The Big Time
1961 Ace Double Edition Cover
|Cover artist||Ed Emshwiller|
|Publisher||Ace Books (1961 book edition), Gregg Press (1976 first hardback edition)|
|1958 (as a serial), 1961 (as a novel)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The Big Time (1958) is a short science fiction novel by Fritz Leiber. It was awarded the Hugo Award during 1958. The Big Time is a story involving only a few characters, but with a vast, cosmic back story.
The storyline features members of one of two factions, both capable of time travel, engaged in a long-term war (referred to as the Change War within the story) with each other. Their method of battle involves changing the outcomes of events throughout history.
The two opposing groups are nicknamed the Spiders and the Snakes after their respective sponsors. The true forms or identities of the Spiders and the Snakes, how those nicknames were chosen, or whether they are in any way descriptive are all, likewise, unknown.
New soldiers, entertainers, and medical staff are recruited by existing Change War participants from various places and times: Cretan Amazons, Roman legionnaires, eight-tentacled Lunans (natives of Earth's moon before it was rendered uninhabitable through warfare 1 Ga ago), Hussars, Wehrmacht Landsers, Venusian satyrs (recruited from Venus 1 Ga in the future), American GIs, Space Commandos, and soldiers from the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Stalin may find themselves fighting side-by-side or on opposing sides. Likewise, medical staff and entertainers are inducted into the temporal war to provide medical treatment, rest, and relaxation for injured and weary combatants.
Within the context of the story, the Universe as we know it runs on the Little Time and the Change War combatants and their facilities (places such as Field Hospitals, Express Rooms, Recuperation Stations, and Entertainment Spots), located within artificially-created bubbles of spacetime outside of the Universe, run on the Big Time, described metaphorically by the narrator as a train traveling through the Little Time's countryside. Combat operations occur when Soldiers venture into a time and place in the Little Time on orders from their superiors. The action of the story occurs in a human-staffed Spider rest and relaxation base.
Adding to the atmosphere of cynicism about the war's aims and causes is the revelation that one of its effects was to change history and cause an Axis victory in World War II. However devastating to 20th Century humanity, doomed to live under the world-wide oppressive and genocidal rule of Nazi Germany, in the context of the overall Spider-Snake cosmic conflict, this change was incidental and of only marginal importance.
Algis Budrys praised The Big Time as evidence that Leiber was the only science fiction writer of his generation "who as a matter of course and conviction saw through the mores and circumstances which are now proving nonviable not only in commercial literature but in what we can call life as well." In 2012, it was selected for inclusion in the Library of America's two-volume compilation American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s.
Leiber's short story "Try and change the past", also from 1958, is set in the same universe. It features a New York man just recruited by the Snakes going AWOL and trying to change his personal past in which he was murdered by his wife, finding out that the universe resists all his efforts and "conserving reality" in various improbable ways, and finally not having any choice but going back to fight in the Time War.
During 1965, Poul Anderson developed the same basic theme, a time war fought between two powerful factions who confront each other throughout time and use people of past periods as their soldiers, in the novel "The Corridors of Time".
- "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1967, pp.190=91
- Dave Itzkoff (July 13, 2012). "Classic Sci-Fi Novels Get Futuristic Enhancements from Library of America". Arts Beat: The Culture at Large. The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
- The Big Time at Project Gutenberg (Digital transcription of serialized version)
- The Big Time as serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1958, parts one and two, at the Internet Archive
- The Big Time by Fritz Leiber, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)