Light of Other Days

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"Light of Other Days"
Author Bob Shaw
Country United Kingdom
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Publication type Science fiction magazine
Publisher Condé Nast Publications
Publication date August 1966

"Light of Other Days" is a science fiction short story by Bob Shaw. It was originally published in August 1966 in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.[1] It was shortlisted for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1966, and was shortlisted for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1967.[1][2] The story uses the idea of "slow glass": glass through which light takes years to pass. Bob Shaw used this idea again in later stories.[1]

Story[edit]

The narrator is touring north-west Scotland with his wife Selina; their relationship is in trouble, and news of her pregnancy has made it worse. Their holiday, intended to improve the situation, has not been a success. Travelling through a remote area they find a place that sells panes of slow glass. This is glass that light takes a long time to pass through, even years, so that a pane of this glass shows a scene from the past. People buy slow glass that has been placed in picturesque scenery so that later they can enjoy the view in their homes or workplaces. The best quality slow glass is priced by its "thickness", corresponding to the number of years of scenic view contained within it. The narrator thinks that an extravagant idea like buying slow glass might set right his relationship with Selina.

Leaving the car, they walk along a path, where they see panes of slow glass facing a view of a loch. They meet Mr Hagan, who is sitting on a low wall in front of his stone farmhouse and looking towards the house. Inside, through the window, they see a young woman, presumably Mrs Hagan, and a small boy. Hagan fetches a rug from the house so that Selina can sit on a wall. The narrator, sensing that Mrs Hagan, looking towards them from inside, is not aware of them, wonders if she is blind; Selina remarks that her dress is out of fashion.

The narrator discusses with Hagan the price of his slow glass. Hagan says how fine the view is from there; as he talks, the narrator, still looking at the house, wonders if the small boy is blind as well. Eventually, although Selina is not impressed, the narrator decides to buy. While Hagan is fetching the glass, rain begins, so Selina goes to the house to return the rug. When the door is opened, the interior is seen to be disordered and squalid; Hagan is living alone. The family scene of wife and child was of years ago, seen through slow glass. As the couple leaves with their purchase, Hagan sorrowfully tells them his wife and child were killed in a road accident six years previously.

The narrator, walking with his wife back along the path, feels their relationship is somehow strengthened. He looks back at Hagan, who is sitting at his usual place, looking towards the house.

Reception[edit]

Calling the story a classic, Algis Budrys said that it "tends to make people weep".[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Light of Other Days". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  2. ^ "Bob Shaw". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  3. ^ Budrys, Algis (October 1968). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 164–171. 

Additional reading[edit]

  • Shaw, Bob (1970). "Light of Other Days". Nebula Award Stories 2. Panther Science Fiction.