“Vintage Season” – what if the terrible time we are living in right now was judged by history to have been the best of all possible times?
“Three people came up the walk to the old mansion just at dawn on a perfect May morning. Oliver Wilson in his pajamas watched them from an upper window through a haze of conflicting emotions, resentment predominant. He didn’t want them there. They were foreigners.”
Thus begins one of my favourite classic science fiction stories, Vintage Season, published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946.
It all feels a bit 2020s.
What is “Vintage Season” about?
Vintage Season is about a man living in the present who meets a curiously prosperous and perfect-seeming group of people who turn out to be from the future. They play him a kind of music – a work of art which transcended all art forms – with imagery of historic disasters.
The first twist is that the time travellers have come to this time to witness such a disaster – the landing of a meteorite nearby. The second twist (no spoilers) is that they are travelling through time to witness key moments of history – “vintage seasons” – of which the time in which Oliver Wilson is living turns out to be one. Most of the party of time-travellers later depart to witness the coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800.
As the mysterious and beautiful Kleph says to Oliver, ‘there never was a May like it in civilized times.’
Oliver cannot understand how the time in which he is living is special – it seems to him the worst of all possible times. But it turns out that a whole new historic era is about to begin. Moreover, Oliver himself is a part of that future; of the music he has heard earlier; and of the reason why the travellers have returned to precisely this moment in time.
Why read “Vintage Season”?
Read the story for two reasons:
(i) it’s an elegant, profound and moving tale;
(ii) the message that right now may be better – or worse – than we think is one we should all bear in mind while deciding how to live our lives;
(iii) it’s a rare sci-fi story penned – at least in part, and possibly in its entirety – by a woman. Although published under the pseudonym “Lawrence O’Donnell”, it was actually written jointly by US authors Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Some people suggest she wrote most or all of it.
What to do next
I’ve blogged on these themes before. You may like:
- Tuchman’s Law (or “Always look on the bright side?”): 9/10 – how the brilliant historian Barbara Tuchman invented a playful “law” to put whatever you think is wrong with the world in context;
- Things are getting better. Not worse – why the media are programmed to report more bad news than good, for sound commercial reasons – and why that is what we want to read;
- Hans Rosling: DON’T PANIC – the views of the late great Hans Rosling, master statistician, on why the world is better than we think.
You can read Vintage Season online here. It is quite long – a novella – but worth it. Have a look.
And do feel free to re-post or re-tweet this post if it cheers you up a bit.
A dystopian future?
If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please check out my own dystopian speculative thriller, Eternal Life.
What if crime did pay, handsomely?