RogerBW's Blog

Tourmalin's Time Cheques, F. Anstey 08 March 2022

1891 fantasy (perhaps 1885). Tourmalin, bored on a long sea voyage, discovers the Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank, into which he can deposit his unwanted time, only to reclaim and spend it later.

But of course this is a story with a moral, and it's not that simple: when Tourmalin cashes his time cheques, he does indeed live the hours he banked, but not in the right order, so he's repeatedly dropped into situations in which everyone but him knows what's going on. Still, it's an enjoyable and apparently harmless escape from an advantageous but stifling marriage to a women who wants him to Improve Himself… until she finds out about it.

The publication date is unclear; Langford found evidence of it in 1885, but other sources say 1891. This matters, because we get The Chronic Argonauts (precursor to The Time Machine) and Bellamy's Looking Backward in 1888, and the Connecticut Yankee in 1889; but whatever the truth, this is one of the first recognisable stories of time travel as we now understand it, excepting marginal cases like Rip van Winkle. In particular it uses the conceit as something more than merely an excuse for visiting a different world where the actual adventure will happen; this is time travel into one's own past, that can't be casually replicated by a spacecraft or a shipwreck on a mysterious primitive island.

(Thanks to Adam Thornton for pointing out that Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) also contains the idea of banking one's spare time and drawing it out again later.)

But it's still fantasy more than SF, insofar as that distinction is meaningful, and comic fantasy at that; Tourmalin rationalises away his behaviour as entirely proper while everyone else is being unreasonable to him, and towards the end the tone shifts increasingly into hopeless farcical entanglements. The ending is pretty much "and it was all a dream" (after which Tourmalin has of course learned an Important Lesson). Yes, all right, untangling situations is harder to make interesting than tangling them; but nonetheless it feels like that evasion of responsibility that the same device signifies in fantasy for children.

In spite of that I'd recommend this if you're interested in the prototypes of SF or fiction of the period.

I was pointed at this by BigJackBrass. Freely available from Project Gutenberg.

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