‘Divine Madness’, by Roger Zelazny , 1966

‘Divine Madness’, by Roger Zelazny , 1966

A man is grieving, and drinking heavily, and skimping on his epilepsy medication. As a result, he begins having seizures in which he perceives time moving backwards. Then he experiments, and discovers that it’s not just his perception. As the seizures come more and more frequently, taking him back and forth through his grief, he realizes where – or when – he’s headed.

SPOILER:

He finds himself in that last horrible argument with his wife, the one after which she stomped out the door and drove off, which led to her being killed in a traffic accident. And he takes that moment to say “I’m sorry, you were right”, and she stays instead of leaving and getting killed.

I used to be engaged to a wonderful woman, until she died during a seizure. So a story where a man uses his own epilepsy to *save* his wife’s life makes me feel… kind of empty. That’s not how you should feel when reading a story, but I can’t honestly blame Zelazny for not knowing what this story would do to me 50 years later.

This story is very stylized – we learn lots and lots about what the protagonist is feeling, and what his opinions are about things that he sees (he’s in deep grief, so he’s angry at lots of things). There’s not a lot of concrete action, which may bother some people.

Some interesting aspects of the story’s age: today, when characters speak in reverse, we portray them as sounding like sdrawkcab draeh gnieb drow laudividni hcae ni srettel eht fo sdnuos eht htiw ,stceffe epat esrever; only word by order reverse in coming as heard protagonist the which words the portrayed however, Zelazny,. The granularity of the time reversal is much coarser, and to the modern reader it feels really wrong. This story was written in 1966, when this type of reverse audio effect was only just becoming known, so it’s plausible that Zelazny might not have heard any examples by that point. Still, it’s interesting to see something we think of as obvious, being done in another way. Similarly, all that alcohol the protagonist is consuming (or un-consuming), Zelazny appears to consider a background detail. There’s a brief mention of the possibility of alcohol making another seizure more likely, but not the slightest consideration of it interacting with his meds.

Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association