EP093: {Now + n, Now – n}

By Robert Silverberg.
Read by Stephen Eley.

All had been so simple, so elegant, so profitable for ourselves. And then we met the lovely Selene and nearly were undone. She came into our lives during our regular transmission hour on Wednesday, October 7, 1987, between six and seven P.M. Central European Time. The moneymaking hour. I was in satisfactory contact with myself and also with myself. (Now – n was due on the line first, and then I would hear from (now + n).

Rated R. Contains sex, nudity, and explicit finance.

Comments (32)

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  1. Terrence says:

    What a great spin on the ubiquitous struggle for Personal Space! I really enjoyed this story. I liked the First-person, present-tense style of the narration…though some phrases seemed a bit robotic.
    As the story progressed I begin to find the relationship quite
    tortuous and I found myself feeling very bad for them…until their ‘solution’ was found.

  2. Lee Cherolis says:

    This was a good one. Even my complete lack of an understanding of the stock market wasn’t a problem. I did spend a lot of time thinking, why doesn’t he just set up a regularly scheduled “I’m at work” time every Monday Wednesday and Friday? He misses the constant contact with his other selves? Does that mean that over time if he’s not in constant contact will his mastery of his gift fade?

  3. vburn says:

    I really enjoyed the story. I keep waiting for a twist to revel she was some SEC undercover agent sent to stop him. I guess that goes back to Steve’s intro on romance in SciFi/Fantasy being an untapped market because I never would have guessed a “we worked togather to find a happy ever after” ending.

  4. Leon Kensington says:

    Shakespeare said, “Love blinds.”

    Here it is quite somewhat literal.

  5. Winsmith says:

    Wow… incredible! This must be one of my most favourite Escape Pod story ever! Really well read too!

  6. OZ says:

    I agree with Winsmith — this is one of my new Escape Pod favorites!

  7. TomOfChicago says:

    I loved the story, but was a little concerned by some of the plot holes. If some guy in the future gave her the amulet, for instance, why did she not stay in the future? Once she had the amulet, she should have been unable to jump to that past. That said, a wonderful story.


  8. Randbot says:

    I really liked the concept and the general story overall, but I found the central problem of the story so miniscule as to be laughable. He’s agonizing over the fact that he has to choose between his fortune and … finding a way to be more than 20 feet away from the love of his life at set intervals every 48 hours? Wow, that sounds IMPOSSIBLE to set up [/sarcasm]. Plus, I realize you want to “show, not tell,” her secret, but I found her response to his confession — to fling her amulet off a cliff and become crazily unstuck in time — to be a pretty absurd overreaction to the situation.

  9. L33tminion says:

    That was an awesome time travel story (made my head hurt a bit, like all good time-travel stories). However, I’m not sure I liked the ending, as it seemed rather melodramatic and contrived.

    I actually don’t think the ending was bad, but it felt like a let-down after such a phenomenal setup.

  10. deflective says:

    not terribly compelling. the story’s reach exceeded its grasp

    a guy (one of the richest in the world) finds true love and is unable to move his assets into bluechips to enjoy his life?

    why has he restricted himself playing the stock market?

    he unexpectedly looses contact with a future version of himself one day (two days before meeting the girl for the first time) and isn’t concerned as zero hour approaches?

    it’s been said before but cannot be stressed enough. who spends [i]all[/i] their time within twenty feet of someone else?

    good concept

  11. Janne says:

    Well written, indeed.

    It just suffers from the ubiquitous “toilet problem” – in SF, nobody ever goes to the toilet. The archetypal man grabs a newspaper, and sits on the porcelaine bowl for tens of minutes – plenty of time to jot down whatever might be coming down the tube. And no woman follows.

    Maybe I’m a bit too practical, but to me the dilemma in this story seemed a bit contrived. The first time the man would’ve had to go, he would’ve noticed the effects.

    But I’m glad it turned out well in the end, even if the characters are likely to pop like balloons sooner or later. 😉

  12. Evo Terra says:

    I first read this story sometine around 1990, and it crosses my mind at least once a month. I’m unsure why that is, but since I can’t think of another short story where I have this relationship, you might imagine what a joy it was to here it on Escape Pod.

    Excellent acquisition, Steve. This story definitely stands the test of time.

  13. Abhishek Agrawal says:

    Not Sure about the ending maybe because I kept expecting some psy-cop theme, but the reading was outstanding, actually had to stop driving so I could concentrate on the story. Your voice has advanced Now+n. Thanks for all the effort Stephen.

  14. Loz says:

    I must admit I was a bit worried on seeing the length of the podcast for this week, but found the story much more exciting than stories half or even a quarter of the length. The one problem I have is the whole ‘couldn’t bear to be apart even for the brief period of time it takes to transmit information’ thing, I don’t think I want to know how they deal with going to the toilet, I guess I’m just an incurable cynic, and Selene’s solution to the larger problem was a good one.

  15. A very good story! I was a bit bored at the beginning, but towards the end it really hooked me.

  16. FishNChimps says:

    A cracking story slightly spoiled by the tired Victorian stereotype of a fog-bound London. And any millionaire worth his salt would know that the “c” in Nicoise is soft.

  17. Pete S says:

    I’ll be odd man out. This one didn’t do much for me. It felt longer than it needed to be…way too much droning on about what stocks he was investing in, and the weird way the protagonist describe his actions..y’know, the ‘shorthand’ syntax, felt silly.

    And like so many others said…jeez, I’d go nuts if I didn’t have a bit of time to myself now and then.

  18. Tim says:

    Without a doubt this is my favorite escapepod story so far. Yes, I know there were plot holes but I didn’t care, I was even 10 minutes late for work today because I couldn’t leave the cafe where I was having my morning coffee until I finished the story!

  19. Russ C says:

    This story really subverted my expectations. As soon as he reveled to Selene what his “gift” was, I expected her to say, “You’re under arrest for violations of the SEC code…”

    Also, too bad it wasn’t written later. They could have played up Black Friday on Oct. 17th, 1987. It was right in the middle of his losing streak!

  20. Russ C says:

    oops, I meant Black Monday, Oct. 19th, 1987.

  21. Matt says:

    Loved it! Right up there with the Union Dues series as my favorite stories. I thought the explanation of the time-sight and use for riches was well done. When I heard that someone gave her the ‘gift’, my first thought was that it was “Now + n”, after having expanded the distance that he could communicate with himself.

    Good job, keep them coming!

  22. Optimistic on transportation and robotic. Pessimistic on data storage. Moore’s Law lags in this scenario.

  23. Earl Newton says:

    This was really an enjoyable story, I think the only problem lies (as some have said) that a bit of the plausibility of the story was stretched. Luckily, I was wearing my disbelief suspenders.

    Hitchcock said “Plausibility is the easiest part, so why try?”, but I think in a story like this, for the audience to sympathize with the protagonist, they really have to feel that same sense of inescapability. Although it didn’t completely hamper my enjoyment, I did find myself thinking “I’ll accept psycho-temporal-transcending stockbrokers, but a couple that stays less than twenty feet from each other TWENTY-FOUR hours a day? Come on.”

  24. […] I have talked about Escape Pod before. As I said before, if you are not listening to it, you should be. Episode 93 has a story from Robert Silverberg called Now +n, Now -n. […]

  25. Bob Dushay says:

    A fun story, even if flawed by both Selene’s two-dimensionality and her impulsive discarding of her amulet. Nice ending. However, I disagree with your intro: what was Bean There but a love story, and a thumping good one?

  26. Honestly, I didn’t like this story at all. It sounded too cliche, amateur, and had holes in it that made it not very believable.

    The sci fi elements in it were very interesting and very well done. The N, N-1, N+1 concept was very interesting. So was the problem of swinging like a pendulum through time. I thought that these ideas were very well developed.

    It was the romance aspects that really didn’t do it for me.

    First of all, the way the romance began was way too shallow. The woman walks in the door and all of a sudden the man feels that he loves her. I can understand infatuation, and I know that love-at-first-sight is definitely a convention of the romance genre, but the love was described as if it were supposed to be something more than infatuation, when I didn’t ever see anything to indicate that it moved past that. Basically, this woman walks into the room, she’s really beautiful, and all of a sudden she’s having dinner and sex with this guy. And then, the only direction the love develops is towards the sensual. It’s so…shallow. It has no real meaning, no real feeling to it. And yet, throughout the story, it’s described in cliche terms as if it’s supposed to be something really meaningful. I don’t see it – the sensual aspect of the relationship is well developed, but it’s done to the neglect of everything else. And I’m sorry, but that’s not love – not believable love, anyways.

    Then, there’s the problem of characterization. The female character is as stiff and cardboard as the life size picture of John Kerry that this girl I know keeps in her apartment. She likes to dress him and jokes around about having a relationship with him, but it’s all a joke. This female character – I can’t even remember her name – is very poorly developed. We don’t know why she’s attracted to this guy, we don’t know where she’s from, what kind of history she’s had, what her values are (except that she values money and the stock market), what her goals are, even really what her personality is really like. We don’t know how she reacts under stress or what really stresses her (other than the fear of her power). The only real description we get is not of her as a person, but of the attractiveness of her naked body. She’s not a character – she’s an object. And for some reason, she magically “falls in love” with the main character upon first sight, and there isn’t a hitch after that.

    Orson Scott Card wrote a chapter about character development in his book “character and viewpoint,” and he described all the ways that you can develop a character. At the very end of the chapter, he put down “physical description,” and he did that for a very good reason. Of all the things you can describe about a character, the physical description usually develops the character the least, but is used by writers the most. This story suffered from this problem.

    Then there’s the gaping plot hole that’s been pointed out already – why oh why can’t he find some way to get more than twenty feet away from this woman? I mean, come on, this isn’t Yoko Ono we’re talking about here (but if it were, she’d have more of a personality than the character that’s presented). But to that, I’d like to add another hole – why didn’t this guy just tell the girl about his problem? Why did he hide it from her, and always try to escape her without her knowing about it? I mean, if this is love, they should at least be honest with each other. Does he not trust her at all? How can you have believable love without trust?

    It wasn’t the worst story I’ve heard on Escape Pod, but it definitely felt underdeveloped and unbelievable to me. I had no problems believing in the sci fi elements – but when it came to the human relationships, I was greatly dissapointed. Yes, there is a gaping hole in the genre with regards to romantic elements in sci fi, but this story doesn’t fill it for me.

    And, btw Steve Ely, I enjoyed your intro (as always) and I know of a few sci fi classics that break away from the stereotypical adolescent hero. When I heard your intro, it made me think of the last three books in the Ender’s Game series: Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. In the intro to Speaker, OSC talks about the same thing you talk about – how all sci fi heros tend to be in the adolescent phase of life: nomadic, independant, free from obligations, and completely far from settling down with anyone. Children are rooted somewhere, because they are dependant on their parents, and adults are also rooted, because they’ve (typically) settled down into marriage and family relationships. In the Ender’s Game series, OSC tried to develop characters in the childhood and adult phase, not in the adolescent phase. I think he did a good job. In the first book, Ender is a child who is dependant on the adults, despite his incredible skills, and throughout the rest of the series, he’s a middle aged man looking to settle down. He settles down with Novinha in a complicated yet loving relationship, he is accepted into the family not only by her but by his kids, and he helps the family to heal. When Novinha goes crazy and runs away from him to join the Order of the Children of the Mind, Ender follows her because he loves her – even though joining that order means that they’ll have to be celibate. THAT is real love, right there. Sacrifice, struggle, listening to each other, fulfilling each others needs, honesty, transparency, etc.

  27. Seainni says:

    This was compellingly written, and I mostly enjoyed it, but I agree with onelowerlight–this isn’t a romance, it’s just a story of a guy who meets a hot woman and falls in lust, which isn’t the same thing at all. And not being willing to leave her, even for an hour or two a day, strikes me as a sign of a deeply, deeply dysfunctional relationship. The story itself seems unaware of that, though, and seems to agree with the characters that not leaving your lover’s side is a sign of true love rather than excessive obsessiveness.

  28. Ryan Nichols says:

    I enjoyed this story quite a bit, despite its straightforward problems having to do with plotting and character development. I liked it because my favorable assessment of short stories is often directly proportional to the extent to which the stories prompt new ideas in me. This one pushed that button.

    One remarkable idea in this story was the use of time (and the idea of the dissemination of time from one point to other prior points) to reflect about personal identity. Though the protagonist Now said that the triumverate can extend their time away from one another up to 24 hours (I think), often they are only an hour or two away. This led me to wonder what it would be like to exist as though my ‘present’ was an hour long, and not merely the point-like meeting between the future and the past. (FYI Saint Augustine, in his Confessions, has a chapter (#11) about the human experience of time that obliquely addresses that.)

    I love Escape Pod!

  29. scatterbrain says:

    I’ve been listening for ten minutes and I’ve figured out the whole plot; Silverberg is a true sadist as I could have told the whole thing myself in less than half the time.

    How the hell he survived in the SpecFi world I’ll never know and have you noticed how he’s only sent his lesser “anthology stories” from the seventies: the decade which was the death of the anthology? This is what killed it!

  30. Julia says:

    I can not get this link to work. For me this tragedy being that I have recently discovered escape pod and wan to get everyone listened to be for the aliens come and take me away or a dragon eats me!!!!

  31. Funny, I myself have had conversation with my past and future selves. I often write that way too. As a fan of the show LOST, I’ve become even more accustom to non-paradoxical time travel and can see how charles Widmore will likely make his billions.

  32. Bart says:

    I share the view of others who were frustrated with the gaping plot holes in a story that otherwise had such great potential.

    Why wasn’t he suspicious that this woman was sent to intentionally interfere with his transactions? Perhaps by someone with similar powers who wanted to eliminate the competition?

    Why couldn’t he tell her that he had to go to an office for a few hours each day? What multi-millionaire doesn’t maintain an office for meeting clients?

    The point other posters made about him at least going to the bathroom was also apt.

    And, when he finally decides to bring up the topic with her it seemed crazy for him to spill his entire guts and tell her everything about his scam — rather than just tell her that he has some psychic abilities and that she is interfering with them.

    And, when she learned that her amulet interfered with him if he was within 20 feet, her response was to throw it away and become untethered in time and possibly lose him forever? That doesn’t make any sense? Why not just have him walk 25 feet away a few times a day?

    Lastly, I agree with the comments about how unrealistic (and suspicious) their meeting was. When she walked into the place and picked him instantly to fall in love/lust with, I assumed she was there to seduce him because she or her employer (or the government) wanted to investigate him.

    In the end, it makes me smile to think that so many of us are frustrated with plot holes while simultaneously accepting the concept of cross-temporal psychic communication.