“Taken for a Ride”

Since I mentioned in the previous post, I thought I’d put up a review on this story.

Raw Feed (1994): “Taken For a Ride”, Brian Stableford, Science Fiction Age, March 1994.

Taken for a Ride
Cover by John Berkey

An ambiguous, clever tale that owes much to Stableford’s academic knowledge of biology and extensive knowledge of sf because this is a story which plays with time paradoxes including the notion of going back in time to assassinate someone who is (or, at least in this story, may be) responsible for great evil.

The biological speculation uses the notion of the brain’s pons being short-circuited so dream memories are retained like regular memories. Motor signals are generated by dreams, and here the sf notion is that such a brain defect allows residents of the future to communicate with a person in the past.

Here, however, Stableford puts an intriguing spin on the notion by using the viewpoint of the intended target, one Jon Rutherford.

Rutherford is a clever, arrogant, unlikeable doctorate student in chemistry who likes drugs and computer virtual reality games and views the world itself as a game. He’s “taken for a ride” by a man who convincingly claims that Rutherford is going to commit great evil and must be killed. The man claims to be in telepathic contact with members of the future who make this claim based on the disquieting allegation that they’re not receiving messages from any future so something awful, caused by Rutherford, must have happened.

A clever discussion ensues as Rutherford tries to talk his away out of execution. He argues that the future may be predetermined, that maybe the denizens of the future are receiving no messages from their future because it is a “blissful, uncommunicative utopia” that doesn’t want to risk disturbing the foundations of time that it rests on, that maybe the communicators are trying to cause an evil by his death, that eliminating the communications will hurt the man. Rutherford’s would-be killer has been getting financial tips from the future, and the communications have probably been keeping his defective mind sane.

However, in the end, another time traveler, a woman, kills the man.

When Rutherford wants to know if she’s trying to cause the future evil by preserving him and if he’s really going to cause the deaths of millions (not that the prospect bothers him), she makes the ambiguous reply,

 . . . you and I are going to cause the deaths of millions of universes. That’s what making choices means.

It’s an intriguing and valid way to look at the issue and, indeed, life. Then she makes another vague statement about him being joining the rest “of us” full human beings soon. He wonders if a third gang of would-be timeline changers is going to show up.

The issue is moot when a car bomb in the woman’s auto kills him.

This story is sort of a civilian’s eye view of a time war where the motives and forces involved are unclear. It’s a novel treatment of an old sf notion.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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