Short Story: O Homo, O Femina, O Tempora by Kate Wilhelm

O Homo, O Femina, O Tempora by Kate Wilhelm
A short story

Painting by Ben Schonzeit


from OMNI magazine, May 1985, pg 82

Having never heard of this author, a brief search tells me she is a prolific, award winning author of science-fiction, fantasy, and mysteries, both novels and short stories.  Due to this I must assume this story is not representative of her work.

I'm supposing this story is generally classified as science-fiction, though it is not in any way, according to my personal definitions.  I would call it humour with a science theme.  A very short story, not even two full magazine pages long, that attempts to mock time and our perception of it.  The title translated from Latin is "Oh Man, O Woman, Oh the Times".

A mathematician, Judson, is working late again, coming home about two in the morning, he has just proved his theory and is distracted.  He finally arrives home and his wife who is angry, as this appears to be a habit, plays with his absent-mindedness and distraction talking of their divorce, their daughter, the lawsuit.  He responds with surprise and asks if she is kidding.  At this point the reader has felt something odd is going on and wonders if Judson perhaps is in an alternate time or something since the title has alerted us to time being a component of this story.  But the wife, no longer angry, agrees to kidding and the reader realises nothing out of the ordinary has happened.  Judson then tells his wife, Millie, that he has proven that time is slowing down and she soft-spoken., challenges him that time does not exist and is only an abstract concept.  What follows, is what is supposed to be a humorous conversation between the two as they neither really pay much attention to the other with Judson very concerned that the world is coming to an end as time will eventually stop and Millie amused as she cracks witticisms.

Later they attend a symposium.  Judson presents his findings and is applauded and heralded.  The speaker after him. Judson does not respect and doesn't pay much attention to until the buzz in the room makes him listen and he realises that this mathematician has just proved that time is speeding up.  Well, then follows what are supposed to humorous exchanges in which one side of scientists "near-stampede" as they surround the one man and the others "spoke in measured tones" as they came to give support to Judson.  The story ends with a punchline.  I didn't really find the story funny.  There was too much scientific gobbledygook during the discussions, but I guess readers of OMNI wouldn't mind this.  The hook at the beginning made me expect something better.  Not to my tastes at all.


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