LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #2. ROBERT SILVERBERG “When We Went to See the End of the World.” First published in Universe 2, edited by Terry Carr (Ace, paperback, 1972). First collected in Unfamiliar Territory (Scribner, hardcover, 1973). Reprinted many times. Nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, 1973.

   Picture a cocktail party taking place in 1972, or perhaps in the near future from that time, for time travel on a commercial basis exists and is just becoming affordable for the kinds of swinging couples who attend such parties as this. Marijuana, free love, and the discussion of various current disasters around the world are all part of the scene, as well as a little not-so-subtle one-upmanship are all going on.

   In the latter regard, as it turns out, everyone who’s signed up for and has taken a trip to see the apocalypse — the end of the world — has a totally different tale to tell. This is very puzzling, and it helps mitigate the sense of loss each couple feels when they discover that they weren’t the first kids on the block to have taken the trip after all.

   I can’t say that the explanation they come up with is on solid ground. What kind of scientific basis could there be for it? For the reader, though, the interesting part of the evening is how they all manage to ignore the fact that the world is already falling apart around them — with all kinds of scenarios as to which particular disaster may befall them. And for sure, that’s the point.

   What I generally find in Robert Silverberg’s stories, and this one’s no different, is that there is something hidden in each of then that’s never spoken aloud or so stated in the story itself. An undercurrent that you sense that’s not really there, but it is. Or maybe I just imagined it, but this time around I don’t think I did.

   Have I mentioned that this is a funny story, well told? If I haven’t, then I just did.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: LARRY NIVEN “Cloak of Anarchy.”