“Past, Present, and Future,” Nat Schachner, 1937

“Past, Present, and Future,” Nat Schachner, 1937 – Kleon, a Roman soldier in service of Alexander, is stranded in a Mayan village.  The Mayans mistake him for Quetzal and allow him to entomb himself.  In the tomb, a devices offers him a living death he prefers over having to live his life with barbarians who cannot appreciate the noumena, the metaphysical thought.  Sam Ward of 1937 stumbles upon his tomb and is also trapped in the preservative vapors. Together, they awaken eight (?) thousand years later to meet Tomson, a member of highly stratified “Hispan” society composed of worker, technician, and overlord castes.  Beltan, a “yellow-haired Olgarch,” finds them and teaches them to communicate using a knowledge-inducting machine.  However, because they are of different times, their thought processes are still quite different, even though they “know” the same words.

All of them meet with the Olgarch council, which attempts to justify their way of life to the strangers through the fact that society has always had its worker and technician castes, only that in the past they were allowed to starve or sent off to war.  Gano asks a worker, is this not the best of all possible worlds?  Beltan argues that the Olgarchs, who really aren’t needed, live meaningless lives as parasites.  Kleon argues that if philosophy fails, they can always pursue the glory of war against “the barbarian, the stranger.”  Gano explains that there is only one city left, Hispan; shortly after Sam’s time, nations became more obsessed with “boundaries”, self-sufficiency, nationalism—logical, if mad, tendencies. Each nation cut itself off from others; “the fires of localism, of hatred for aliens, of patriotic fervor” turned inward to internecine war, into smaller and smaller units. “New York for New Yorkers! Paris for Parisians!” Kleon understands evolution, cycles: Greece in the time of Pericles, he thinks.

Now, civilization is abandoned. Cities are in neutron shells, impenetrable; the “outside” has been destroyed by a cataclysm (meteor), full of poisonous gases.  Some of the walls of the city are inscribed; some are “blank-walled.” The workers have no knowledge of the sun, or that their destinies are circumscribed.  Sam thinks it’s logical up to a point, the result of “forces” already at work in his time.

Sam is considered subversive because he dislikes their “distribution of functions;” Sam calls it a brutal caste system, a hierarchic society “limited round,” where humans are soulless cogs “no matter how efficient.”  He prefers a bit of anarchy and seeks a way out. Kleon refuses to abandon Sam; they both refuse to be censored “slaves.”  Kleon is defiant, will not censor himself; his speech is not bounded.   Sam thinks him “a man.”   They want to fight, but Gano could destroy them with a slight pressure on a square (button) and no area in Hispan is safe from the “search screens” of the Olgarchs.  Sam thinks the “cataclysm” is propaganda to keep the castes from contact with others, other forms of civilization, other methods, that would provoke comparison. Kleon hatches a plan to escape through the pyramid, then through the volcano. Tomson wants to join them, to seek rawness and chaos and perhaps a soul, and because he is their friend. The three “products of different ages” regard each other. “Three men, of different civilizations, clad in different habits, united only in a common bond of escape, emerged into an incredible world!”

Comments: Asimov states that Schachner was aware of the growing threat of the Nazi’s and his stories were always on the side of the “democratic angels”; cites him as an influence for Foundation.  Read in Before the Golden Age, Volume 3.

Author: Wikipedia: “Nat Schachner (full name Nathaniel Schachner; January 16, 1895–1955), also appearing as “Nathan Schachner” and under other bylines, was an American author. His first published story was “The Tower of Evil,” written in collaboration with Arthur Leo Zagat and appearing in the Summer 1930 issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly. Schachner, who was trained as a lawyer and a chemist, achieved his greatest success writing biographies of early American historical figures, after about a decade of writing science fiction short stories. Schachner was one of Isaac Asimov’s favorite authors…In addition to his works of science fiction, he is the author of a number of non-genre historical novels and several biographies of early American political figures, most notably his two volume work on Thomas Jefferson.”


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926-1939, cities/architecture/habitats, mechanization, nationalism, primitive/civilized, progress/obsolescence, surveillance, time/history/causality, war/soldiers. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Past, Present, and Future,” Nat Schachner, 1937

  1. Pingback: “The City of Cosmic Rays,” Nat Schachner, 1939 | jennre

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