Dear Charles
by Murray Leinster

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Fantastic Story Magazine, May 1953

collected in —

Twists in Time
A Logic Named Joe
July 2006


"Dear Charles" is a surprising little story. Murray Leinster's legendary story-telling smoothness carries us easily into many a strange setting of science fiction or fantasy.

In "Dear Charles" we have Leinster setting up a time-travel puzzle: the past influencing the future, not merely through the everyday rumbling along of causality, but through time-travel into the future. This is kind of backwards when you recall the more standard science-fictional situation wherein the future anachronistically influences the past, as in Leinster's phone-call from next week in "Sam, This Is You".

My dear great- great- great- etc.- grandson Charles:

Your friend Hari Vans will discover this letter printed as a fiction story in an ancient, tattered book of still more ancient fiction stories in the rare-books stacks of the University Library. He will be astonished to find your correct address in a volume printed when neither you nor your address existed. So he will show this letter to you, and in this way I can write you a very important message. ...

I need to arrange, through you, to meet and woo (and of course to win, despite your unfilial objections) your great- great- etc.- grandmother. When this letter is delivered she will happen to be engaged to you, so I do not really count on your co-operation. ...

As claimed in the excerpt above, the story is not only mentioned within itself but is a causative factor, a twisty narrative trick not easy to bring off. Additionally, Leinster tells "Dear Charles" in epistolary or letter-form, which is rare; and entirely in the second person — this is what happens or happened to you — which is much rarer and more difficult; and further, it's a future-tense second person narrative — this is what will happen to you — which really is very odd indeed.

As you enjoy the story, or more likely after you've finished, do notice what an unusual challenge Leinster set himself in "Dear Charles", how smoothly he handles it, and what fun he clearly has making it happen. Dear reader, you may find yourself having fun thinking about it —


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

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