I've been a little burnt-out on new sf the past month. Last week, I started pulling older anthologies off of the shelf and treating myself to older stories before bed. One of these anthologies is Aldiss's Galactic Empires Volume 1.
There's not much about Lafferty's "Been a Long, Long Time" on the surface that would mark it out as "galactic empire" material. Aldiss's choice is appropriate nonetheless as he uses the story at the beginning of his anthology to ease the reader into huge vistas and enormous unravelings of time.
From the first "sundering Dawn" and the accompanying war in heaven through the million billion cycles that follow, Lafferty's sly little short conveys the passing of time as something at once brief ("Quite a while after this" is used as a segue between the moment of creation and "one afternoon at a news-stand in Los Angeles") and mightily tremendous.
( "Then it all collapsed.
The stars went out, one by one, and billion by billion. Nightmares of falling! All the darkened orbs and oblates fell down into the void that was all bottom. There was nothing left but one tight pod in the void, and a few out of context things like Michael and his associates, and Boshel and his monkeys.
Boshel had a moment of unease: he had become used to the appearance of the expanding universe. But he need not have been uneasy. It began all over again.
A few billion centuries ticked by silently. Once more, the pod burst into a shower of sparks that traveled and grew. They acquired form and spin, and life appeared again on the spot specks thrown off from those sparks.
This happened again and again." )
The story is a dressed-up math joke, riffing on probabilities and monkeys typing with a little bit of angelology ribbing thrown in. It works perfectly and I could see it easily placing in a "probability" themed anthology (if someone hasn't done this, it should be done). If you'd asked me if it belonged in an anthology about "galactic empires," I'd've told you that you're nuts. But Aldiss is a genius anthologist for placing this as the first story in his anthology. "Been a Long, Long Time" relaxes readers into million billion cycles with a grin. Now, the grim lords of space and time can impose their wills on epochs and event horizons and we know not to take them all too seriously. Blasters and jet packs ready, I'm hankering to save a scantily clad galactic princess or two. Let the other monkeys worry about randomly reproducing high culture.