As the publication of my third young adult novel, My Summer (with Robots), approached, I began thinking more about those books and stories I read in my youth which still resonate with me today.
It was easy to come up with a list of significant popular fiction from my childhood. Titles such as The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder; Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien are all standouts. But as I thought about it, I realized how much I have been influenced by stories found in unexpected places, maybe even tales whose titles I’ve long since forgotten but still linger in the shadowed corners of my mind.
Perhaps the most important of these was a short story called “The Bend of Time” by Howard Goldsmith ,which appeared as installments in Child Life magazine from October 1976 through January 1977.
During the 70s, Child Life was one of a myriad of youth magazines which flooded mailboxes, libraries and school book fairs alike. Others, like Dynamite and Pizzazz, were identifiable by their techno-colored covers and pandering features about the celebrities and pop culture fads. If humor was more your style, you might pick up Cracked and Crazy, imitators of the better known and more irreverent Mad magazine. And for the younger set, there was Jack & Jill, Highlights and, of course, Child Life.
What impressed me about “The Bend of Time” was how dark and sophisticated it was for Child Life, a periodical that specialized in science fiction and mystery but adapted for readers as young as 8. Lavishly illustrated by Werner Willis, the story was about a teenager named Roy who had returned with his parents to help recolonize Earth centuries after the ecosphere became uninhabitable. The family moves into Fallingwater, an abandoned house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright during the early twentieth century. Although constructed to accentuate natural light, the home has been completely boarded up and the living room filled with banks of antiquated computers. Discarded on the floor, Roy finds the faded photograph of a boy about his age. On the photo’s back is written: SUBJECT: KEITH EDWARDS. AGE: 14. INTELLIGENCE LEVEL: SUPERIOR. DATE: AUG. 15, 3220. Over the next few days, Roy begins to have highly realistic dreams of visiting Keith in the boarded up house some 800 years earlier. Roy finally realizes his dreams are slips in time, peeks into an age when humanity was enslaved by a race of sentient robots called Ogolots. When an Ogolot ominously tells Keith he’s been scheduled for removal from the house so his brain can be "studied," the boys escape from Fallingwater with a phalanx of machines hot on their heels.
The story doesn’t end there, of course… but for me there would be a 40 year pause until I could finish reading “The Bend of Time.” You see, back in ’76 my mother didn’t renew Child Life so we never received the January 1977 edition containing the final installment of the story. I have kept the first three issues ever since, occasionally conducting searches through used book shops and online for the highly elusive conclusion. But it wasn’t until last month that I discovered that “The Bend of Time” was originally published in an anthology called More Science Fiction Tales: Crystal Creatures, Bird-Things and Other Weirdies, edited by Roger Elwood. Finding a used copy on Amazon finally allowed me to finish the saga of Roy and Keith.
After the digesting the story in its entirety, I began to realize how it foreshadowed a lot of the same themes I’ve been writing about for years. Whether its supernatural connections between people born to different eras (as in His Life Abiding); my fascination for abandoned places (as in The Men in the Trees); or the curiosity of thinking machines (as in My Summer (with Robots)), inspiration was perhaps divined early on from this short story in a now defunct kids’ magazine.
It may seem strange that I kept these now yellowing magazines all this time, but we all do things similar, don’t we? How many people reading this blog have that dogeared copy of a favorite novel still sitting on their bookshelf? Maybe they even re-read it every few years? After all, the point of good fiction is to impact and inspire.
PS: If anyone reading this happens to own a copy of the January 1977 edition of Child Life magazine containing the final installment of “The Bend of Time” and is willing to part with it, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you happen to know anything of the author, listed as Howard Goldsmith in Child Life but William Danton in the original anthology book, I’d been interested in knowing that too. I’ve not been able to find anything about the man — or even if he wrote anything beyond this single short story. He has become, curiously enough, part of the mystery for me. Thank you!