“Invasion” (short story) by Roman Podolny
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970)
Original: Russian (Нашествие), 1966
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1970
Synopsis: As boy eyes girl and girl eyes boy, they lean in for a kiss… only to be separated and interrupted by the intruding presence of a time-traveler from the past, again. The inventor of the time machine from 1974 yearns to introduce himself and explain his presence, only the entire time period knows of him and the six million others who have already appeared prior. In a measure to pass on the responsibility, the government sends the same six million further ahead in time so that the future generations can send them back when technology prevails… only no one has yet come back from the future.
Analysis: Theory and vision are fine things that spark the imagination. When these are applied to theoretical situation, the resulting brain games or thought experiments offer the participants a thoughtful experience. On the other hand, if theory and vision are applied to real situations, actions are then taken, plans are initiated, and real, tangible results can be seen. Collective human knowledge is a grand thing and can accomplish many feats when properly driven; however, there are some problems that modern-day science and theory just can’t quite accomplish.
Manned missions to Mars were purely fiction decades ago, but nowadays we have the knowledge to actually follow through with the vision, albeit we need the cash first. Global warming has been a gorilla in the room for some time, but we still don’t have the capacity to tackle the problem, so what do we do? Pass it on to the next generation. Population growth, too, has been a niggling situation that refuses to go away, so what do we do? Shrug and pass it on to the next generation.
Population transfer was common in the Soviet Union before 1950, not due to population growth, however. These forced resettlements often affected several anti-Soviet categories of peoples for a total of about six million… the same population size as the story. Stalin had millions of ethnic peoples marching around the country on relocation, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. In 1943-1944, 1.9 million people were deported to Siberia. As millions were sent away from the urban centers of western USSR, the problem may have been scattered throughout the land, but it still remained in the land. After WWII, many of these people were repatriated, or sent back to the west to rejoin the more civilized part of the Union. Even then, resentment must have stewed in the hearts and minds of the once resettled. Placing them back in the west only, again, shifted the problem from one place to another.
Eventually, whatever stop-gap measures are taken to relieve the pressure, the effect will continue and the result will return with consequences.
Review: As with most short, short stories, this one relies on a quick setting up of absurdity followed by a quick punch at the end; in this story, both are effective. But the story also involves a bit of a mind-twisting with the time-travelers—it takes a little bit of time to get in the right frame of mind. So, the reader must engage with the story, think about the story to make it work. Most short, short stories are too simple (I can think of many from Asimov and Conklin’s 50 Short Science Fiction Stories), but this one is a nice piece of short work.