October 21, 2015 History
Sci-fi in NoMad: The Met Tower Travels Back in Time

If you are a sci-fi enthusiast, don’t miss “The Runaway Skyscraper,” which can be read in its entirety at Project Gutenberg.

the runaway skyscraper bookcover

Putatively, writer Murray Leinster looked out of the window of his office in the Flatiron Building early in the 20th Century and saw the hands of the mass clock on the new Met Life Tower going counterclockwise, as though time were going in reverse. Workman in the tower were simply resetting the clocks, but it gave Leinster the idea for a thrilling science fiction story.

In it, Leister imagines that due to a seismic event, The Met Life Tower (called Metropolitan Tower in his story) crashes back through time several thousands of years. The inhabitants of the 20th Century building find themselves surrounded by a wooded New York inhabited by Native Americans. Woven with a love story, the main plot of “The Runaway Sykscraper” traces the building’s trip back through time to a pre-Colombian Manhattan and how it was returned to the modern era by engineer Arthur Chamberlain.

The writing might not be classic, but the description of the tower’s trip back into time is ingenious and there are some wonderful ideas and beautiful passages, such as this one.

“A bright moon shone overhead and silvered the white sides of the tower, while the brightly-lighted windows of the offices within glittered like jewels set into the shining shaft. 

From his position on the ground he (Arthur) looked into the dimness of the forest on all sides. Black obscurity had gathered beneath the dark masses of moonlit foliage. The tiny birch-bark teepees of the now deserted Indian village glowed palely. Above, the stars looked calmly down at the accusing finger of the tower pointing upward, as if in reproach at their indifference to the savagery that reigned over the whole earth.”

“The Runaway Skyscraper” first appeared in the February 22, 1919 issue of Argosy, America’s first pulp magazine published from 1882 through 1978. It’s really worth a read.

 

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