Aristotle and the Gun

"Aristotle and the Gun" is a time travel and alternate history science fiction story by American writer L. Sprague de Camp.

"Aristotle and the Gun"
Aristotle and the Gun
Frank Kelly Freas's illustration of the
story in Astounding Science-Fiction
AuthorL. Sprague de Camp
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inAstounding Science-Fiction
Media typePrint (Magazine)
Publication dateFebruary, 1958

Publication history

The story was first published in the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction for February, 1958,[1] and first appeared in book form in de Camp's collection A Gun for Dinosaur and Other Imaginative Tales (Doubleday, 1963). It later appeared in the paperback edition of the collection published by Curtis Books in 1969,[2] and the subsequent de Camp collections Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories (Five Star, 2002), and Years in the Making: the Time-Travel Stories of L. Sprague de Camp (NESFA Press, 2005), as well as the anthologies Alpha Three (Ballantine Books, 1972),[3] Space Mail, Volume II (Fawcett Crest, 1982), Analog: Writers' Choice (Davis Publications, 1983, Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (Signet Books, 1987), The Legend Book of Science Fiction (Legend, 1991), Modern Classics of Science Fiction (St. Martin's Press, 1992), Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History (Del Rey Books, 1998), and Futures Past (Ace Books, 2006).[4] The first stand-alone edition of the story was published in paperback by Positronic Publishing in April, 2013. The story has also been translated into German.[3]

Plot summary

The lonely and misanthropic scientist Sherman Weaver has a central role in a secret US Government project to build a time machine. The project succeeds and a prototype device is constructed. But before it can be tested, the government - alarmed at Weaver's report that small changes in history might have profound consequences and completely change the present day world - decides to abort the project. Weaver is ordered to dismantle the machine. Rather than obey, he takes matters into his own hands, using the machine to project himself back to the era of Philip II of Macedon. There he hopes to meet Aristotle. Believing that the influential ancient philosopher's lack of interest in experiment retarded scientific progress through much of subsequent history, Weaver aims to nudge the savant in what he considers the proper direction. His intention is to create a different Twentieth Century dominated by super-science, hundreds of years in advance of ours.

Weaver pretends to be a conventional traveler from India. Equipped with modern-day marvels, he attempts to demonstrate to his new acquaintance Aristotle the value of experimentation in furtherance of knowledge. His task is complicated by the malicious mischief of Aristotle's students, the coterie of young Prince Alexander (subsequently Alexander the Great), and by coming under suspicion of being a spy for the Great King of Persia, against whom Philip is preparing to go to war. Ultimately forced to defend himself with a handgun he has brought, Weaver is on the point of being executed for espionage and murder when he is snapped back into the present day as the effects of his time projection wear off.

Weaver finds himself in a world very different from the one he left, but not in the way he hoped. Aristotle, convinced that the tedious accumulation of experimental knowledge is beneath the dignity of civilized philosophers and that it is a waste of time attempting to catch up to "India" in that regard, turns out to have come down strongly against the notion in his writings. The result is a backward present of petty states, roughly at the level of late Medieval principalities in our own history, considerably behind Weaver's original timeline in technology. His own United States is not even a dream, its physical confines being controlled by various Amerindian nations, influenced by the civilization of the Old World but having long since thrown off any subjection to it. Enslaved in one such state, Weaver is only delivered from endless drudgery after many years, when his scholarly talents are finally recognized.

The narrative of the story is set forth by Weaver in a lengthy letter to an acquaintance curious as to his remarkable background, in which he concludes that he would have done better to leave well enough alone.

Reception

Critic P. Schuyler Miller called the story "even better" than de Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur" in its recreation of Aristotle's Macedonia as seen through modern eyes, and its twist in the alternate time-track theme."[5] Don D'Ammassa rated the piece one of de Camp's "best stories",[6] and placed it among those "of particular note" among de Camp's "many memorable short stories."[7] Roland Green, writing for Booklist, called it of "outstanding merit" and one of the author's "vintage short pieces."[8] To Tom Easton, it "is a classic exposition of the time-travel paradox," and de Camp "always one of my favorite SF&F writers."[9] Harry Turtledove called the story "a fine specimen of the for-want-of-a-nail story: a small change in the past producing enormous ramifications as the centuries roll by," with "things [not] so easy as the [protagonist] thought they would be ... a common theme in de Camp's work."[10]

Importance

"Aristotle and the Gun" is one of de Camp's most notable works.[11] Like his first significant work of alternate history, the novel Lest Darkness Fall (1939), the story posits a world changed as the result of time travel, and like his other major work in the field, "The Wheels of If" (1940) it reveals the long-term consequences of the historical change.

For de Camp himself, however, its publication marked the beginning of a lengthy departure from the science fiction field, and pointed the way to the historical novels of the ancient world he would write during the next ten years, beginning with An Elephant for Aristotle (1958), which serves as an interesting counterpoint to the present story. This development is indeed to some degree foreshadowed in the present story itself, with its meticulously researched depiction of the Classical Greek and Hellenistic milieu – for which de Camp clearly had strong interest and empathy, also when seen through the eyes of its own native-born denizens and without a time traveler in attendance. De Camp would write no more science fiction until 1977.[3]

Notes

  1. ^ Laughlin, Charlotte, and Levack, Daniel J. H. De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco, Underwood/Miller, 1983, pages 123-124.
  2. ^ Laughlin, Charlotte, and Levack, Daniel J. H. De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco, Underwood/Miller, 1983, page 62.
  3. ^ a b c Laughlin, Charlotte, and Levack, Daniel J. H. De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco, Underwood/Miller, 1983, page 124.
  4. ^ Aristotle and the Gun title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  5. ^ Miller, P. Schuyler. "The Reference Library." In Analog Science Fact - Science Fiction, v. 71, no. 5, July 1963, p. 87.
  6. ^ D'Ammassa, Don. "Critical Mass." In Science Fiction Chronicle, v. 24, iss. 8, August 2002, p. 39.
  7. ^ D'Ammassa, Don. "de CAMP, L. Sprague." In Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, Third Edition, Noelle Watson, Paul E. Schellinger, eds., Chicago: St. James Press, c1991, p. 192.
  8. ^ Green, Roland. "de Camp, L. Sprague. Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories." In Booklist, September 1, 2002, p. 170.
  9. ^ Easton, Tom. "The Reference Library." In Analog Science Fiction and Fact, v. 123, no. 3, March 2003, pp. 138-139.
  10. ^ Turtledove, Harry. "Introduction." In Years in the Making: the Time-Travel Stories of L. Sprague de Camp, 2005, p. 12.
  11. ^ "Locus Online News: L. Sprague de Camp, 1907 - 2000"
2002 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 2002.

A Gun for Dinosaur and Other Imaginative Tales

A Gun for Dinosaur and Other Imaginative Tales is a short story collection by science fiction and fantasy author L. Sprague de Camp, first published in hardback by Doubleday in 1963, and in paperback by Curtis Books in 1969. The first British edition was issued by Remploy in 1974. It has also been translated into German.

Alpha 3 (Robert Silverberg anthology)

Alpha 3 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Robert Silverberg. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in October 1972.

Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories

Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by American science fiction and fantasy author L. Sprague de Camp. It was published in hardcover in August 2002 by the Gale Group as part of its Five Star Speculative Fiction Series.The book contains short works of fiction by the author spanning much of his writing career, having originally been published from 1939 to 1993. It also contains an introduction by Harry Turtledove.

Futures Past

Futures Past (2006, ISBN 978-0-441-01454-5) is a science fiction anthology edited by American writers Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. It was published in 2006, and includes stories on the theme of "futures past" that were originally published from 1956 to 2004. It is the 34th book in their anthology series for Ace Books.

L. Sprague de Camp

Lyon Sprague de Camp (; 27 November 1907 – 6 November 2000), better known as L. Sprague de Camp, was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. In a career spanning 60 years, he wrote over 100 books, including novels and works of non-fiction, such as biographies of other fantasy authors. He was a major figure in science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.

List of fictional books

A fictional book is a non-existent book created specifically for (i.e. within) a work of fiction. This is not a list of works of fiction (i.e., novels, mysteries, etc.), but rather imaginary books that do not exist.

List of religious ideas in science fiction

Science fiction will sometimes address the topic of religion. Often religious themes are used to convey a broader message, but others confront the subject head-on—contemplating, for example, how attitudes towards faith might shift in the wake of ever-advancing technological progress, or offering creative scientific explanations for the apparently mystical events related in religious texts (gods as aliens, prophets as time travelers, etc.). As an exploratory medium, science fiction rarely takes religion at face value by simply accepting or rejecting it; when religious themes are presented, they tend to be investigated deeply.

Some science fiction works portray invented religions, either placed into a contemporary Earth society (such as the Earthseed religion in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower), or in the far future (as seen in Dune by Frank Herbert, with its Orange Catholic Bible). Other works examine the role of existing religions in a futuristic or alternate society. The classic Canticle for Leibowitz explores a world in which Catholicism is one of the few institutions to survive an apocalypse, and chronicles its slow re-achievement of prominence as civilisation returns.

Christian science fiction also exists, sometimes written as allegory for inspirational purposes.Orson Scott Card has criticized the genre for oversimplifying religion, which he claims is always shown as "ridiculous and false".

Nothing in the Rules

"Nothing in the Rules" is a contemporary fantasy story by American writer L. Sprague de Camp. It was first published in the magazine Unknown for July, 1939. It first appeared in book form in the anthology From Unknown Worlds (Street & Smith, 1948). It later appeared in the collections The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales (Pyramid, 1970), The Best of L. Sprague de Camp (Doubleday, 1978), and Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories (Five Star, 2002), as well as the anthologies The Fantasy Hall of Fame (Arbor House, 1983), The Science Fictional Olympics (Signet, 1984), Mermaids! (Ace Books, 1986), Unknown (Baen, 1988) and The Fantasy Hall of Fame (HarperPrism, 1998) (a different anthology from the 1983 book of the same title). The story has been translated into French, German, and Italian.

Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds

Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds is an anthology of alternate history short works edited by Robert Adams, Martin H. Greenberg and Pamela Crippen Adams. It was first published in paperback by Signet Books in July 1987.The book collects nine short stories by various authors, together with an introductory essay by Robert Adams.

Space Mail, Volume II

Space Mail, Volume II is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh. It was first published in paperback by Fawcett Crest in January 1982.The book collects twenty-two short stories written in the form of a letters, diary entries, or memorandums, together with an introduction by Asimov.

The Gnarly Man

"The Gnarly Man" is a science fiction story by American writer L. Sprague de Camp, about an apparently immortal Neanderthal Man surviving into the present day.

The Legend Book of Science Fiction

The Legend Book of Science Fiction is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Gardner Dozois. It was first published in hardcover and trade paperback by Legend in July 1991. The first American edition was issued in hardcover under the variant title Modern Classics of Science Fiction by St. Martin’s Press in February 1992, with a trade paperback edition following from the same publisher in February 1993; the same firm also produced a hardcover book club edition together with the Science Fiction Book Club in April 1992.

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