Does time split? Is there only one future?
Theologically, I would probably say yes to the latter, but as a long-time science fiction reader, I wonder.
The title to this segment -- Author's Note -- is not exactly accurate as most of this book was written by someone else. Let me explain.
After Mr. Zethner died, my mother was given the task of rooting through his belongings to separate the wheat from the chaff for an estate sale.
Zethner was an old German gentleman (to whom the word applied well) -- a newly-minted scientist who had left the Fatherland in 1938 -- before The War -- and settled in southern California with the American wife he had married in New York. The couple had no children and, after the death of his wife in 1949, Zether had few friends -- except my mother and, by extension, our family. He was still young, but sought no new prospects. Instead he was wrapped up in his "work."
His gentlemanliness did not affect a certain strangeness. He would disappear into the desert for weeks in pursuit of his work -- which he always kept shrouded in mystery.
When he died, he simply left everything to our family. It was an oddball assortment of everything imaginable. But to be blunt, there was little estate at all.
My mother boxed a bunch of it up and it just moved with her and my father when we went to Riverside, back to Santa Ana, and finally with them when they bought their condominium. Later, my mother decided to get rid of the rest of it and, while I was visiting, asked if I would care to take a last look through the stuff.
While digging through some memorabilia of Zethner's, I came across a thick, ragged file of papers. Cropping out from it were a couple of rejection slips from well-known publishers (instantly recognizable to any writer).
I was intrigued.
I set the file aside for a more leisurely perusal and deposited most of the rest of Zethner's things in a dumpster parked judiciously outside my mother's condo (my father had died by this time). I took the papers home and promptly forgot about them for six months while caught up in legal hassles over a lawsuit from a local abortion clinic. It wasn't until that ended in early 1991 that I saw my way clear to return to the file.
Here's where it gets messy. It seems my Zethner had gotten hooked up with some fringe group of researchers who were experimenting with time travel (I hope I don't lose you here, as the tale you are about to read has really nothing to do with futuristic gizmos). At one point, Zethner was testing some circuits in the would-be time machine and a queasy feeling suddenly hit him. When he recovered, he found himself about a decade or two into the next century -- alone with his machine. It was here that Zethner claims to have met the community described in this book.
Meanwhile, he spent about two years trying to figure a way to reset the machine to return to his own present (then 1957). When he finally succeeded, he returned with copies of two manuscripts by the man called Foster. One, a scathing indictment of American culture in the late 20th century, the other, a biographical piece about Foster's own experiences in that culture.
Zethner had tried to integrate the two manuscripts with a third-person story of Foster's life after he came to the community while writing the two books. From what I can gather, Zethner was trying to sell the work as science fiction.
Evidently, he figured that he had an advantage in having a real future story to sell.
He was wrong.
The publishers all considered it too fantastic to be readable. Looking at it now, it is easy to see how silly it would have looked in 1957 for anyone to suggest that homosexuals would be marching in the streets on "Gay Pride Day," how millions of children would be willingly aborted, how taxes would be used to fund pornographic "art," and how America would become the "banana republic" of Japan in just thirty years or so.
Zethner must have seemed quite the madman.
Zethner eventually gave up on selling the piece. He died not long after that. All my attempts to find out what ever happened to the time travel experiments and the other researchers have failed. It is as though the entire group was swept from the earth. I will not speculate on that. The manuscripts, however, survive.
Those purported to be copies of Foster's work are on a strangely thin but tough, tear-resistant paper that has not yellowed at all through the years -- as have the pages of Zethner's work.
You should note that the segments written in the third-person are Zethner's rendition of the story in the community, the portions that are indented and subtitled are from Foster's historical critique, and the first-person material is Foster's own accounting of his escape from the decaying society.
I have tried to make the divisions apparent by separating them by chapters and the like.
For this book -- graciously accepted by a friendly but somewhat doubtful editor -- I have used substantially the same text written by Zethner. But I have edited quite a bit out of the original and I shall explain.
My initial questions about whether there is only one future or many split futures prompted me to be cautious. Did Zethner travel to our future or a parallel world's future? Is Foster a living reporter today? (Yes -- but he was in grade school when Zethner's work was written in 1957) Would the publication of this book with his story end up altering the future? Is there an inevitable night coming for all of Western culture? Or is this merely Foster's night in some alternative world? Because of these questions and more, I sought to have this published as a fiction. I took the liberty of substituting Foster for the actual name of the reporter -- in fact, most of the names are changed. The locations of his origin and the community he ended at have been changed. After all, if this is a real future, I would not wish to endanger the community or others mentioned in the story.
My Zethner's manuscript also contained all the footnotes to Foster's assessment of civilization's fall. These included articles and books which have yet to be written. I have excluded even the mention of these but have deliberately tracked down and verified the footnotes that remain. They are genuine. The exception to this rule is a book called, Abandon All Hope, which is an integral part of the story, as you shall see.
At this point, I must emphasize that I do not necessarily agree with all of Foster's conclusions, but I found them thought-provoking. I can, however, say that what Foster writes -- barring powerfully active opposition -- are certainly possible future conditions. I leave it to you to decide if this coming darkness needs to be resisted now, or if it is merely Foster's night in some alternate reality.