Great Hugo Readthrough 1958: Fritz Lieber’s The Big Time

First Readthrough/ Reread: First readthrough.
Acquired: Library

Other Nominees: This is the last year with no records of other nominees.

Background: Serialized in Galaxy Magazine in two parts.

Synopsis: There is a “Change War” being fought between the Spiders and the Snakes- unknowable alien intelligences manipulating humanity and other intelligent species in a war fought across the timeline. Soldiers, medics, and entertainers are housed between battles in various parts of history (Nazi Germany, WW1, the Siege of Troy, etc.) in bubbles outside spacetime containing housing facilities, etc. One group, containing several aliens, a Nazi, a flapper, a turn of the century English poet, a Roman Legionnaire, and several others, has their bubble “inverted”, or pushed even farther beyond normal spacetime, so that they can’t escape, and no one else can get in. With rebellious sentiments high and a nuclear bomb that had been meant for delivery in a battle ticking down, the characters have to figure out who inverted them and where the device is hidden.

Verdict: This is a tough one. When I first started reading it, I hated it. It genuinely has a terrible opening act, which does contain clues, but the only reason I kept going was due to this Readthrough. It got better later on, and the mystery did get fairly interesting. Short book, as well. The protagonist was a woman, and the book passed the Bechdel test, but I’m still pretty uneasy regarding gender roles in this book. The soldiers are all men, the doctor is a man, the entertainers are women, and they preserve semi-real copies of historical women for the men to have sex with. I’ve seen worse from the time period, though. The plot itself is a locked room mystery: all the action takes place inside that single bubble of spacetime. I’m not a fan of the genre, to be honest. I much prefer other schools of mysteries, but locked room mysteries are still better than little old lady detective mysteries, and this one is done very well. Overall, though, it’s pretty meh. There are much better SF/F mystery novels, even much better time travel war novels. It’s better than They’d Rather Be Right, at least, but I feel like there must have been something better published in 1958.

<1956: Robert Heinlein's Double Star
1959: James Blish’s A Case of Conscience>