Flux (story)

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A novella by Michael Moorcock, in two editions.

Publishing History

First Edition

Protagonist is Max File

Second Edition

Revised to a von Bek story - protagonist is Max von Bek


On a future Earth, the European Economic Community (EEC) is nearing a critical mass of combined overpopulation and overdevelopment and a point of catastrophic entropy. To avert crisis, the GEEC has quietly developed a means of time travel and selects Max File — a government functionary who has was socially engineered (by the GEEC) to possess a high degree of skill in the art of organizational management — to travel ten years into the future “to find out what will happen and what will come about” and then return to the EEC to report his findings so that laws governing the sequence of time may be analyzed and a formula for human government may be developed that removes “the random element from human affairs” (p. 141 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978).

The time machine works, but not in the manner in which Appeltoft or Max expects. Max is hurtled out of the linear time-flow and ten years forward, into a future Geneva. The urban zone is almost entirely deserted, and he goes to the library, where he discovers that within the ten-year span since his departure, the GEEC, faced with civil war and various forms of civil degeneration (particularly in Southern Europe), permitted two large-scale social experiments to be undertaken. Together, the experiments sparked off civil war, though apparently of a different nature than the GEEC had initially expected.

The first experiment was conducted in Greece. The GEEC’s Population Phasing Group instituted total birth control and then—using the Batchelder technique—placed ¾ of the Greek population into suspended animation (“SA”), presuming that the population reduction would avert an overpopulation crisis in the area. However, the remaining population, suddenly relieved from the claustrophobic social environment to which it had become accustomed, became maddened by neuroses and agoraphobic madness and mobbed the SA centers, inadvertently killing the people within.

The second experiment, with more far-reaching consequences, was permitted in Germany. A political faction led by Stefan Untermeyer to conduct a social experiment in Bavaria, wherein the sexes were segregated by law and social or sexual contact between the two groups were made capital crimes. The experimenters have lost control of the scope of their experiment, and now the sexes are at total war with one another throughout Europe, and each sex regards cannibalism of the other as a lawful act. Meanwhile, the Americas and “the United East” are described as “squabbling with one another” for other reasons (p. 148 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978). Europe, depopulating rapidly, has collapsed as a socio-political entity.

Depressed, File returns to the time machine’s mobile component (the chair) and tries to return to the time-frame from which he departed. He is unable to control the device, and passing into limbo and then onto the Earth of the Yulk and the Raxa, millions of years “ahead of “ the time-frames in which he formerly was present, and into a landscape of orange deserts and purple fogs (p. 154 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978). File is immediately covered by a re-education beam from the gun of a Yulk warrior, and is thereby made able to communicate with the lizard-men; he and the time-machine are thereafter taken to the Yulk camp, where he is informed that there are no humans of his physical type then existing on the Earth, that the planet has nearly become uninhabitable to humanoids, and that a final battle with the Raxa — which are lifeforms better suited to the environmental conditions then extant — is imminent. File decides to throw in his lot with the Yulk, in part because he believes the lizardfolk to represent the last bastion of his species. The battle is lost to the Yulk.

Unbeknownst to File, his failure to return to his former time-stream leads to the decision by the GEEC to permit the Untermeyer experiment in Bavaria to proceed.

Using ancient science, Gzerhteak repairs the time machine after the final defeat of the Yulk, but informs File that the scientists who designed the machine cannot analyze time and that he, File, will never be able to return home because of the maxim, “No man understands time” (p. 157 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978). He further informs File that the machine travels under its own power. File takes leave of the era of the Yulk and returns to the flux, i.e. limbo (i.e., the multiverse).

File spends an inestimable amount of time in the flux, at first careening from one era of space/time to another, traveling at a pace that ultimately fractures his consciousness and reduces his mind and self to a disembodied ego, only slightly conscious of itself. He comes to realize that time has no sequence, and that it is instead totally random in nature, and that, “The universe was bereft of logic…Like a kaleidoscope, it occasionally formed itself into patterns, so that it seemed ordered, seemed to contain laws, seemed to have form and direction. But, in fact, there was nothing but chaos…” (p. 159 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978). Overwhelmed by this experience, and on the verge of a total dissolution of his self, File realizes that he can manipulate fragments of the chaos with his will, and slowly returns to himself. He creates a real, living woman as a test, and then dispels his creation. Eventually, godlike, the super-dilettante manager learns to create a new EEC, modeled upon the one from which he left in the time machine.

It is only when he returns to the Geneva of his own creation and speaks to the new Appeltoft—who has been drawn from File’s own memories—that he realizes that ever since he was struck by re-education beam, his thought-patterns have been in the language of the Yulk: Appeltoft speaks to him “in the voice-torturing tongue of the Yulk” (p. 163 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978). [It is implied that, through their influence on File’s mind, the Yulk have planted a seed to perpetuate their own existence within a new world order.]

Thematic notes

  • 1. Like The Blood Red Game and Blood, “Flux” illustrates Mike’s theory of the multiverse and how the multiverse may be perceived, traveled, experienced, and partially controlled and used. As mentioned above, however, the word “multiverse” is not used in the story (which is taken from a 1963 issue of New Worlds). The time machine traveled not through time, but instead through the multiverse.
  • 2. Max seems to be an avatar of the Eternal Champion: he begins the story as an agent of law (i.e., the GEEC) who retains a bit of chaos in him from childhood (i.e., the special “force fed” training that makes him a “super dilettante”), but after his exposure to, and partial comprehension of, the multiverse, he becomes an agent of chaos who retains a bit of law in him (i.e., he returns to an Earth of his own remaking and then realizes that he has become re-educated to think and speak in the language of The Yulk after being “force fed” their re-education beam).