Race and Time: THE YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN

EXTRA SPECIAL WARNING: SUPER DUPER SPOILERS!

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I like Wilson Tucker’s titles. THE LONG LOUD SILENCE is a grim post-apocalyptic story about plague victims quarantined in a ravaged America. It originally climaxed with the hero eating the heroine, but that bit didn’t make it to the published book. (Harlan Ellison’s A BOY AND HIS DOG came out over a decade later.) It was runner-up to Alfred Bester’s THE DEMOLISHED MAN for the first Hugo for Best Novel.

Tucker published twenty books and some short stories, but he never really made the big time like some other lesser writers. His biggest success was his award-winning novel of time travel and race war.

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Biblical scholar Brian Chaney takes part in a time travel project. The U.S. president insists the project go forward so Chaney can come back and tell him if he’s re-elected in 1980. Two military men go forward, but Chaney, who goes last, ends up arriving earlier in time than the other two. There he learns the president has won by using racial tensions, specifically in Chicago, which he has divided with a wall.

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Chaney and the other two go forward again. Cheney ends up in 1999, when America in the middle of a race war, a big topic in the early seventies. This was written in a time when political novels were written not about Democrat vs. Republican so much as about the actual issues parties fought about. You don’t have to think hard to figure out the positions of parties in Wilson’s imagined future, but Wilson goes beyond “Look at how bad Those Guys are!” Chaney goes into the future again and sees the further fallout from President Meek’s actions.

The major subplot involves Cheney’s love for Kathryn, the woman who recruited him to the project. It’s low-key and believable, and shows another angle on the time travel concept.

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YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN is not about action, not about spectacle. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and we learn about them gradually. The big reveal is hinted at early on but is blown by Michael Whelan’s cover for one of the reprintings. It’s as significant as the ending to Charles Willeford’s PICK UP, in its way, and makes you think about what you’ve been reading in a new way.

The tone of QUIET SUN is similar to that of the movie IDAHO TRANSFER, which you might not have seen, so I’ll have to write about that soon. Meanwhile, if you want a slow-paced novel of time travel and race, THE YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN is worth reading.

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