“Time in the Round,” Fritz Leiber, 1957 — A group of children loiter outside, trying to decide what to do. The youngest boy (nicknamed “The Butcher”) has a sadistic, “pre-civilization” streak. The Butcher tries to poke his dog in the eye, but the dog only wags its tail. He enjoys watching dogs fight, despite the fact that the dogs have been rendered both helpless/invulnerable (“uninj”). Lately, he’s been reading Huckleberry Finn; he longs to do what kids did in the past, including getting dirty. He boasts that he’s going to be World Director some day, and when he is, he’ll bring back warfare. The other children are older and they rattle explanations for his anti-social behavior. The Butcher is self-centered and ruthless because he’s young and ignorant, just as their civilization was at one point, before it gave up war and violence. Now they have “uninj’s,” death games, and fear houses to clear out emotions and to prepare for adult conditioning. They imply that The Butcher will grow out of his atavistic behavior after enough conditioning. The Butcher refuses to believe that growing up will change him; he’ll never be a sissy.
They decide to go to the Time Theater, the most popular form of entertainment. The Theater is an auditorium where citizens may participate in a virtual experience in which they watch violent scenes from history. The Butcher hopes the viewing will be of Hitler, Napoleon, or Tamburlaine. An adult overhears, smiles. The narrator notes that a lock of hair falls on The Butcher’s forehead and he suddenly bears a resemblance to the “grim little egomaniacs of the Dawn Era.” The children move to enter the theater, but children under five aren’t supposed to go inside, as it will destabilize the Time Bubble connection somehow, but The Butcher tricks his way inside. The viewing continues as normal until brutes from the past suddenly appear. When they attack the audience, only The Butcher has the viciousness required to even harm them. The Butcher sets his dogs on the brutes and, since the brutes are not “uninj” the dogs are able to maul them. A woman calls The Butcher a hero, and he basks in her praise. He’s lived out a forbidden fantasy in the midst of their more sanitized fantasizing. He tells his dog, Brute, that he came, saw, and conquered.
Comments: Read in The Third Galaxy Reader. Themes of will, violence and brutality, spectatorship (of future on past), civilized vs. primitive/barbarian, atavism, children, socialization, virtual reality, masculinity and gender, and film.
Author: Wikipedia: “Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. (December 24, 1910 – September 5, 1992) was an American writer (of German extraction) of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also a poet, actor in theatre and films, playwright, expert chess player and a champion fencer…With writers such as Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, Leiber can be regarded as one of the fathers of Sword and Sorcery fantasy. But he excelled in all fields of speculative fiction, writing award-winning work in horror, fantasy and science fiction…Leiber…was born December 24, 1910, in Chicago, Illinois, to the actors Fritz Leiber, Sr. and Virginia Leiber, and, for a time, he seemed inclined to follow in his parents’ footsteps (Theater and actors were prominently featured in his fiction). He spent 1928 touring with his parents’ Shakespeare company before studying philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he graduated with honors (1928–32).”