Book Review: Sidewise in Time

My parallel universe reading has taken me back into some classic science fiction, to read what I believe is the very first published example of a parallel universe story.  At least, that’s what the author’s introduction and Wikipedia say!  Sidewise in Time and Other Scientific Adventures by Murray Leinster was an excellent collection of shockingly prescient stories from the 1930s and 40s, leaving me wondering why I’ve never heard of this author before!

“Sidewise in Time” is a novella, so I’m counting it as a read for my challenge.  It features a collision between universes (I think—it’s technobabble), such that suddenly different patches of parallel universes are aligned.  So as you move geographically across land, you also pass into patches of other universes.  And just to make it even messier, nothing’s settled so the universes are still moving.  The story mostly follows one group of explorers moving through portions of Virginia and in and out of universes, with intermittent sections on other chaos happening elsewhere.

It’s a good story in its own right, but I was fascinated by how complete this idea of parallel universes was, here in its first incarnation.  Leinster has fully established the concept of different occurrences in the past spawning new universes, with subsequent different results in the present.

Even though he’s very clear that there is no actual time travel involved, it does still read much like time travel.  The different universes mostly seem to be a product of different nations (the Norse, the Chinese, the Romans) settling the New World and becoming the dominant culture there.  But none of them seem to have developed greatly since whatever would be their respective most famous eras, giving the distinct feeling of going back in time.  Not a perfect representation, perhaps, but it was, after all, a new concept!

“Proxima Centauri” is a grim but highly creative story featuring some truly bizarre plant-based aliens.  It also features a universal translator, some twenty years before Lt. Uhura was using one.  “De Profundis” offers another very strange alien…though I think it’s actually an Earth-born creatures in the very depths of the ocean.  Written from the “alien’s” point of view, its concept of the world is very different than what humans understand.

“A Logic Named Joe” is the wildest of all in terms of prescience.  Written in the 1940s, the plot revolves around Logics—devices found in every home, which answer questions, make phone calls, show videos, offer weather forecasts and access vast stores of knowledge residing in the Tank.  The plot revolves around a Logic becoming too smart, messing with the system, and enabling the Logics to provide too much information, including telling you private details about your neighbors.  It’s essentially a story about personal computers, and the crisis of the plot is the introduction of social media!

“The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator” is the comedic one in the collection, a sci fi twist on the old fairy tale of a multiplying spell.  It also features a kangaroo named Arthur, and is all around great fun.

“The Power,” on the other hand, is a mystical twist on an alien encounter, purportedly the account of a medieval alchemist who believes he has conjured a devil to learn his magical secrets…while a modern reader will swiftly discern an alien with advanced technology.

My attempts to look for other reviews or even a copy to purchase on Amazon, for my links at the bottom, indicate that no one else has heard of this book either…or at least, it’s obscure on the internet, and rare and expensive on Amazon.  I got lucky with a library copy!  I don’t know why Murray Leinster isn’t better known and more readily available, but I think I’m going to explore his writing further (if I can find it!)  In a collection of highly divergent stories, they were all enjoyable.  They were a dated in some ways socially, but they were amazingly psychic scientifically.  That, or Leinster was a time traveler!

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