My most treasured book is this little anthology of sci-fi stories assembled by Terry Carr in 1979 titled Beyond Reality.
I’ve had the book forever and it has survived many moves. Once at dinner, I sang its praises and loaned it to a writer friend, then worried about it for months until its return. Since then it has stayed on the top shelf, guarded by David and Jerusalem.
All eight stories within play with the concept of time. Time skipping, time paused, ahead of time, behind time, forwards, and backwards. My favorite story is the last, The Man Who Never Grew Young, by Frtitz Leiber, written in 1947. The concept is simple, a man is living in reverse time, day by day, and this is what he sees. But the execution of the idea, and the plain, matter-of-fact writing style, is captivating. Our hero watches people rise from their graves old and sick, get better, grow younger, return to jobs, vomit food onto plates, form it into raw vegetables and plant it in the ground where it becomes a seed they then collect. The man’s own wife grows younger until she returns to her mother and becomes an infant her mother sucks back inside herself. Eventually, cities and villages dissipate, people move in small herds and camp by the rivers, and our guy contemplates the day when there will be no other people. He wonders what will happen to him at that point and the story leaves us with that question.
Good, huh? I read this little masterpiece every year and it never ceases to capture my imagination.
Okay, I told you that so I could tell you this. For my whole writing career I’ve wanted to add to the sci-fi genre of man vs time. The idea I played with the most was a love affair between two people, with one of them living life backwards in time. His tomorrow is her yesterday or vice versa. Every time I started a new comic book series I considered the idea but the story logistics hurt my wee little brain. So, cut to 2017, Robyn and I are on a long plane flight returning from one european trip too many. We are tired and sick and all we want to do is go home, crawl under the covers and eat comfort food. I’m a limp rag of a person in my economy class seat, flipping through the movie options and I see the title: My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday
Wait, what? I click SELECT, see it’s a 2015 Japanese movie that is about exactly what the title says, like a Rumiko story. Yes please. Within a minute I’m watching my own idea, beautifully portrayed by two wonderful actors I’ve never seen before. You may think I’m upset to find my favorite idea has been done, but I’m actually so delighted to finally see it, and see it done so beautifully. Plus, I didn’t have to figure it out. Which is a relief because, remember, wee brain. So I’m watching the movie, completely engrossed and having one of those private happy experiences in the middle of a crowd doing other things.
But there is a problem… I didn’t find and start the movie until we were already over the U.S. I’m only halfway through the movie when the plane begins it’s initial descent into Houston. I’m only halfway through the movie. My poor wife is about to jump out of her skin from being on a plane all day, fidgeting and sighing, staring out the window. She tugs on my sleeve to see home out the window and I pretend like tht’s swell but I’m glued to my movie. When the double bell dings to indicate we’ve hit 10,000 feet, the flight crew begins repeatedly interrupting the movie with announcements. My patience is growing thin. Don’t these people know we have serious romance problems in Tokyo? When the captain interrupts to thank us for flying, I want to shout, “My God man, shut up and circle around ’til I tell you land!” The tree tops zip past the window and our wheels touch down as the couple’s relationship reaches the crucial midway and their roles are reversed. The boy is realizing where it’s all headed when the movie stops, the lights come on and Robyn practically runs me over to bail out of this nasty cigar tube we’ve been stuck in all day.
That was a few weeks ago. I still haven’t watched the last half of the movie. I can’t even find it. If my life were a movie, this is the part where I wander the city lost in thought while a pretty song plays. But I looked it up, of course and found a nice blog post or two about it. I will find it, of course, and finish watching it.
This story is not to be confused with the Jason Ayres story by the same name which is actually from a world building series of his titled The Time Bubble.
Anyway, I highly recommend my Japanese find. It’s sweet, clever, and thank God somebody finally told the story so we can all enjoy it.