Young People Read Old SFF

Man in His Time

Brian Aldiss

Young People Read Old SFF

11 Mar, 2024

The second story featured in Young People Read Old Nebula Finalists is Brian W. Aldiss’ Man in His Time”, first published in Science Fantasy, April 1965. I am familiar with Aldiss’ work in general but this piece in particular was new to me. My own fault for not having read even a single volume of the SFWA’s annual Nebula anthologies. 

At this stage of his career, Aldiss was identified with British New Wave SF, which makes the selection of this story by the sometimes notoriously conservative SFWA authors interesting… except this particular story didn’t seem all that New Wavey. Pity, because traditionally the Young People have reacted favourably to New Wave. Let’s see what they made of this example.


I’m not always sure, going into a Brian Aldiss story, if he’s gonna be serious or if he’s gonna be pulling my leg. He had already won a Nebula for The Saliva Tree,” which is a somewhat comedic combo pastiche of Wells and Lovecraft. But Man in His Time” is a basically straight-faced take on what must’ve already been an old theme — but with a New Wave touch. It’s about Jack and Janet Westermark, with Jack being the sole survivor of a botched Mars expedition team and stuck with a very unusual problem that may go beyond just the cognitive: he lives about three and a half minutes in the future, or rather he experiences everything three and a half minutes ahead of everyone else. Less a That’s So Raven ability and more being permanently out of step with everyone else, which the behavioral psychologist helping the couple suspects has to do with Mar and other celestial bodies having local times” that would affect people’s perception of the present compared to Earth time.

This is all a bit weird, and you could probably poke holes in Aldiss’s rationale for the time displacement; but this is much more about the erosion of a marriage than playing with a scientific novelty. It’s a domestic drama that reads less like spaceships and ray guns and more like John Cheever. It does the whole inner space” thing that was starting to make the rounds. This is the first story we’ve covered that feels like it’d be up for a Nebula specifically, and weirdly enough it came out the same year as the Schmitz. Speaking of which, the UK publication time doesn’t count” thing for awards was dumb. Both the Hugos and Nebulas did this and the result was a 1965 story like the Aldiss going up against mostly stories published a year later. Even an American author like Delany, the story of his we covered way back was published in New Worlds in 68, but because it didn’t see US publication until the following year it was up for 1970 awards. It’s dumb.


Aldiss is one of those writers who contains multitudes. Even though I would consider myself a fan of his I can’t have read much more than a fifth of his works and even then, I have encountered everything for hard science fiction, through shock new waves to pastiches. This kind of story though is where he works best for me. a kind of domestic science fiction with a touch of the literary, a touch of the speculative and a lot of heart. It is both charming and melancholic, feeling real” in a way a lot of science fiction doesn’t. It is hard to find more to say about other than it was well written and effective for me.