The Big Time (1961)
Winner of the 1958 Hugo Award for Best Novel or Novelette.
Another old Hugo winner that doesn't do anything for me. The background of this novelette has two mysterious, powerful parties, the Spiders and the Snakes, fighting the Change War across time. Both sides send agents into the past and maybe the future to alter events and thus influence the outcome of history. Sounds familiar? Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time already covered that territory two decades earlier. But where Williamson's novel was an action adventure, Leiber's story reads like a stage play. It is set in its entirety in the Place, a rest and recuperation facility outside of ordinary spacetime. There, battle-weary troopers recruited from all over history and beyond return in between commando operations. The first-person narration is by a young woman out of the first half of the 20th century who serves in the Place as an entertainer. The author has various characters enter, some tensions arise, doubts about the success and meaning of the ongoing war appear, unexpected events call for some detective work... but by the end nothing much has changed. The reader has gained a better understanding of the strange cosmos of the Change War, and at least the narrator seems to have found some better meaning to her existence, but the wheels just keep grinding on. Leiber's narrative technique doesn't work for me, the characters remain dull, the story is unsatisfying on all levels.
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