A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Describing the plot of “The Voices of Time” isn’t exactly easy. For one, it’s all pretty obscure—so much of the future it describes is merely hinted at, so many of its characters’ actions are mysterious. Even worse, breaking it down into its constituent parts almost makes “The Voices of Time” sound like campy fun. There’s a mysterious epidemic, an impending apocalypse, and some post-nuclear mutants. There’s also a mad doctor and his ruined patient. Throw in the chimp in a space helmet, the exploding sea anemone, and the blue aliens from Orion who like poetry and it sounds like some golden age pulp or a Douglas Adams spoof.
Instead,”The Voices of Time” is a slowish, dark and dreamlike tale about a declining human race. Our protagonist, Dr. Powers, is part of a large portion of the population that is about to pass into a permanent coma that nobody seems to understand. He’s spent his life working to save the planet’s dwindling ecosystem and failed. His former patient, Kaldren, convinces Powers that the planet’s decline is just a tiny symptom of a larger passing away of all things, and Powers decides, in a beautiful last act of determination, to take control of his own inevitable end.
You’ll find “The Voices of Time” in our huge volume of The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard. His was one of the most distinctive and fascinating viewpoints in science fiction. I’d advise trying this 1960 story and a few other early ones too, like “Chronopolis” and “Zone of Terror.”
Review by Matthew