in time to inspire a famous historical artist to create their seminal work. Slade’s first choice, to inspire Beethoven, has of course already been done, so he settles on a visit to the 1950s science fiction author Jack Dowland in order to inspire him to write his masterwork “The Father on the Wall.” 

Slade travels back to 1956 but has such a disastrous meeting with Dowland that when Slade returns to his own time he finds that not only did Dowland not end up writing “The Father on the Wall” but Slade actually turned Dowland off from writing much science fiction at all. 

In a metafictional twist the only story Dowland did write was a barely-read story called “Orpheus with Clay Feet” published under the pseudonym Philip K. Dick which is in effect the story we are reading. Based on Slade’s unprecedentedly bad performance the owner of Muse Enterprises has the idea to send him back in time to meet Hitler so Slade can uninspire him to not write Mein Kampf.

Cast of characters

  • Jesse Slade – travels back in time to ‘inspire’ Jack Dowland
  • Mr. Manville – owner of Muse Enterprises
  • Jack Dowland – fictional 1950s science fiction author and also the pseudonym this story was first published under IRL


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First published in If Jan 1964

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

Service Call

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First published in Science Fiction Stories July 1955

A repairman shows up at David Courtland’s apartment late one night to service his swibble. Courtland has no idea what a swibble is and sends the man away only to find out from a paper left behind that the man is from nine years in the future. He gathers a group of his coworkers to await the repairman’s return hoping to learn as much as possible about this futuristic swibble presumably so his business can attempt to build one. 

When the repairman returns Courtland leads him on and they eventually find out the swibble is some kind of quasi-organic, telepathic device that forces conformity on the society of the future, although it’s not clear who is really in control, the swibbles or the humans. When the repairman learns that Courtland doesn’t actually own a swibble and that he was sent back to the wrong time he disappears and almost immediately a swibble installation crew from the future knocks on Courtland’s door with a swibble for his apartment.

Cast of characters

  • David Courtland
  • Fay Courtland – Courtland’s wife
  • The unnamed swibble repairman
  • Pesbroke – Courtland’s boss
  • Jack Hurley, Parkinson, Anderson, MacDowell – the crew Courtland assembles to interrogate the repairman

Breakfast at Twilight

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First published in Amazing Jul 1954

In the moralizing ‘Breakfast at Twilight’ Tim McLean’s suburban home and entire family are transported overnight seven years into the future to find everything has been destroyed years ago during a war with the Soviets. Like everyone, Tim had ignored the obvious signs that a conflict with Russia was brewing. The family encounters the military, and they determine the concentrated energy from a robot operated missile must have caused some kind of time quake.

They take their chances that another missile attack that night will send them back, which it does. Their house is destroyed in the process and Tim blames a defective water heater rather than try to explain the time travel (and the need to do something about the geopolitical crises to prevent what will happen) to the nervous neighbors.

Cast of characters

  • Tim, Mary, Earl, Virginia and Judy McLean – the nuclear family
  • The military Captain
  • Political Commissioner Douglas

Jon’s World

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First published in Time to Come 1954

The robotic humanoid “claws” the United States built during their war with the Soviets in 2051 gave them the upper hand in battle, but soon the claws turned against the humans that created them, driving the majority of people off the planet to the safety of the Moon, before fighting and destroying themselves. 

Years later, League member Caleb Ryan and the businessman Kastner are selected to travel back in time to retrieve papers documenting the artificial brain that powers the claws from a scientist named Schonerman who invented it, so that the humans on Earth can use this knowledge to construct worker robots in the present day that can help rebuild the planet.

In the meantime Ryan’s son Jon is having visions of increasing intensity where he sees an entirely different peaceful reality untouched by war. Before leaving Ryan decides to have his son lobotomized, a rather extreme, albeit successful, “solution” to his son’s visions. 

Schonerman is accidentally killed when they go back in time, and since the claws had never been invented, when Ryan and Kastner return to their present time they find the peaceful world exactly as Jon had described it.

Dick wrote this just after “Second Variety”, his story about the robotic claws and the humans fighting them just after the war.

Cast of characters

  • Caleb Ryan – League member selected to travel back in time
  • Jon Ryan – Caleb Ryan’s son
  • Kastner – United Synthetic Industries Combine member who travels back in time
  • Walter Timmer – the medical director
  • Schonerman – scientist who developed the principles for the first artificial brain 

Psi-man, Heal My Child!

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imaginative Tales Nov 1955

A nuclear war between the Soviets and the United States wiped out U.S. cities decades ago, and by 2017 an entire generation has grown up in militarized underground communes. 

The few who have psionic powers live outside the communes and struggle with how to guide normal humans toward a working society when the humans don’t want their help. Jack repeatedly travels back in time and tries to warn the U.S. chief of staff of the armed forces about the outcome of the war, but he doesn’t have any luck preventing what will happen. The other psionics in present day are more concerned with how to sustain peace going forward. 

In the end the communes stop the free flow of civilians to the village where the psionics live. Anyone who leaves the shelter of the commune won’t be able to return, and only time will tell if the humans will accept the help of the psionics to rebuild civilization. 

Cast of characters

  • Ed and Barbara Garby – a couple with a sick child in the commune
  • Porter – a precog
  • Jack – a time traveler
  • Thelma – a healer
  • Doris – a parakineticist
  • Stephen – a telepath
  • General Earnest Butterford – chief of staff of the U.S. armed forces before the war