- A collection of 10 Short Stories
- This Masterworks edition published in 2020
- Weird tales from the pulp era
- 393 pages
Time is not what it used to be. All across the world, time is breaking apart, and realities begin to cross over. And this strangeness is only the beginning of the strangeness . . .
I have waited a long time to read this book. Having never really known all that much about Murray Leinster and his work, I ordered it online many months ago. That order happened to fall in the middle of Waterstones’ warehouse shipping issues, so it only turned up towards the end of the year. Since January is Vintage Science Fiction Month, I thought there could be no better time to read Sidewise in Time (which my brain frequently changes to Sideways in Time) than now. The big question in my mind: Was this worth a wait?
In a word: No. Tempting as it is to end the review there, I’ll go a little further into detail. The stories here go back as far as the 1920s, but come as current as the 1950s. This is slap bang in the middle of the Golden Age – that period dominated by pulp magazines. And these stories are pretty pulpy. Full of weird ideas like humanity being overrun by giant insects, or a skyscraper falling back in time. Naturally for an American author, there’s a focus on American attitudes and histories. These don’t bother me, but it’s clear that I am lacking in context for them. Much of the nation-defining Civil War, for example, is utterly lost on me. As, I expect, the feuding between Saxons and Danes would be lost on a US reader of British fiction.
Despite the long timespan of the collection, there’s very little change in how the stories are written. There’s a sensationalist bent to them, with frequent cliffhangers and larger-than-life characters (and bugs of equal proportion). The writing gets pretty lurid at times too, with some of the stories straying more into weird fiction than science fiction, though those two genres are ultimately drawing on the same roots. It really is everything you’d expect to find on those old magazine racks, with the only thing missing is the bare-midriffed women on the cover.
Sidewise in Time was an interesting trip back to the youthful heyday of science fiction, but I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed it. There are some fun ideas here, especially with a first contact story later in the collection, but it ultimately wasn’t for me. Still, if you can put up with the florid writing, you might well be entertained for a few hours.
More Golden Age Masterworks
Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke
Fury, by Henry Kuttner
Northwest of Earth, by C. L. Moore
Galactic Patrol, by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith
Deeper Dive: Collections As Author Samplers
I try not to judge an author by a single book. Everyone has their bad days, after all. But if I don’t enjoy the first book I read, I’m not likely to hunt down another. For this reason, I love picking up collections and anthologies of stories by authors I don’t know. Single author collections are a great way of getting a taste for an author’s work, in terms of both their prose and their thematic interests.
20th century authors tend to have more short fiction available than their contemporary counterparts, due largely to the publishing realities of the day. If you find a vintage author and you’re not sure about their work, I fully recommend choosing a short story collection as your starting point. You’ll still get a full book out of it, but you’ll also get a variety of stories and styles, and a better idea if the author is one you’ll enjoy.
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