20

I think I read this short story in the 1990s, in a library book (anthology of some sort). I remember nothing about the rest of the book, nor the author. I did think the story had an old-fashioned, "Golden Age of Science Fiction" feel to it, but I remember nothing about the original publication date.

My memory of the plot is surprisingly intact, considering that it's probably been 20 years or more since I read the silly thing. Now I find myself wondering if the author's other works might be entertaining, if I could only find out who he (or she) was!

Here's a capsule summary of what I recall.

  1. The hero is a scientist of some sort, apparently with his own private workshop in his home. As the story opens, he is fiddling with something of his own design -- some sort of special radio equipment which is picking up a distress call from an expedition in Antarctica. (I think it was Antarctica -- I don't remember exactly what their sudden emergency was all about, but it was life-threatening if they didn't get help within, say, a few days.) For some reason, the hero either knows for a fact, or strongly suspects, that his own experimental-prototype radio device is the only equipment that is picking up that faint signal from the bottom of the globe.

  2. While he is fiddling with the device -- perhaps trying to improve the reception? -- it kinda blows up in his face. (There may not have been a literal explosion with shrapnel flying through the air, but there was definitely a blinding flash of light, and/or surge of other forms of radiation.) The device is no longer working, although in theory it could still be fixed by its designer (our hero).

  3. When he recovers from the shock (or whatever it was that happened), he discovers that his vision has gone screwy. He can only see "the past." I think this means he can only see, right now, whatever his eyes were looking at a few minutes ago -- as if the signals are taking a great deal longer to reach his brain and be properly processed; a built-in lag factor.

  4. Among other things which are annoying about the situation, this makes it virtually impossible for him to do any precision repair work on the circuitry of his special radio set. Because he can't see what his hand, gripping a given tool, is doing "right now," and whether or not it's currently got the tip of the tool in precisely the right place. If he maneuvered a tool into position and then waited for some minutes, he would finally see his hand "where it really was" -- but of course, as soon as he started moving his hand again, the time lag would leave him out of touch again.

  5. Being an absolute glutton for punishment, the hero decides to go for a long walk outside, and ultimately finds his way into a local restaurant, stands near the entrance for a while to try to size things up, and finally tries to sit down and order and eat a meal. Which he does, albeit with considerable clumsiness. (I seem to recall that the first time he tries to slide quietly into a vacant seat, he nearly sits on the lap of someone who must have seated herself in it a couple of minutes earlier, more recently than any data his eyes were feeding to him about what was happening at that table.)

  6. Somehow -- the details completely escape me -- he meets a nice girl who just happens to have a beloved relative (father or brother?) in that Antarctic expedition. I believe the protagonist explains his predicament to her, and tries to coach her on what to do with his tools to start making repairs to his unique radio, but it doesn't work out well.

  7. In the end, there's a happy ending! He discovers that when it's dark outside, and the room around him is only lit by moonlight coming in through the window, his vision is suddenly functioning in realtime again. After some further experimentation, he realizes that the damage done to his eyes by the previous flash of radiation (or whatever) only affects certain wavelengths of light. Light that's been "polarized" in certain ways is still making it through the eyeball and the optic nerve, and thus into his brain, in a timely fashion. If he wears special lenses for the rest of his life, he'll be back to "normal." He works hard for hours to get his special radio functioning again, so that he can somehow steer a rescue party toward those intrepid folks who are about to die in the Antarctic, and it's implied that he will marry the nice girl.

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    Drat, I thought I knew this from the question title, then realized that not only did the fine details not match at all, but also upon reflection that it was "hearing lag" (at least at first, though vision did start to lag as well). That's memory for ya. "The Time-Lapsed Man" by Eric Brown was what my instinct was, if anyone later googles trying to find a similar book and comes across this page. – starpilotsix Oct 7 '16 at 0:55
  • I thought it rang a bell, but after reading the synopsis, I got nothing. However, I did want to mention that we normally DO see slightly into the past ... it takes a millisecond or two for the light falling on our retinas to get processed in our brains. – Howard Miller Oct 9 '16 at 23:41
  • @Howard Miller -- and for that matter, it must take some tiny fraction of a second for light to bounce off something, even if it's just a few feet away, and then cross the distance from that object to our retinas.. But for all practical purposes, this is so close to "instantaneous" that we never have to worry about it. (Unless we're in the habit of studying things happening light-years away, I suppose; then we have to allow for the considerable lag time.) – Lorendiac Oct 12 '16 at 23:10
  • @Lorendiac while light travels at, well, the speed of light, nerve conduction is between 200 and 300 mph. The nerve impulses travel to the back of your brain before the image begins to be analyzed. So it's a little slower. On the other hand, it's probably why your brain is in your head and not in your chest, or a more posterior location. – Howard Miller Oct 13 '16 at 15:42
6

I recently stumbled across the answer to my own question! "The Man Who Saw Too Late," written by Otto Binder (and first published under the pen name of "Eando Binder" which he had previously shared with his brother). It first appeared in an issue of Fantastic Adventures (September 1939), and it's only been reprinted a few times. I'm pretty sure that I must have run across it when I checked out a library copy of the anthology Beyond Reality in the 1990s. That book was edited by Terry Carr.

After looking the story over again, I note that my summary from memory was pretty good, although of course I'd forgotten various odds and ends about the plot. Such as the fact that the protagonist (Pat Riker) initially didn't explain to the nice girl (Rita Caldwell) about his nasty vision problem which was seriously impeding his efforts to find a way to reestablish radio contact with her brother in his time of need. But it all worked out in the end.

0

I don't remember the details of the story but this reminds me of Shaw's "Other Days Other Eyes" and Slow Glass . Light passing through the glass was slowed down finally exiting after a time interval specific to each piece.

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    So, could this be the story that the question is asking about? Or are you just mentioning a similar story? – Adamant Oct 20 '16 at 8:07
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    "Other Days Other Eyes" is about the invention of "slow glass" that delays the passage of time (and ends with a somewhat sarcastic outlook onto a "liberated society" where nobody can have secrets from anybody else). This seems to be a quite different story than what was asked by the OP: – Eike Pierstorff Oct 20 '16 at 9:09
  • I thought it might be the story but couldn't remember the details. – Rand Walker Oct 20 '16 at 15:29
  • I agree with Eike Pierstorff -- Shaw's "slow glass" stuff was sort of a reverse version of the premise of the story I was asking for help in finding. In Shaw's series of stories, manufacturing a special type of glass allowed you to create a calculated time lag between what happened in front of it and when the lightwaves from the event showed up on the opposite surface of a piece of slow glass. But in the story I recall, the hero's biological sight was suffering from a significant lag, and he had to use special lenses to restore his visual perception to "realtime." – Lorendiac Oct 21 '16 at 2:41
  • "Other Days, Other Eyes" does involve a woman who had been blinded and had to wear her husband's Slow-Glass contact lenses as ocular implants to gain a sort of time-lagged "sight". So, the husband would watch go for a walk, for example, then give the lenses to the wife to experience the same walk. With that said, the story details are much different from Shaw's novel. – Vanguard3000 Jul 18 '17 at 14:27

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