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Past Imperfect
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff
DAW Books, 320 pages

Past Imperfect
Martin H. Greenberg
Martin H. Greenberg is the most prolific anthologist in publishing history. He has won the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction Editing and was Editor Guest of Honour at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

ISFDB Bibliography
Martin H. Greenberg anthologies - 1st of 4 pages

Larry Segriff
Larry Segriff is the editor of a number of anthologies and the author of The Four Magics and Spacer Dreams.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Far Frontiers
SF Site Review: Battle Magic

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Past Imperfect is a themed original anthology on the subject of time travel. The dozen stories included ring some mostly familiar changes on the time travel idea: variations of visiting yourself in the past and fixing things, of falling in love with someone in the past, of visiting the past to collect something valuable when it is still cheap, and of tangling past events into paradoxical knots that seem cleverly resolved to the reader even as the participants are confused. With only a couple of exceptions, these stories are executed competently, and read nicely enough, but for the most part they lack something -- some spark, some sense of real originality. So, while only a couple of stories here really failed, for me, none of the stories really thrilled me.

There is some solid work, however. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Blood Trail" features a policeman investigating a serial killer. The killer has been very clever, leaving no trace of his presence. But then the FBI shows up with a proposition -- they have developed a means of time travel: what if the policeman signs up to accompany one of their agents into the past, to witness the crime? Though he will be forbidden to intervene (lest he create a paradox), surely he will find enough evidence to lead him to his perp? It's a well-constructed story, and the tension of forcing the policeman to witness a crime without being able to stop it adds a level of internal struggle on which the real story turns. Another examination of the use of time travel for criminological purposes is Robin Wayne Bailey's clever "Doing Time," in which the inventor of time travel mistakenly travels too far into the future, to an empty Earth. He encounters another traveller, who turns out to be a felon, and he learns that his invention is being used for punishment -- instead of the death penalty, criminals are sent so far in the future that they will be out of reach of any society. Bailey's protagonist finds a camp with the bulk of the prisoners, and slowly learns some tricky and terrifying secrets which may reveal how the whole project started. The central twist is predictable, but still satisfying.

Perhaps the best of the stories which use time travel to allow a character to re-examine his past is Gary A. Braunbeck's "Palimpsest Day." Danny is a 40ish man, living with his sister in his parents' old house. He has never married, and he ekes out a modest living as the co-owner of a used book store. We soon learn that the reason his life is so circumscribed, so far short of his youthful dreams, is that his sister has Down's Syndrome, and his parents died fairly young, so he has cared for her most of his adult life. Then an old crush comes back to town -- interested in him, perhaps. And an opportunity seems to arise, to go back and correct his life. But at what cost? This is a quiet, affecting story, which nicely portrays a decent, ordinary man, and the way that an ordinary, circumscribed life can still be special. Diane Duane's "In the Company of Heroes" also portrays a 40ish man with an opportunity to return to his childhood and fix something. In this case, what needs fixing is his loss of a dream, symbolized by the theft of his comic books when he was young. He goes back and tries to recover them -- well, you can see where it's going, but Duane's interest is not in paradoxes or twists, but in the man's character.

The twistiest story in the book has a twisty title: "Convolution," by James Hogan. Hogan's hero is a crank scientist who is on the verge of perfecting a time machine, when suddenly his only copy of the design papers is stolen. But he figures out quickly that the only person who could have stolen his stuff is him -- travelling in time to recover it! Hogan neatly multiplies the twists until they make a neatly closed bundle -- it's fun following the convoluted plot.

This book delivers, on the whole, competent and enjoyable fiction, but nothing particularly memorable, and nothing really new in the way of time travel gimmicks or time travel philosophy. It's worth buying if you're looking to pass the time for a while and if you enjoy time travel stories, but not worth going out of your way for.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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