Rare Books, Bought and Sold

“An odd anthology.” Takes a drag on the herbal cigarette, fiddles uncomfortably with the spent match. “Publication date of 1953, but several of the stories reference events and people from much later. Not famous things, mind; not the sort of thing you’d spot unless you were actively looking for it. No overt technological anachronisms, nothing substantially paradoxical, just… background details.” Glances out the bay window overlooking the street. No sign of any disturbance; that’s good.

“Give me an example.”

“Sir.” Straightens up. “Take for example the story The Man Who Collected September 23. Information hoarding. Lots of lists, trivia, non-literary culture, ad jingles, that sort of thing. Very comfortably postmodern, easily the sort of thing you might find in a 1953 collection of literary or aspirationally literary stories.” A grey car with Montana plates turns the corner; nearly time. Leans in, starts talking slightly louder. “But the details are all wrong; ads for soaps that wouldn’t come on the market for another couple of years, unsuccessful, mostly forgotten songs that weren’t released until the 60s, hair styles and fashions that are nearly but not quite right, that sort of thing.”

“Some printer’s error?”

“No, we tested the paper, the glue, the end pages; all the usual tests. The book dates from 1953, sure enough. That’s not the only problem story, either; they’ve all got some minor impossibility or other in them. Took us forever to figure out what was going on, but—” grinds the remains of the cigarette out in the ash tray; the car slows to a stop outside the window. “—we think we’ve figured it out.”

Glass shatters.