Sunday, September 14, 2014

And time is the one thing we have plenty of.

I've been a little burnt-out on new sf the past month. Last week, I started pulling older anthologies off of the shelf and treating myself to older stories before bed. One of these anthologies is Aldiss's Galactic Empires Volume 1.

There's not much about Lafferty's "Been a Long, Long Time" on the surface that would mark it out as "galactic empire" material. Aldiss's choice is appropriate nonetheless as he uses the story at the beginning of his anthology to ease the reader into huge vistas and enormous unravelings of time.

From the first "sundering Dawn" and the accompanying war in heaven through the million billion cycles that follow, Lafferty's sly little short conveys the passing of time as something at once brief ("Quite a while after this" is used as a segue between the moment of creation and "one afternoon at a news-stand in Los Angeles") and mightily tremendous. 
( "Then it all collapsed.
  The stars went out, one by one, and billion by billion. Nightmares of falling! All the darkened orbs and oblates fell down into the void that was all bottom. There was nothing left but one tight pod in the void, and a few out of context things like Michael and his associates, and Boshel and his monkeys.
  Boshel had a moment of unease: he had become used to the appearance of the expanding universe. But he need not have been uneasy. It began all over again.
  A few billion centuries ticked by silently. Once more, the pod burst into a shower of sparks that traveled and grew. They acquired form and spin, and life appeared again on the spot specks thrown off from those sparks.
  This happened again and again."  )

The story is a dressed-up math joke, riffing on probabilities and monkeys typing with a little bit of angelology ribbing thrown in. It works perfectly and I could see it easily placing in a "probability" themed anthology (if someone hasn't done this, it should be done). If you'd asked me if it belonged in an anthology about "galactic empires," I'd've told you that you're nuts. But Aldiss is a genius anthologist for placing this as the first story in his anthology. "Been a Long, Long Time" relaxes readers into million billion cycles with a grin. Now, the grim lords of space and time can impose their wills on epochs and event horizons and we know not to take them all too seriously. Blasters and jet packs ready, I'm hankering to save a scantily clad galactic princess or two. Let the other monkeys worry about randomly reproducing high culture.


  1. Great. One of my very faves by Laff. I used to laugh and laugh at that ending. And thrill to the cosmic rhapsodies he seemed to so effortlessly fling out (such as your quoted excerpt on specks and sparks, pods and voids). 'Symposium' makes a nice sort of companion piece to this one, also presenting humorous abyssal cosmic theology and jokery, but its abyss of time is evoked through reference to cycles of robots and humans rising up and taking over from each other.

  2. "Been a Long Long Time" is a perfectly structured SF story. I often use this, coupled strangely enough with Gardner Dozois' "A Special Kind of Morning" to show non-SF readers just what SF is capable of. Oddly enough, I think this story is often overlooked. It looks so light and easy, the people don't cotton on to just how deep the story really is. I also see this as the cosmic comedy that does just one better than Italo Calvino's "Cosmicomics."

    Thank you for posting this!