The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The action and philosophical implications of the novel evolve from extrapolating the consequences of potent new technologies connected with applications of so-called “slow glass,” which emits light with delay. Alban Garrod invents Thermgard, a type of glass to be used in windshields of cars and aircraft. Vehicles with the new windshields soon become involved in a series of accidents. Garrod discovers that the glass accumulates light and that drivers and pilots had been reacting to events from the past, causing their accidents. He soon finds a way to make the glass encompass more of the past, displaying scenes that occurred years, rather than seconds, previously.

His new glass, called Retardite, has innumerable applications over a wide range of human activities. An industry of “scenedows farms” develops in which pleasing window scenes are recorded in Retardite panels, which are then sold to be used as windows in houses that do not have pleasant views of their own. Retardite panels full of stored daylight make streetlamps obsolete. “Scenedows” become the most objective witnesses to crimes committed in front of them, the only setback being the necessity of waiting until the panel gives away the information held in its depths. The government secretly sprays wide spans of the terrain with tiny beads of Retardite as a means of spying.

Garrod triggers a powerful emission of stored light that blinds his wife Esther as he tries to extrude...

(The entire section is 412 words.)