List Page » Details & Review »

This novel takes its cue from Classical Literature, and, as a result, it is one of Science Fiction's rare masterpieces. The genre encourages a lot of description and lengthy explanations, but this novel takes place in one place, called The Place. It is located somewhere outside the cosmos of the Change War, which has turned Time into a constant, fluid battlefield stretching over billions of years in either direction. It is officially called a Recuperation Station where Entertainers—3 women and 3 men—amuse and humanize 3 Soldiers—one from Nero's Rome , another from the trenches of WWI, and Erich from Nazi Germany. That is the cast, barring the 2 Ghostgirls as wraith wallpaper who appear around the end of the second act.

For it definitely has the character of a soundstage, maybe because Leiber, like his father, did a 2-year stint as a Shakespearian actor then taught drama at Occidental College in LA before writing this novel. In fact, it was adapted and performed in Atlanta in 1981 and again in Salt Lake City in 1982. The Bard's influence is unmistakable. One character pontificates in Elizabethan twang, while another shambles around like the proverbial Jester. The Ghostgirls are pale allusions to Hamlet's Ghost in that they refer to both the future and the past as one. Asides? Well, the tale is narrated by one of its performers, and could be considered a single, long aside. At only 128 pages (Orb trade paperback, Tom Doherty Assoc., ISBN 0312890788, 2001 edition), it's feasible.

The action is minimal and character-driven, not plot-driven. That means even though it occurs during a phenomenal era of enturbulance—can you imagine any SF novel not enmeshing itself into the visceral delight of an all-out war throughout all of Time?—all exploits are brought about from internal frustrations or desires and not directed from the outside. This is important. It allows a deeper, almost profound humanity to appear. And, it grants the characters a voice for impassioned thoughts without feeling forced or trite.

Here are some examples:

 

All high existence is a mixture of horror and delight.

--Ibid, p.126

No part of reality is holy, that the cosmos itself may wink out like a flicked switch and God be not and nothing left but nothing.

--Ibid, p.56

All evolution looks like a war at first.

--Ibid, p.125

 

Finally, this novel is ripe for allegory. It is ambiguous enough that multiple readings can easily render different interpretations. So, as a closing savor:

 

“Maybe,” I told myself encouragingly, “the Place is Hell.”

--Ibid, p.83