Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“Crossing into the Empire” by Robert Silverberg
Card picked: Jack of Hearts (I feel like I’ve read a lot of hearts, but it’s really clubs that I’ve read the most of.)
From: Beyond Imagination, ed. by David Copperfield and Janet Berliner
Review: “Crossing into the Empire” is a time-travel story of sorts, and I have a complicated relationship with time-travel stories.
The premise: About twice a year, the Byzantine Empire shows up in Chicago. The details are a little vague. When a slice/cube of the Empire/Constantinople appears, I’m not sure whether that portion of Chicago is likewise displaced or sort of “overwritten.” I assume, since it doesn’t seem to be an issue, that when the Empire leaves, Chicago is fine. What time period of the Empire is also a bit random. Anywhere from the 4th century to the 1400s, but this story takes place in the mid- to late 1100s, during the reign of a semi-fictional Basil III. Since the comings and goings of the Empire is somewhat predictable and has become somewhat commonplace, antique dealers such as Mulreany cross over to do a little trade. Binoculars, compasses, and Coca-Cola are exchanged for gold and gem laden trinkets. Of course, the people of the Empire, though greedily willing to make a buck, are also weary of the “sorcery” that has been plaguing their city. And then, of course, there are the crossers that never come back, presumably stranded when the Empire leaves before they can return to Chicago. But maybe, another fate awaits them.
Story-wise, this is 95% set up and 5% twist ending. Which is…okay. It read easily enough, but every time Silverberg emphasized how routine crossings had become, how experienced Mulreany is, I absolutely knew that something bad was going to happen. And then there is the time-travel aspect. The world in 1150 was a very different place. It’s doubtful that even the most well-versed historian/anthropologist would be able to blend in. The germs are different, not having been subjected to the last 850 years of mutation. Let’s not even get into how giving ancient peoples technology could really hork up the future/present. And wouldn’t the influx of Byzantine artifacts crash the present day antiques market? Time-travel sets my system-loving teeth on edge. On the other hand, the concept of time-travel is so dang fun. Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows and time-travel tropes don’t bother me nearly as much when treated is such a whacky way.
About the Author: Prolific and lauded, Robert Silverberg has been writing in the SF genre since the mid-1950s. What I didn’t know is that Silverberg has also written dozens of non-fiction titles on numerous subjects under numerous pen names.