Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, September 27, 2015

1957: The Third Level (Finney, Jack)

Of time-travel, popular love, and the NYC 9-to-5 (4/5)

Jack Finney was a science fiction and popular fiction writer whose works have been made into movies, TV series episodes, and a TV movie. His most notable works are The Body Snatchers (1955)—alien spaceborne spore progressively replace humans—Assault on a Queen (1959)—a robbery is pulled aboard a ship—, and Time and Again (1970)—a man time-travels to 1882 NYC via hypnosis... none of which I've read or seen.

Most stories in this collection follow Time and Again. Regarding time travel, there are two general themes: a strong pull of nostalgia (“The Third Level”, “I’m Scared”, and “Second Chance”) and a return to simple times (“Such Interesting Neighbors” and “Of Missing Persons”). Aside from the broad time-travel theme, there are also themes of popular love versus personal love (“Something in a Cloud” and “A Dash of Spring”) and the struggle of the NYC salaryman (“There Is a Time…” and “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”). The remaining three stories are whimsical more than literary.


The Third Level (short story, 1950) – 4/5
Charley is no stranger to Grand Central Station, yet he still finds long unfamiliar passages to some of New York’s destinations. His most unusual and unexpected adventure was finding the third level of train platforms after a walk down a dark and winding tunnel. Everything was old-fashioned and a newspaper read 1894, so he wanted a ticket to Galesburg, Illinois. His currency denied, Charley tells his psychologist of the plans and daydreams for his return. 6 pages

Such Interesting Neighbors (short story, 1951) – 4/5
The new neighbors look pretty swanky with their new clothes and new furniture, but they also seem out of place because the man fumbles with the change in money; regardless of their peculiarities, they say they’re American through and through. The man is a curiosity as he invents simple gadgets, accurately predicts news items, and has written a science fiction “story”: in the future, people hate living in fear and turn toward their cheap time-travel machines for escape. 20 pages

I’m Scared (short story, 1951) – 3/5
It’s 1955 and, while listening to his radio as he reads a books, one man realizes that the broadcast he had just heard was most likely from twenty years prior. He shares his odd story only to discover that other similarly odd stories of time displaced. Numbering in the tens then hundreds, each New York story features a person or item transported back in time without any reason. Being an old man with a subjective eye of the past, he thinks he knows the reason. 17 pages

Cousin Len’s Wonderful Adjective Cellar (short story, 1948) – 4/5
Cousin Len scours pawnshops for oddities and eventually comes across an adjective cellar. As a writer with a frustration for writing clearly for his personal nature magazine, he sees the device as some use. When he applies it to his verbose, over-the-top sentences, most adjectives and adverbs disappear, resulting in a very clean piece, which his readers love. When he empties and disposes of the adjectives, one accidental victim of the dust speaks eloquently. Next, the US Senate! 4 pages

Of Missing Persons (short story, 1955) – 4/5
Charley is discontent with the world and his menial job, droll life, and fear of modern times. A concerned man directs him to the Acme Travel Bureau where an agent will eventually discuss the Folder. The agent plies that it’s all a fanciful joke, but Charley is assured that it is, indeed, all real: instant transport across the stars to a bucolic planet where you can be yourself. He immediately accepts and it taken to a countryside barn. Inside, he and others await the trip, only him impatient. 20 pages

Something in a Cloud (short story, 1949) – 3/5
Fresh off the navy ship and entering Penn Station in New York, Charley has big eyes and a big dream for Annie Beasley, who was suggested to him by a fellow seaman. When he hears her voice over the phone, instant thoughts of Hollywood beauty fill the thought-cloud above his head; meanwhile, Annie too has Hollywood glamour in her thought-cloud. As their point of meeting, their warped thoughts of each other distract them from reality, for better or worse. 17 pages

There is a Tide… (short story, 1952) – 5/5
An assistant sales manager for a candy and cough syrup company despises his superior, Ted Haymes. The unnamed man has a heartless scheme to unseat Ted so that he can sit in the position of responsibility, yet he lacks the conviction to follow through with it. As he mulls this over in the high New York apartment, he sees a ghost at the window who also seems to contemplate something. Interested in the truth, the man tracks down the apartment’s history and finds a story of resentment. 21 pages

Behind the News (short story, 1952) – 3/5
Johnny is the heir and editor of a small town weekly newsletter in which he enjoys printing absurd and whimsical tales of the police chief. When he adds a special paperweight to the ink reservoir, something miraculous or highly coincidental happens: the police chief was actually bitten on his bottom by a Dalmatian, just like he had written. Further absurd stories, however, don’t occur, so he keeps them realistic and soon the world—for his town to his country—is changing. 18 pages

Quit Zoomin’ Those Hands Through the Air (short story, 1951) – 2/5
A young Calvary soldier us recruited during the Civil War by his major, also a Harvard professor. Their aim is to destroy the Confederate army through the use of fantastic futuristic weapons. As they time-travel to the Smithsonian in Washington, they pass a metallic tank in favor of the Kitty Hawk. Transporting it back to the past, the two test it out to much mirth and fright. Rather than bomb, they do reconnaissance with a jug of whiskey. 20 pages

A Dash of Spring (short story, 1957) – 5/5
Ralph Shultz and Louie Huppfelt both read the same love story from the same magazine and have the same thought about it: real life never matches fictional life. When the two have a chance encounter on the same bus, they both botch their respective roles in what could have been. Separately, they regret their actions of hastiness yet find another opportunity on the bus. It starts awkwardly but when they realize they have both read the story, they’re taken. 13 pages

Second Chance (short story, 1956) – 3/5
A boy tends to only one love in his life at a time, and this senior high school boy has a love for the classic Jordon Playboy car. Though it’s thirty years out of date by modern standards and battered and rusted, he devotes his time to restoring to it to its original luster. Without a care, a penny, or a girl, he takes to the abandoned road to feel the breeze, only to experience a literal trip to the past in which his car is seemingly stolen. Back in his time, his heart wanders aimlessly. 20 pages

Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets (short story, 1956) – 3/5
Tom once had a brilliant business idea for supermarkets and after months of research with painstaking notes, he’s ready to type up his findings for a serious career move. On the same night, his wife decides to go to see a double feature, but Tom decides to get his work done alone. As she shuts the door behind her, the key piece of paper blows out the window onto the ledge outside of his New York apartment. Stepping out of the window, he realizes he’s gone too far and can’t get back through the window. 21 pages

No comments:

Post a Comment