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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.

SF Author's Choice 2 1970

Editor(s): Harry Harrison
Publisher: Berkley Medallion (USA)
ISBN: 0-425-01837-7
Publication Date: 1970

SF Author's Choice 2 1970


Easy for the shore-based wordsmith, with his shelves of file copies ready to hand, with his cupboards stacked with carbons easily accessible after a chair to stand on has been pulled up. But when I received Mr Harrison's request for a contribution to this anthology I was over five hundred miles from home, with no file copies to look up, with no cc's but those of work in progress. I am inclined to think, now, that this was advantageous rather than otherwise. The question I asked myself was "Which is the most vivid in the memory?" "Late" was the answer.

Shortly after I had made this decision I was home once more, and discussed the choice of a story with the everloving. She said, "There's only one possible selection. 'Giant Killer.' That's easily your best story!" She's biased, of course, GK was the first science fiction she read, just as I was the first science fiction writer she was privileged to meet. (How soon the Sense of Wonder fades...) Even so, I am inclined to agree with her. Unluckily "Giant Killer" is too long for this book.

Still "Late" isn't all that bad, even though it dates like all hell. When it was written it did seem that Great Britain would be among the contenders in the Space Race. Only a few weeks prior to its being set down on paper I had enjoyed a long talk with a representative of one of the leading manufactures of diving suits and the like; he had been demonstrating a new type of breathing apparatus (for fire fighting) aboard my ship. Somehow the conversation had gotten around to spacesuits, and I was informed by him that his firm had an order in from the Ministry of supply for what the well-dressed man will wear in outer-space. Neither he nor I foresaw that national poverty would put Britain among the also-rans.

Rereading the story now, it seems strange to visualize those RAF types cavorting in orbit; those Wing Commanders, Squadron Leaders, and Flight Lieutenants are today more alien to me than are Commodore Grimes and the rest of the Rim Runner's somewhat offbeat personnel. But fourteen years ago I knew more about RAF officers (during the Second World War there was a certain amount of interservice mingling) than I knew about the here-and-now equivalent to Rim Runner's Masters and Mates. I had yet to experience the peculiar, Antipodean trades that, insofar as this planet is concerned, are running the Rim.

Anyhow, I like "Late." It's so delightfully morbid, and in it (I think) I succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of those Boxing-Days-before-the-End-of-the-World that are peculiar to England. (Boxing day is the day after Christmas, and derives its name from the custom of giving Christmas "boxes," or presents, to postmen, errand boys, and the like on that date.) It was written on such a Boxing Day, when I was slowly recovering from a surfeit of rich food and strong drink and taking a somewhat dim view of the English climate. It hadn't been a White Christmas. The cold was unpleasantly damp, and a greenish, yellowish fog was seeping through the drab streets of the outer suburb of London in which I then lived. The phrase - "the Boxing Day before the End of the World" - had come up in conversation, and quite suddenly I decided to write a story about the End of the World, an old fashioned (although not Christmassy) one at that. This I did in one sitting.

Was there any prevision involved? I'm inclined to think there might have been. The ensuing year saw a great upheaval on the personal level, and next Christmas I was on my way out to Australia to enter the employ of ... well, I'll call them the Rim Runners. A world-a very little world-had come to and end. (I'll not deny the new one was a marked improvement.)

Or possibly, the story could have been engendered by the fear that is at the back of the mind of every seafarer-the dread that some bastard will push the button while you are away from home, so that there ain't no home to come home to.

Does "Late" date all that much?

A Bertram Chandler