(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In introductory remarks, Fritz Leiber reveals a boyish glee in imagining characters from various periods engaged in battle. The book suggests that the importance is not in the battle; in fact, its conclusion emphasizes the relative meaninglessness of the war in which the characters are engaged. Rather, the novel hinges on the hypothetical meeting of people from vastly different cultures. Leiber implies a consanguinity among these time travelers, an affinity they share for one another that celebrates their essential human traits and denies the idea that they would be too different to be able to work together. This nascent political correctness is perhaps indicative of science fiction and fantasy’s tendency to forecast actual futures.

The concept of historical conflation is well established in the later Riverworld works (begun in 1971) by Philip José Farmer. The time travel narrative owes ancestry to H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). A complication in Leiber’s work involves the problem of changes made to the time line. Here Leiber indicates that The Big Time is largely unaffected, except that memories are altered, calling this “the law of conservation of reality.” This disturbance of memory bothers Bruce, a poet and analogically a stand-in for the author; he raises serious concerns about the implications of altering the past. Through other veteran characters’ dialogues, Leiber conceives of time as resistant to change and asserts...

(The entire section is 438 words.)