A Little Something for Us Tempunauts
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|"A Little Something for Us Tempunauts"|
|Author||Philip K. Dick|
|Published in||Final Stage (ISBN 0-14-004039-0)|
Time travelers from the United States, called tempunauts, are sent only a few days into the future rather than a century as was intended. In this near-future, they learn their return from the future was fatal to them.
Addison Doug, one of the tempunauts, believes that they are trapped with the rest of the Earth in a closed time loop, forever doomed to repeat the period between their starting their trip and their fatal return. Having found out the cause of their fatal return journey, they have to decide whether to change or not to change their return journey in order to get out of the loop. Or does the loop exist merely in Addison's head?
Dick said in his afterword for The Best of Philip K. Dick:
"In this story I felt a vast weariness over the space program, which had thrilled us so at the start — especially the first lunar landing — and then had been forgotten and virtually shutdown, a relic of history. I wondered, if time-travel became a "program" would it suffer the same fate? Or was there an even worse possibility latent in it, within the very nature of the paradoxes of time-travel?"
"The essence of the time-travel story is a confrontation of some sort, best of all by the person with himself. Really, this is the drama of much good fiction anyhow, except that in such a story as A Little Something For Us Tempunauts the moment in which the man meets himself face-to-face permits an alienation that could not occur in any other variety of writing... alienation and not understanding, as one might expect. Addison Doug-One rides alive on the casket containing the corpse of Addison Doug-Two and knows it, knows he is now two persons — he is split as in a physical schizophrenia. And his mind also is divided rather than united; he gains no insight from this event, neither of himself nor of that other Addison Doug who can no longer reason or problem-solve, but can only lie there inert and in darkness. This irony is just one of the enormous number of ironies possible in time-travel stories; naively, one would think that to travel into the future and return would lead to an increase in knowledge rather than to a loss of it. The three tempunauts go ahead in time, return, and are trapped, perhaps forever, by ironies and within ironies, the greatest one of which, I think, is their own bewilderment at their own actions. It is as if the increase in information brought about by such a technological achievement — information as to exactly what is going to happen — decreases true understanding. Perhaps Addison Doug knows too much.
In writing this story I felt a weary sadness of my own, and fell into the space (I should say time) that the characters are in, more so than usual. I felt a futility about futility — there is nothing more defeating than a strong awareness of defeat, and as I wrote I realized that what for us remains merely a psychological problem — over-awareness of the likelihood of failing and the lethal feedback from this — would for a time-traveler be instantly converted into an existential, physical horror-chamber. We, when we're depressed, are fortunately imprisoned within our heads; once time-travel becomes a reality, however, this self-defeating psychological attitude could spell doom on a scale beyond calculation. Here again, science fiction allows a writer to transfer what usually is an internal problem into an external environment; he projects it in the form of a society, a planet, with everyone stuck, so to speak, in what formerly was one unique brain. I don't blame some readers for resenting this, because the brains of some of us are unpleasant places to be in... but on the other hand, what a valuable tool this is for us: to grasp that we do not all really see the universe in the same way, or, in a sense, the same universe at all. Addison Doug's dismal world suddenly spreads out and becomes the world of many people. But unlike a person reading a story, who can and will finish it and abolish his inclusion in the author's world, the people in this story are stuck fast forever. This is a tyranny not yet possible so readily... but, when you consider the power of the coercive propaganda apparatus of the modern-day state (when it's the enemy state we call it "brainwashing") you might wonder if it isn't a question of degree. Our glorious leaders of right now cannot trap us in extensions of their heads merely by lugging some old VW motor parts around, but the alarm of the characters in this story as to what is befalling them might rightly be our own alarm in a lesser way.
Addison Doug expresses the desire "to see no more summers." We should all object; no one should drag us, however subtly or for whatever evidently benign reasons, into that view or that desire: we should individually and collectively yearn to see as many summers as we can, even in the imperfect world we are living in now."
- Dick, Philip K. (1987). The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol 5: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. United Kingdom: Orion Publishing Group. p. 392. ISBN 1-85798-948-1.
- Dick, Philip K. (1987). The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol 5: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. United Kingdom: Orion Publishing Group. pp. 392–393. ISBN 1-85798-948-1.