Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Little Monster III

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation:

Poul Anderson, "The Little Monster" IN Anderson, Past Times (New York, 1984).

The title of this story is ironic. A time traveling Boy Scout thinks of Pithecanthropus as "'...those little monsters...'" (p. 161) and they think of him as "...little monster..." (p. 152). And both opinions have to be reconsidered.

The previous post introduced the twelve year old (American) Jerry Parker and the (Spanish) physicist and engineer, Antonio Viana. Now it can be revealed that Jerry is Antonio's nephew, visiting his uncle's time projection lab while on holiday. But how is Jerry accidentally projected into the Pliocene Period, about one and a half million years ago?

The technicians working on the projector had closed the main circuits but disconnected the fail-safe devices and had not told Antonio this. Meanwhile, Antonio let Jerry enter the projector and Jerry, neglecting to ask permission before touching anything, closed the door...

Jerry must endure thirty hours in the Pliocene. However, although "...horrified..." (p. 146) to see the door close, Antonio and the technicians are not obliged to wait thirty hours for Jerry's return because every return is to almost the moment of departure. Looking in through the window of the cylindrical steel projector, immediately after the door has closed, they might have seen a dead body or even bare bones but they in fact see Jerry still alive. Meanwhile, we have read about his thirty hours.

He is in "...1,500,000 B.C., give or take enough millennia that there was no possibility of sending him help." (p. 149)

Uncle Antonio had explained that arrival dates are so uncertain that "' two expeditions have landed even within thousands of years of each other.'" (p. 145)

So Jerry is right to think that no help can be sent but seems to forget that there would in any case be no time even to think of sending help. His body, alive or dead, will return immediately after its departure.

That figure of thousands of years between arrivals in the past is an estimate. The expeditions take astronomical instruments but the night sky changes considerably over time. The hero of Anderson's time travel novel, There Will Be Time, carries a small but elaborate instrument that scans star positions, even through an overcast, then tells him his exact date and time of arrival, thus sparing him wasted life-span casting about for his intended destination. But Jack Havig has complete freedom of movement in time, unlike Antonio's anthropologists.

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