Destiny Times Three by Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber omnibus (Italian edition)
Fritz Leiber omnibus (Italian edition)

The novel “Destiny Times Three” by Fritz Leiber was published for the first time in 1945 in the magazine “Astounding”. In 1996 it was a finalist for the Retro Hugo Award for 1946.

In the future, two scientists are conducting a research on a possible global crisis. More and more people have nightmares but above all there are more and more cases of people who are considered impostors by relatives or friends and cases of amnesia.

Thorn, one of the two scientists, suddenly finds himself literally in another world. Realizing he somehow ended up in a parallel universe, he discovers that the local dictatorial government is preparing an invasion of his own world. The exchange of the minds of local residents with those of their doppelgangers in the other world was only the first phase of the invasion.

With “Destiny Times Three” Fritz Leiber gives us a novel remarkably short by today’s standards – just over a hundred pages – but extremely dense with concepts and events. Originally the novel was longer but the editor of the magazine “Astounding” John W. Campbell didn’t want to split it into more than two parts because most readers didn’t like multipart stories. Consequently the novel was cut and it seems that the unpublished parts have been lost so unfortunately this is the only version left.

“Destiny Times Three” is a great little story whose setting is divided into three parallel universes with a Probability Engine that can create new parallel universes and a group of people who play gods.

Fritz Leiber uses some scientific concepts more typical of an author such as Alfred van Vogt, yet he does that in his own way using some fantasy elements: for example, the talisman, which is actually an incredibly advanced device which allows travelling between parallel universes. On the other hand Leiber moved easily among literary genres like a character from “Destiny Times Three” moves among universes using a talisman.

Given the limited length of the novel the pace is very fast with events and twists continuously following each other. The ending is of the “deus ex machina” kind which is perhaps inevitable considering the type of story told in “Destiny Times Three” and Fritz Leiber’s knowledge of theater.

Despite the high pace the author develops quite well a number of characters through various details added here and there and occasionally through their thoughts. In this way Leiber also differentiates well some of the doppelgangers.

Probably we’ll never know what the original version of “Destiny Times Three” was like. The only hope is that the complete manuscript was given to an agent and filed somewhere so that one day it will pop up. It would be a stroke of luck but that’s what happened to Fritz Leiber’s novella “The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich” so there’s still a little hope.

With his great fantasy, Fritz Leiber wrote “Destiny Times Three” too soon: a couple of decades later he could’ve developed it for a length three times the published one. In my opinion the version we have is nonetheless a little gem I recommend reading.

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