Theme: Time Travel

The Skull published 1952

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories
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A man named Conger is sent two hundred years back in time to the 1960s to find and kill the mysterious Founder of the First Church, a subversive anti-science movement that preaches non-violence at odds with the present era’s ruling class that trusts a society governed by rationalism and the occasional war to clear out humankind’s weaker elements.

In order to identify the Founder and kill him before he is able to deliver the sermon that will lead to this new movement Conger is given the skull of the Founder which they obtain after raiding the First Church’s holy relics.

Once back in 1960’s Midwest America, it is fairly obvious that Conger himself is this Founder he is searching for. Because he arrives too late and is spotted by some townsfolk before traveling farther back in time to when the Founder is killed he gives the appearance of a resurrection which leads to the belief in the Founder’s divinity. Eventually, right before he is killed by a mob from the town that doesn’t trust outsiders, Conger realizes ‘wait a minute the teeth in this skull I’ve been carrying around are a dead ringer for my own.’

I get what Dick was going for here, although the 1960s setting makes it hard to believe Conger’s trite aphorism, spoken to the townspeople right before they take him down, would be enough to spark a global and long-lasting movement.

Cast of characters

  • Conger – sent back in time to find the Founder of the First Church
  • The Speaker – the council member who sends Conger back in time in search of the Founder
  • Mrs. Appleton – rents Conger a room in Cooper Creek
  • Ed Davies – store owner in Cooper Creek
  • Bill Willet, Lora Hunt – teenagers in Cooper Creek
  • Sheriff Duff – the sheriff of Cooper Creek

Stability published 1987

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories
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“Stability” is one of Dick’s oldest stories dating back to the late 1940s when he was still in high school, but it wasn’t published until it was included in a short story collection in 1987.

At some point in the future world leaders decide that mankind has reached the peak of its civilization, and so in order to prevent sliding backwards they enact a program of ‘stability’ where new inventions are prohibited. The resulting story based on this unrealistic premise is clunky, although I don’t expect too much out of these really early works.

An evil city trapped in a globe summons Robert Benton back in time through the use of some sort of time travel device (that the Council Members aren’t too happy about) in order for Benton to bring the globed city forward to present day where it hopes to be freed so it can take over the world.

Cast of characters

  • Robert Benton – our protagonist and only named character
  • the Controller and Council Members – in charge of controlling inventions and enforcing ‘stability’

Captive Market published 1955

The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories
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Mrs. Berthelson, owner of a small country store in Northern California, has the unique ability to travel through time. Her ‘captive market’ is a group of desperate survivors of a nuclear war in the not too distant future where Mrs. Berthelson travels once a week to sell her goods at whatever price she chooses.

The survivors plan to leave Earth for Venus on a rocket they have constructed, but Mrs. Berthelson, not wanting to give up such a lucrative gig, selects a future where their rocket crashes on takeoff trapping them on Earth as her perpetual customers.

Cast of characters

  • Edna Berthelson – owner of a small country store
  • Jackie – Mrs. Berthelson’s grandson
  • Tellman, Gladys, Barnes, Masterson, Flannery, Patricia, Crowley, Dobbs – survivors of a nuclear war in the future

Rautavaara’s Case published 1980

Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories
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This brief story is part of a recap in an intergalactic trial.

Three humans on a monitoring mission in the vicinity of the Proxima Centaurus System are killed during an accident. Because of the location, the so-called “Approximations” from Proxima intervene. Two of the humans are fully and totally dead, but the Approximations are able to regenerate the brain of the third human, a female named Rautavaara.

What happens next occurs in Rautavaara’s brain as time runs backwards to just before the disaster, and Rautavaara and her two companions are visited by Christ. The Approximations decide to conduct an experiment, and they alter Rautavaara’s hallucination so that the humans encounter the Approximation’s version of a savior instead of their own. This Proxima savior proceeds to eat the humans (noted as a reversal of the Christian sacrament when humans eat the flesh of the deity), and the horrified court then elects to shut down Rautavaara’s brain activity.

Cast of characters

  • Agneta Rautavaara, Travis, Elms – three humans killed during a mishap in space
  • “Approximations” – ET from the Proxima Centaurus System

A Little Something for Us Tempunauts published 1974

U.S. tempunaut Addison Doug shows up at his wife’s house, soon joined by fellow tempunauts Benz and Crayne, just after news comes in that their time capsule has imploded on reentry returning from a mission to travel one hundred years into the future. It’s understood that they are on some kind of ‘emergence time,’ but they may or may not also be stuck in a time loop. Signs point to Addison, the only person who suspects this, as the one who sabotaged their reentry in order to break them out of the loop for good.

Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories
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I won’t pretend to understand everything about this story (particularly how the Emergence Time Activity is supposed to work), but it’s a clever reimagining of the Cold War U.S.-Soviet space race.

Cast of characters

  • Addison Doug, Benz, Crayne – tempunauts in the U.S. time travel program
  • Merry Lou Hawkins – Addison’s wife
  • General Toad – in charge of the U.S. time travel program
  • Officer N. Gauki – a Soviet chrononaut. I love the detail of U.S. tempunauts vs. Soviet chrononauts.
  • Henry Cassidy, Everett Branton – TV newscasters covering the tempunauts’ funeral
  • Dr. Fein – physicist from the Time Extrusion Labs

Ubik published 1969

In Ubik Dick took one of his own tropes, a group of people trapped unknowingly in a simulated or false reality (used previously in Eye in the Sky and later in A Maze of Death) and created one of his most entertaining novels.

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In 1992 Glen Runciter’s anti-psionic prudence organization duels with Raymond Hollis’s group of telepaths and precogs. Runciter’s employees end up stuck in the simulated reality of half-life storage after Hollis lures them to the moon and attempts to kill them. The group is tormented by a powerful fifteen-year-old half-lifer, and Runciter, still alive on the outside, tries to help them as time inside half-life regresses into the past (similar to the drug-induced time travel in Now Wait for Last Year).

It sounds absurd in summary, but the book is stuffed with some of Dick’s funniest and best ideas while dealing with his prevalent theme of the nature of reality.

Cast of characters

  • Glen Runciter – owner of Runciter Associates, an anti-psi prudence organization
  • Ella Runciter – Glen’s twenty-year-old dead wife in half-life
  • Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang – owner of Beloved Brethren Moratorium.  Also the owner of Beloved Brethren Mortuary in “What the Dead Men Say”
  • Jory Miller – a dead fifteen-year-old boy in half-life cold-pac storage
  • Raymond Hollis – employs telepaths. Runciter’s opposition
  • G. G. Ashwood – one of Runciter’s telepaths
  • Joe Chip – Runciter’s electrical tester
  • Pat Conley– an anti-precog
  • Stanton Mick – reclusive speculator and financier
  • Zoe Wirt – Stanton Mick’s assistant
  • Tippy Jackson, Edie Dorn, Al Hammond, John Ild, Francesca Spanish, Tito Apostos, Don Denny, Sammy Mundo, Wendy Wright, Fred Zafsky – Runciter’s inertials who travel to Luna