Book Review: The Big Time by Fritz Leiber (Series, #1)
It’s the Time War, and the Spiders and Snakes are battling each other up and down the timeline in an attempt to give time the ultimate outcome they each are hoping for. Nobody knows precisely who the spiders and snakes are, but they briefly resurrect humans and ask them if they want to participate in the war. Those who say yes become the soldiers, nurses, and the Entertainers who provide rest and relaxation for the soldiers in the waystation. One waystation is about to hit a ton of trouble when a package shows up and a soldier starts talking mutiny.
I’m a fan of time-travel as a scifi trope, and I liked the concept of a time war, so when I saw this sitting on my virtual ARC pile, I figured it would be a quick, appealing read. The book is less about time-travel, and more a type of scifi game of Clue, with everyone trapped in a waystation instead of a house trying to figure out who turned off the machine that connects them to the galaxy, rather than solve a murder.
The book takes place entirely within the waystation. The waystation exists outside of time to give the time soldiers a place to recuperate without the pressures of time travel. All but one of the soldiers are men, and most of the Entertainers are women. The one female soldier is from ancient Greece, the clear idea being that her era of women are the only ones tough enough to be soldiers. This definitely dated the book and led to some eye-rolling on my part. On the plus side, the book is narrated by a woman, and she is definitely one of the brains of the bunch. There thus is enough forward-thinking that the sexist distribution of time soldiers doesn’t ruin the book; it’s just irritating.
The crux of the book is the soldiers wondering who, exactly, is telling them what to do up and down the timeline and worrying that they are ruining time, not to mention the planet Earth they once knew. The soldiers are told they’re on the side of the good guys, yet the good guys are insisting that Russia must be stopped at all costs, even if that means the Germans winning WWII. Thus, the soldiers are awkwardly paired up with Nazis in the fight. It’s interesting to force the Allies to attempt to see Germans in a different light. However, the whole idea that Russia (and Communism) will ruin the world is just a bit dated. It’s easy to get past, though, since the dilemma of how to know if who you are following is making the right choices is a timeless one.
The attempted mutineer ends up trying his mutiny because he falls in love with one of the Entertainers.
I decided they were the kind that love makes brave, which it doesn’t do to me. It just gives me two people to worry about. (loc 10353)
The attempted mutiny against the cause is thus kind of simultaneously blamed on love and on the woman behind the man starting the drama. It’s true that love makes people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I do wish the characters were more even-handed in dealing out the blame for the mutiny to both halves of the couple. On the plus side, it is left unclear if the mutiny is a good or bad idea, so whether the idealistic couple in love are right or not is up to the reader to decide.
The final bit of the book dives into theories about time-travel, time, and evolution. It’s a bit of a heady side-swipe after the romping, Clue-like plot but it also shows how much of an impact the events of the book have on the narrator. At the beginning, the narrator states it was a life-changing sequence of events, and the wrap-up deftly shows how it impacted her.
Overall, this is a thought-provoking whodunit mystery set in an R&R waystation in a time-travel war. Some aspects of the book did not age particularly well, such as the hysterical fear of Communism and the lack of women soldiers, but the heart of the book is timeless. How do you know if those in charge are right or wrong, does love make you see things more or less clearly, and does evolution feel frightening and random when it’s happening. Recommended to scifi fans with an interest in a scifi take on a Clue-like story.
3 out of 5 stars