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The Seeds of Time is a collection of 10 short stories by John Wyndham, author of such sci-fi classics as The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cookoos. In a short foreward he explains his reasons for writing the stories, as a ckind of cross-genre experiment, and his dismay that the science fiction genre in popular terms had become tied up almost exclusively to tales of intergalactic heroes. He also thanks various magazines who were willing to publish these stories which, at the time, were viewed as unsuitable for the mass market.
The stories themselves are varied and almost all interesting, with Wydnham's unique style and wry humour coming out in all of them to some degree. First off we have CHRONOCLASM, a kind of time-travel romance, followed by TIME TO REST is a tale of a lone earthman travelling across Mars in search of tranquillity following earth's sudden destruction. Then there is METEOR, an ironic tale of an advanced civilisation's journey to a new home, and SURVIVAL is her disturbing tale about a a shy young woman who ends up taking drastic measures to ensure her and her newborn's safety. PAWLEY'S PEEPHOLES shows what might happen if travel agents could send tourists on journeys across more than just geographical distances. OPPOSITE NUMBER examines what might happen if you meet yourself, only he's not you The most intriguing story of the whole lot is undoubtedly PILLAR TO POST, which starts of as a psychiatric assessment but turns out to be much, much more The oddly titled DUMB MARTIAN is not as might be expected from the title a humorous story, but instead an interesting take on the whole culture clash idea.
COMPASSION CIRCUIT shows what might happen if robots were given artificial compassion, and finally WILD FLOWER is probably the most experimental story here, something of an esoteric anti-science message. Overall my hardcover copy comes to 141 pages (ino comparison to 161 pages for Day of the Triffids in this same volume.)
The stories vary greatly in length, from a few pages to about 20. I'm not sure that I would class any other that <b>Pillar to Post</b> as actually outstanding. All are perfectly readable and some are good, but many suffer from being rather too predictable. This isn't Wyndham's fault, because I feel that at the time they were written many of the basic plot ideas would have been quite original and perhaps even adventurous. Today however most ideas of time travel, parallel universes, and suchlike are ingrained into our consciousness by Star Trek, Quantum Leap, etc. There was also that sinking feeling with about half of the stories that it ended just as it was beginning to get interesting (a difficult thing to avoid in short stories, I've always found.) There is a fairly extensive use of female protagonists (written rather differently to many of Wyndham's female characters in his novels) which varied things a little. Also he used a consistent model for the Martians in different stories. This did help to give a feeling of continuity even though the stories were completely unrelated. His love of poetry comes through in some of the stories, either by quotation of others' poems or by his own florid prose at times.
I liked the book overall because most of the stories were interesting and I like Wyndham's style of writing, but it really doesn't represent his best work. Recommended to John Wyndham fans or science fiction fans who don't mind something being a little out of the normal mould.
You're probably looking at second hand or in a compilation to get this nowadyas, unless you go to a specialist science fiction bookstore. Amazon's Marketplace has it from a penny!
Penguin ISBN 0-140-01385-7 First Published in 1956 this collection of ten short stories were written, in John Wyndham's own words, "over a fifteen year period" as "experiments in adapting the science-fiction motif to various styles of short story." In short, "they are experiments on the theme: I wonder what might happen if..."" So what are these stories? What follows is a brief description of each story that I hope gives you a flavour of their content without giving away the plot too much. I have entered John Wyndham's description of each story in brackets to give you a feel for the experimental nature of these works. He was, from the impression given in his introduction, clearly trying to break into what, I assume, must have been a lucrative market of American Science-Fiction magazines. Some people might like to skip the numbered paragraphs below as they do tend to give the game away. Below the short descriptions I give my opinions about the stories. 1 Chronoclasm (A romantic comedy) This story, which to me is closest to his style in such books as the Day of the Triffids, centres on the mysterious appearance of a woman in the life of the narrator. She is dressed strangely, clearly knows the hero and is distressed when it appears that he doesn't know her. What follows is a series of meeting with both the girl and a collection of other individuals clearly bent on preventing any further contact between the two. 2 Time to rest (Pastoral) What if Mars was inhabited by an indigenous race and what if an Earth space ship, with a large crew, were stranded on Mars with no hope of a return to Earth? 3 Meteor (Adventure) The earliest of the stories, this tale poses the question what would happen if an Alien race, intent on colonising Earth, forgot to check the relative scale of their intended target? Shades of the Hitch Hiker's Guide here, maybe. 4 Survival (Style of the Eng
lish short story in its heyday) Here we have another story about colonisation gone wrong, as we follow the twists and turns of a mother's efforts to protect and nurture the life of her child. 5 Pawley's Peepholes (satirical farce). What if someday in the not to distant future someone managed to make a time machine that could allow people to go back and see how their ancestors lived? How would the ancestors feel? Could they do anything about it? 6 Opposite Number (The light presentation of a somewhat complicated idea.) Here is a tale in which JW plays around with the idea of a multiverse, multiple realities, in which the lives of people take different courses. What effect might there be if people from one reality visited their "opposite number" in another reality. A chance to put things right perhaps? 7 Pillar to Post (Written to suit the American style). What if a bored, sterile and superior race found a way to transfer the essence of a person, through time and space, between two bodies? What if the person picked for transfer was a paraplegic in great pain? 8 Dumb Martian (Style of the English short story in its hey day) Here is a story written through the eyes of a murderous bully, who underestimates the quite demeanor of the Martian wife that he bought. 9 Compassion Circuit (Short Horror story) Robots [Androids in modern terms] are physically and mentally superior to their frail masters, so what is the only solution when humans get sick? 10 Wild Flower (In the form of the modern short story) a story told through the senses of an English teacher who is a technophobe, perhaps. JW tries to contrast her world with that of technology and show how each effects the other. Who will win? A latter day environmentalist's tale perhaps. As with any science-fiction the reader is obliged to suspend belief to one degree or another and with this collection of stories that suspension is even more necessary. Our "modern&quo
t; knowledge of such things as space flight, the nature of Mars as a habitat and the almost insurmountable technical problems with producing a time machine will make these tales seem naive. But that aside they are enjoyable and give the reader an interesting insight into the mind of John Wyndham and his view of the world. I don't know enough about his work to be able to place these works in context with his more famous novels, but there do seem to be trends concerning the effect of technology on peoples lives, colonisation and the interaction between species evident here that might have been experiments in some of the themes tackled by such books as Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Awakes and Day of the Triffids. The stories come over "dreadfully British" (although I suspect John Wyndham might have preferred to use the word "English") and some people might have trouble with the characterisation of most of the women in the stories. They have a tendency to be overcome emotionally with events, or be preoccupied with having tea at the correct time, or become obsessed with such things as "the other woman's" choice of drapes. But don't hold these old fashioned prejudices against him, the stories make a good read. I recommend The Seeds of Time as an easy read in the old style.
For the ten short stories collected here, John Wyndham turns his imagination to, among other sujects, body-snatching, time-travel and mind-travel, and the the tricky business of interplanetary colonization.