Bewildering Stories discusses...
with Donald Schneider
Editor’s note: Donald Schneider is the author of “Pride’s Prison,” which is a time-travel story. It holds the all-time record at BwS for reader response. Nine years later, e-mail is still coming in to express gratitude for its sensitive portrayal of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome and practical suggestions for treatment.
In this discussion, Donald Schneider considers time travel and its place in the work of Isaac Asimov.
Thank you once again for your “interview” article regarding the immortal Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. I read the article once before, but that was some years ago; now it’s even better than I recalled.
I read the novel at age twelve and didn’t comprehend all the veiled social references, such as “liaisons.” When I asked my father what they were, he said the word meant “associates.” But I loved it for the same reason you apparently did: time travel! And, in my estimation, it’s the greatest piece of fiction ever written on the subject.
Your article in dialogue about The End of Eternity is most insightful, and you touch upon many considerations that had previously escaped my attention. As I read many more works by Asimov over the years, it struck me that this particular novel seemed somewhat uncharacteristic of him, though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.
The style seemed different, yet it didn’t. It contains his trademark masterful synthesis of page-turning mystery and science fiction. But there was something about it that just didn’t seem to square with the rest of the author’s canon. In some inexpressible way, it seemed disjointed.
I thought that Asimov seemed to have written the novel begrudgingly and with a more serious tenor than that which permeates the great body of his fiction. In a phrase, I’d guess I would say it lacks joy.
Your article goes a long way in clarifying many aspects of the book. For example, I never would have discerned any analogous factors between the Eternals and the Second Foundation: both are unaccountable ruling elites. Asimov was certainly no stranger to making political points within his literature.
I also appreciated your point about Asimov’s illuminating the concept of how power corrupts; how even people with the best of intentions come to lust after power for its own sake.
I also was entirely ignorant of Asimov’s humorous article “Thiotimoline.” I agree that time travel was not one of Asimov’s favorite topics. He was appalled when John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, used his real name in the byline by mistake, instead of a pen name.
What inspired you to write such a thorough review and analysis of this comparatively obscure Asimov work? Apparently someone else was sufficiently impressed to translate it into Spanish! Do you know who and why? Where was the Spanish translation published?
Thanks again, Don, for bringing this to my attention.
Thank you, Donald! I blush with modesty at your encomium. I hasten to admit, though, that the article may have a limited audience, namely the past generations that may be familiar with Asimov.
Why pay such attention to him, of all writers, a figure from the mid-20th century? Simple: reader interest. Asimov’s science fiction is set in a coherent universe; it’s easy to follow. And while he may seem a little quaint today, he genuinely likes his characters and enjoys his own stories. His optimism and congeniality are contagious.
As you say, The End of Eternity seems anomalous. It falls outside his Galactic Empire and Foundation novels. In fact, it might be titled “Operation False Start,” because it shows not what can go right but what can go very wrong. And it concludes paradoxically in the year 1932. The article explains the significance of the date.
Does the novel “lack joy”? I have to agree. It’s satirical, sometimes to the point of sarcasm, which is not Asimov’s natural mode. I suspect Asimov was royally pissed off at current events in the early 1950s. Today, I imagine he’d be fit to be tied.
I also think Asimov’s natural optimism and scientific professionalism made him profoundly suspicious of the very idea of time travel. As the article says, The End of Eternity takes the trope so far over the top that he seems to pull the plug on it once and for all as a literary device. And yet you’re right: the main point of the novel is its political and social critique, which was always uppermost in Asimov’s mind.
If I understand correctly, the article has been translated by Graciela Inés, a contributor to BwS, and published in Alfa Eridiani. But I’m not sure; I haven’t checked. I can read Spanish only by guess and by gosh, by trying to transpose it into French or Italian. That’s a lot better than nothing, but it doesn’t always work!
Thanks again, Donald, for your kind words and for the pleasure of reminiscence.
Copyright © 2015 by Donald Schneider
and Bewildering Stories