The Time for Delusion
by Donald L. Franson
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Original Science Fiction, March 1958

April 2005

  

The phone rang, just when I was in the middle of classifying slides, steles, and rock strata, an occupation, believe me, requiring much concentration. It rang and rang. It didn't go away as I hoped — it kept on, ten, eleven, twelve times.

Dropping a precious diffraction grating, shattering it to bits, I stumbled over to the phone. I thought, Who could be calling at this hour? Who would be up at four in the morning but cops, drunks, night watchmen and mad college professors? ...

The voice sounded far away ... "Professor Potts?"

"Yes."

"This is Sacaj calling, from Venus. Don't be surprised."


  
Intellectual bait-and-switch

The lead-in above serves both Donald L. Franson's novelet "The Time for Delusion", and the story-within-the-story, a bit of intellectual bait-and-switch.

Potts, the alleged recipient of the telephone call from Venus, is the fictitious narrator of Denworth's gosh-wow revelatory book, Venus on the Phone. Why does Potts classify slides, steles, and rock strata all at the same time, with a diffraction grating in hand? Certainly this is an occupation requiring much concentration, especially in the middle of the night.

Well, this occupational misfocus is a clue that Venus on the Phone is a hoax. The caller's name is another clue: Sacaj is jackass backwards. This book will be a bait for the credulous. Denworth explains to a friend,

"What I'm trying to prove is that any kind of writer who says what he says is fact, fact, fact, sets the world on its ear. That's the magic word. Fact. If I said it was fiction, they would say it was too unbelievable."

Denworth's hope for his own hoax is not fame or money, but public enlightenment. His intent is to draw as many readers as possible into this sparkling-fresh superstition, and then demonstrate its falsity, its fictitiousness, even its ridiculousness. Venus on the Phone thus is a blow in the campaign of modern times for thoughtful investigation rather than easy credulity.
  

Science and free thought

Donald Franson has his narrator Denworth bring in some names from the history of ideas: Galileo particularly, a few others as diverse as Aristotle and Nostradamus and Charles Fort. Franson and Denworth are firmly on the side of science and free thought, of people thinking through the news and notions and fads and truths of the day — despite bright authority which gilds them, and noisy popularity which auroras them.

There are some fun bits here about the flying saucer interest which took off in the 1950s, and the Baseball Prophecy. These are illustrative of the main theme: fact versus popular credulity, or investigated claims versus falsified ones — however generally believed.
  

The signs of truth and soundness

Even the grand philosophy of Aristotle should not be taken as final Truth, and general consent should make us not complacent but wary:

For true consent is that which consists in the coincidence of free judgements after due examination. But far the greater number of those who have assented to the philosophy of Aristotle have addicted themselves thereto from prejudgement and upon the authority of others, so that it is a following and going along together rather than consent. ...

... widespread consent ... is in fact a strong presumption the other way. For the worst of all auguries is from consent in matters intellectual (divinity excepted, and politics where there is right of vote). For nothing pleases the many unless it strikes the imagination, or binds the understanding with the bands of common notions ...

... if the multitude assent and applaud men ought immediately to examine themselves as to what blunder or fault they may have committed. ... the signs of truth and soundness in the received systems and sciences are not good, whether they be drawn from their origin or from their fruits or from their progress or from the confessions of their founders or from general consent.

Francis Bacon
The Great Instauration  (1620)
Aphorism LXXVII

My uncle makes it clear that (in a small way like Francis Bacon), his hoaxer-for-science Denworth is not attacking misbelieving people, but trying to educate people against charlatanism:

"Something must be done to show [the hoaxers] up. I don't mean the people who honestly think they saw flying discs, or those who actually saw them for all I know, or those who believe in the general principle. I mean the ones who take advantage of that belief ..."

As the history of modern times illustrates, this is easier said than done.

  


  
"The Time for Delusion" is anthologized in —

Flying Saucers
edited by Isaac Asimov,
  Martin Harry Greenberg,
  & Charles G. Waugh
Fawcett, 1982; and
Ballantine, 1983

Cults:
An Anthology of Secret Societies,
Sects, and the Supernatural

edited by Charles G. Waugh
  & Martin H. Greenberg
Beaufort, 1983

Editor Waugh credits Donald Franson for Cults:
"Your story was the inspiration for this book."

© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson

 

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