The Caltraps of Time


The Caltraps of Time I have just finished reading this. It’s science fiction but not the conventional sort. The stories within are more concerned with with the redefining of experiences and situations, with language and communication and the subtleties of meanings under the stresses of time dilation and time shifts, than with the standard themes and props of the genre…

David I. Masson flourished briefly at the end of the 1960s thanks to New Worlds magazine and ‘New Wave’ SF, which encouraged experimentation and a heightened awareness of literary techniques. It was a cultural progression within the genre that sought to broaden the horizons of readers and thus the next generation of writers, and although the general impact wasn’t quite as revolutionary as had been hoped, it did sufficiently change enough perspectives to make a full return to ordinary SF almost inconceivable.

There were many failures among the ‘New Wave’ experiments but in my view the successful work that emerged made the whole movement worthwhile. Masson was one of the best products of this shift, though hardly typical of it; and The Caltraps of Time, his only book, contains the entirety of his oeuvre: ten stories that are radical enough to earn him lasting respect as a highly original and significant intellectual writer.

The first story in this book is also the earliest, ‘Traveller’s Rest’, and it is really very remarkable, the sort of thing that Stanislaw Lem or Borges (if Borges had done SF) might have written. ‘Psychosmosis’, ‘Mouth of Hell’ and ‘Lost Ground’ are also superb. Masson is a bit like a cross between John Sladek and the Strugatsky Brothers with a touch of Ian Watson. For a small minority of SF writers the question “Is this possible?” is less important than “Is this logically rigorous even though it’s impossible?” And generally I prefer fiction that takes the latter approach to the former because it seems more conducive to greater imagination and invention.

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