The Big Time

The Big Time
Fritz Leiber, 1957

Premise: What starts out as a usual day for The Place - rest stop for soldiers in the Change War - becomes much more dangerous as personalities, ideologies and plots clash between the soliders and the entertainers.

First of all, the prose here is fantastic. The narration is by Greta, once a "party girl" from Chicago, now separated from her time-line to be comfort and companion to those who fight in the Change War, which rages across all time and space. The dialogue is wonderful. The characters come from all different points in history, and speak polyglots of language from their own time mixed with slang picked up from others.

I'm less sold on the ending: the closing speeches are a bit silly to me, but the plot itself is very nice. The introduction of the edition I read compared it to a stage drama, and I would too: a collection of people come to a place under great stress, and begin to love and fight and argue, shifting alliances and dealing with interpersonal conflict.

The cast of characters is what makes the story zing along. There's Greta and the other Entertainers: Sid who runs the Place, Beau the pianist, Doc the drunk (every bar has a drunk, even those suspended in the Void), the other girls: Maud the therapist and cynic, Lili the young and romantic. Add to this three soldiers: Erich, brash, bossy and proud, Mark, broken and quiet, and Bruce, firey and young. Plus three more, rescued from near death, two non-humans and Kaby, an ancient amazon. And then there's a bomb and a mutiny. Sparks fly.

It's short, which is good, although it still comes to the edge of wearing out its premise. Despite a lackluster denoument, this is still a solid exploration of humanity in extremis.

3 Stars - A Good Book

List of Hugo Award Winners


  1. Wonderful choice! I was so pleased to see this pop up on the Vintage site. I read The Big Time back in January of 2008 after a friend gifted it to me. We had recently become enamored of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and wanted to read his SF. Though the other two guys I read it with were less thrilled with it, I really got into it and it is a book that has stuck with me all of these years. I actually rated it a little lower than my usual because of some of the same issues you had, but it is a fascinating story and one that does "zing"...perfect description.

    Greta Forzane has remained one of my favorite characters in literature over these last 4 years. She is a delight. I'm really going to have to re-read this one of these days. There is another short story written by Leiber set in this universe that I have recently tracked down in a collection and now cannot recall the name. I'll have to check when I get home. In the meantime, here is my review if you are interested:

  2. Thanks, Carl! Reading through the early Hugo winners is really opening me up to a lot of gems, unique and fascinating books that I'd never heard of or never gotten around to.

    Everyone else: for much more information on The Big Time, check out Carl's great review in the comment above!


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