Brunner serves up spoonfuls of sugar and silliness (4/5)
Though I’ve read twenty-three Brunner books, I can only recall one where he showed his light-hearted side: The Productions of Time (1967). With seven Brunner novels still unread on my shelves, I was hesitant to draw Timescoop rather than The Day of the Star Cities (1965), Stardroppers (1963) or even The Tides of Time (1984). I naturally have an inclination towards Brunner’s more emotive novels, but discovering new facets to Brunner is always a pleasure.
However, the tagline on the cover is misleading: “He summoned the monsters of the past to help him rule the world.” The monsters are actually a selection of one man’s relatives from the last thousand years and, rather than rule the world, he just wants to hold a family reunion for publicity. Even the rear cover synopsis mars the book’s actual plot.
Rear cover synopsis:
“Frietas [sic], master of a vast world-wide commercial empire, had commissioned his engineers to build him a device that could ransack the past.
All the riches of the ages would be his for the taking but riches alone were not what Freitas craved. He longed for supreme power—and from the Pandora’s box of the past he picked out the cunning men and women who could help him achieve absolute mastery over his rivals.
He had not counted on opposition but there was a major frightening flaw in his scheme—the power these human monsters from the centuries past would have over him—the reign of terror was about to begin.”
Harold Freitas had unwilling assumed control of his grandfather’s company after his untimely death in space accident. Now in control of one of only two major companies specializing in the lucrative trade of space freight, Harold funnels profits into a pet project: the Timescoop. With the proper coordinates, this machine can transport a copy of an original artifact such as a painting—da Vinci’s Mona Lisa—or a sculpture—Praxiteles’ Hermes. However, the artifacts are copies of the original and therefore in a like-new condition without the wear and tear, corrosion or aging. For their attempt, the copies are just that—reproductions.
If Harold could copy static piece of history, why not animated pieces of history? He realizes that this machine could make him lots of money from curious academics, but he needs to promote the abilities of this machine in a spectacular manner. Thinking of his competitor’s previous family reunion stunt, bringing together all the living Schatzenheims, Harold begins to masterminds his own thousand-year family reunion with the assistance SPARCI (Self-programming Automatic Rapid Computer and Integrator) and the genealogist Mr. Flannagan. Thinking that Harold was simply trying to trace his lineage with enthusiasm, Mr. Flannagan paints a rosy, inaccurate picture of the decency of Harold’s family reaching back all the way to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Harold ignores the inquisitive remarks of his friends and family, shrugging off their concerns and questions while he busily prepares his grand reunion after New Years on an inflatable platform suspended above the Grand Canyon. Eventually, nine individuals are selected and temporally transported to the year 2065 where they convalesce in a sedative sleep. Their diseases are cured and their lice destroyed prior to unleashing them under the eye of the public at large, but first their misaligned manners must be tamed and their modern English skills improved. Little did Harold realize that manners and language were the least of his worries because their quirky habits soon become the thorn in his side, the thorn which his friends and family had been warning him about.
(1) Sprung from the Battle of Hastings, Sieur Bohun de Freitas is a repugnant barbarian whose people skills are only worsened by his table manners.
(2) With a Crusader mindset, Sir Godwin de Freitas-Molyneux is a monomaniacal zealot on a warpath to destroy all Mohammedans.
(3) A celebrated composer and church choir leader, Reginald de Freitas, Earl of Winchelsea and Poitenne, actually cares nothing about music and favors the delights of young boys and married women.
(4) Edgar Freitas is a young man of 18 years of age with cherubic charm impressing the ladies yet his chivalry keeps his pants on.
(5) Least adaptable about being transported to the year 2066 is Reverend Ebenezar Freitas who considers all things of demonic possession, a quirk which traces back to the Salem witch trials where he executed his own wife and daughter while under the influence of mass hysteria.
(6) The rowdy cowboy named Buffalo Hank Freitas is a manipulating trader with Injuns, habitual gambler, and pornographic purveyor whose six-shooter rarely leaves his side.
(7) Joshua Freitas is, seemingly, a wealthy sugar trader and worthwhile gentleman in all regards, aside from his dark history of trading African slaves to the Caribbean; his reckless disregard for modern racial equality gets him killed by Harold’s assistant, Chester.
(8) The sympathetic spirit of Tabitha Freitas once housed Civil War soldiers in her country, but only because she’s a nymphomaniac, a habit which isn’t quenched when being transported 200 years in the future.
(9) Horatio Freitas seems harmless enough being an old politician, but his delusion of being sought after by assassins highlights his paranoia as he questions everything as if his life hangs by a worn thread.
Beyond the cahoots of the dinner party, Harold’s plight of familial reunion transfers to his assistant’s plight of being charged with the murder of Joshua Freitas. His assistant, Chester, is of African descent and simply cannot tolerate Joshua’s unreserved bigotry. Freitas rival, the Schatzenheims, actually carefully orchestrates the seeming act of rage and murder. Chester is arrested and brought to trial in order to be judged by the court’s coldly logical judicial computer. However, not every is cut in dry with this bizarre case of murder.
This book pretty much stands on its own; come for the humor and awkward situation, don’t expect anything earth shattering. Brunner pens a nice, tidy story with a foundation of ludicrousness and paradoxes. The inculpable Freitas is flabbergasted at the ghastliness of his ancestors and struggles to cope with their quirks on personal and social levels. The antics each express in public is cause for Freitas’ own embarrassment and soon becomes a source of humor for his rival Schatzenheim AND the reader. If the steady stream of familial clumsiness doesn’t strike your funny bone, then the dementedly straight-forward conclusion you can at least smirk at and give an appreciable nod to Brunner for his cleverness.
If a humor-fix is what you need and you’d like to probe the depths of Brunner’s unique talent, I suggest Timescoop, The Productions of Time, and his collection Time-Jump (1973), the last of which I haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet. By their titles alone, these three books are an obvious indicator that the theme of time can be explored in many varieties by Brunner’s endless intelligence, playfulness, and wit. The bonus for Timescoop is its brevity, which is short enough to read in one or two days.—very easy to swallow with its copious spoonfuls of sugar-coated jabs of humor.