Open Book: Time Out

This week's book has a time-travel paradox, a ginger-ale swilling cat, and an alternate future that never happened. Identify it, and you might win an <I>InformationWeek</I> prize (from <I>this</I> time stream).

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 14, 2002

3 Min Read

In this early science fiction classic novel, the author imagines two alternate futures: the world in both 1970 and 2000. Even though the "facts" are ridiculously dated by now, the story is so well-constructed and the plot so devilishly twisted that the book never falls flat. In any case, how could I resist a tale that involves a love story, time travel, a double-crossing ex-fiancé, and the best cat in literature?

While still a kitten, all fluff and buzzes, Pete had worked out a simple philosophy. I was in charge of quarters, rations, and weather; he was in charge of everything else. But he held me especially responsible for weather. Connecticut winters are good only for Christmas cards; regularly that winter Pete would check his own door, refuse to go out in it because of that unpleasant white stuff beyond it (he was no fool), then badger me to open a people door.

The story's likable hero is an inventor who, we learn early in the story, was cheated out of his company and his profession by his business partner, in cahoots with the hero's fiancé. Rather than punching the traitors ("I'm going to tear his arm off, and beat him over the head with it until he talks ... but we've got to know just what they did to us and who rigged it"), the narrator decides to take the "cold sleep"--suspended animation--for 30 years, so he could gaze on the vixen grown old and unlovely.

The receptionist at the Mutual Assurance Company was a fine example of the beauty of functional design. In spite of being streamlined for about Mach Four, she displayed frontal-mounted radar housings and everything else she needed for her basic mission. I reminded myself that she would be Whistler's Mother by the time I was out and told her that I wanted to see a salesman.

His plans don't work out exactly the way he planned, but after some adventures (involving a Girl Scout camp, a cat fight, and stolen property), our 1970 hero does wind up in 2000--alas, without Pete. Adjusting to 2000 takes some time, but he decides that he needs to return to 1970: for love, for answers, and very definitely for his cat. In fact, he thinks, he already has. Fortunately, it seems, someone's figured out a way to get our hero to where (or at least when) he needs to be.

For a chance to win an InformationWeek prize, E-mail [email protected] by noon ET Thursday. Identify the book's title and author, and answer this tougher third question: The hero's first two inventions were "Hired Girl" and "Flexible Frank," but later he designs an automated drafting machine. What was it named? Last week's book: The Vanishing Hitchhiker--American Urban Legends & Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand, who earned his doctorate at Indiana University.

Think there's a better cat in literature? I dare you to name it. C'mon down to the Water Cooler forum and tell us about it.

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