The Eternal Now
by Murray Leinster
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fall 1944

reprinted / collected in —

Fantastic Story Magazine, January 1953
The Second Murray Leinster Megapack
May 2013

  

Murray Leinster's half-century of writing science fiction spanned a number of the short developmental eras of the field, and his thinking proved surprisingly subtle and adaptable. "The Eternal Now" is a short novelet which reads as though it were plotted and perhaps drafted a dozen or more years before its 1944 publication — that is, before the revolution in attitude and technique begun in field-leader Astounding Stories in 1933 by F. Orlin Tremaine and especially by John W. Campbell from 1938 onwards. Thrilling Wonder's editor Oscar J. Friend perhaps sensed this when on his Contents page he calls Leinster's story a "Complete Scientifiction Novel", exaggerating its size but more revealingly using a descriptive term coined by Hugo Gernsback in the 1920s and associated with his era. So "The Eternal Now" is somewhat stilted, sharing little of either Leinster's slick-magazine smoothness and easy characterization, nor his relaxed comfortableness with science-fiction themes.

What, then, are its virtues? Fundamental to Leinster's own character are the can-do American inventiveness, persistence, and optimism. Another element, almost a luxury in comparison, is the delight of the fictioneer who also is a self-taught and successful inventor: Leinster playing with scientific ideas, stretching them into new shapes. Specifically, Leinster brings out the "obverse" of a concept of Albert Einstein's:

Einstein has postulated that there is an inherent relationship of mass and time-rate, so that if a material object — such as a space-ship — went at only slightly less than the speed of light, its mass would be almost infinite and it would move out of normal time. What seemed a second to the space-navigators might seem a century or a millennium to the rest of the universe. ...

His hero goes on to say:

"I found a way to make a mass almost nil ... I found it implied a time-rate which was almost infinite! The obverse of Einstein's formula. If one made a space-ship — or a man — have almost zero mass, instead of one second to him or them meaning centuries or aeons of normal time ... an aeon of his time would pass in a second of normal experience. That's what's happened to us. We're living perhaps a hundred million times as fast as normal. We could live here all our lives, and die of old age — and a clock in normal time wouldn't have clicked off a single second."

The hero has invented a mass-nullifier. As the story opens, a replica of the device is about to be deployed by the villain, and the adventure is under way. The odd but plausible spacetime environment in which we find ourselves incorporates some ingenious subtleties. Leinster's spacetime in "The Eternal Now" casts long shadows in science fiction: Clifford D. Simak's displaced spacetime in Time Is the Simplest Thing (serialized in Analog as The Fisherman) of 1961 is just one contra-vivid example.
  

A thought-provoking story for those interested in the philosophical physics of space and time. There is a loosely-connected sequel, "Things Pass By", which develops some of these ideas in unexpected directions.

  

  
© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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