Science Fiction Book Review


Time's Eye

(2004) Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 12.99, hrdbk, 263pp, ISBN 0-575-07530-9

 

In 2037 (and elsewhen through Earth's history) there is a temporal discontinuity that effectively chops up the planet and reassembles it in a historical patchwork-quilt-world that brings together proto-humans, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and their armies, a bunch of Brits in the Afghanistan of 1885 - including Rudyard Kipling - and some modern (2037) humans from a peacekeeping force and the international space station. The new Earth, eventually dubbed Mir, is peppered with silver globes that seem to watch events unfold. A radio source is discovered in Babylon and everyone heads over that way, just to discover an even bigger silver globe. Then there's a big fight between the armies mentioned above over control of Babylon while all concerned mull over the meaning of the globes, and over why there are no time-refugees from any period later than 2037.

The authors' note says, "This book, and the series which it opens, neither follows nor precedes the books of the earlier Odyssey series (cf. 3001: The Final Odyssey), but is at right angles to them: not a sequel or prequel, but an 'orthoquel', taking similar premises in a different direction." Of course they mean the 'space' odyssey (2001 and related titles) and not Homer's, but the usage grates. Leaving that aside, the 'plot', such as it is, reflects the 'earlier Odyssey' only insofaras there being an enigmatic alien intervention in Humankind's history/development. Let's hope there's more plot to come (and, since this is a 'book one', I think we can safely assume there will be), because there's very little of interest so far. That's the problem with writing about these super-advanced alien races - on the one hand you have to be enigmatic and 'alien', but on the other you have to at the very least be capable of interpreting what they're about. For instance addressing why these aloof intelligences with arrogant disregard for human life (the usual comparisons between humans and ants apply) would bring about so much suffering while allowing a compassionate 'get-out' clause for one of the characters to return to 2037 at the end of the book. I hope there's a plot. I hope this isn't an excuse to cash in on the supposed popularity of the pairing of the two authors (and spin it out into a series). On the 'pro' side I have to say I enjoyed their previous offering, The Light of Other Days; on the 'con' side there's the disappointment of Baxter's Time, Space, and Origin series (which sucked considerably) and Clarke's earlier (equally sucky) collaborations. I'm tempted to write 'time will tell', but at any rate it's a cautious thumbs up so far, but only because the book is well-written (and short) enough not to make it a chore to read. But there'd better be something pretty amazing to come in future volumes, or we could see the reputations of two gifted storytellers slide (further) down the drain. Fingers crossed!

Tony Chester

Here is Jonathan's take on Time's Eye.

Check out the following links for a reviews of the reprints of Clarkes early novel A fall of Moondust and The Wind From the Sun. Not to mention The Light of Other Days by Clarke & Baxter.


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