Fiction Reviews

Time's Eye: A Time Odyssey - Book One

(2004) Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 345 pp, ISBN 0-575-07647-X


This is the 2005 paperback edition of last year's Gollancz hardback which Tony reviewed. So here is my take...

A UN helicopter in the North-West Frontier is shot down by a young insurgent, but as the crew emerge from the wreckage they find themselves surrounded by 19th century British troop complete with one Rudyard Kipling. A sivapithecine is also found nearby. Using the copter's radio the crashed crew also find that there is a Russian spacecraft stranded in orbit overhead. The spacecraft crew report that all the modern cities on Earth have gone though there appears to be activity around Chicago and Babylon while there are what appear to be numerous small fires on the plains of East Asia. Something has brought sections of the Earth from various times over a two million year period together on a new Earth, which they dub 'Mir'. The 'something' could well be connected to the mysterious hovering metallic eyes that are found all over the place and which appear in numbers when anything 'interesting' seems to happen...

It is very difficult to do anything new in SF, the best a good author (or good authors) can do is to build upon the body of SF work that has accumulated over the past century or so. So not surprisingly Time's Eye's opening premise is reminiscent of other work: in this instance Gordon R. Dickson's Time Storm (1977) which saw areas across the planet shift in time and the protagonists having to journey through this landscape. Time's Eye's protagonists also have to foot slog. However Mind's Eye also deliberately build's on Clarke's own Space Odyssey. 'Deliberately' as Time's Eye sports an introductory note stating that this is not a prequel or a sequel to the Odyssey series but is an 'orthoquel' to it, taking similar premises in a different direction. And, yes, similarities abound.

A somewhat clunky beginning sees sivapithecine 'Seeker' encounter one of the mysterious eyes before being transported in time and this is directly analogous to sivapithecine 'Moon-Watcher' at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal the computer has a counterpart in a fairly bog-standard (for 2037) intelligent phone carried by one of the copter crew, and the all-seeing eyes have their counterparts in the 2001 monoliths. And yes, alien intelligence is briefly mentioned.

Clarke and Baxter are unlikely to receive any major literary award, such are their writing styles (and which is ironic given the way the Clarke Award has been run), and Time's Eye is no 'literary' book. It is though a sound work of SF (SF has dimensions of quality other than purely literary) and Mind's Eye is as grand a science fictional read as Clarke and Baxter regulars might well expect. Here they do not disappoint. (And of course both authors have won their share of SF awards.) The Clarke-Baxter writing partnership works though of course we do not (at the time of writing) know how they managed their relationship on this venture: one might suspect that Clarke had an overall idea, produced some notes and passages while Baxter built up the novel with Clarke tinkering the text...(?). Whatever the relationship, Time's Eye not only draws on 2001 but some of Baxter's other works, of which there are clear parallels with his 'Manifold' series and in particular Origin (2002), which I seemed to like more than Tony.

With more novels in the 'Time Odyssey' series to come this collection of work is sure to gather a following and momentum. I await book two with interest. It is early days yet and I do hope that the build up is worth it. (Some of the 'alien' mentions appear a little premature but we'll see.) Much depends on the conclusion if the series is to be more than a collection of good reads. It should be at least fun finding out.

Jonathan Cowie

Other reviews on this site of Stephen Baxter books include: Coalescent, Origin, Moonseed, Space, Time, Titan, Traces, and Vacuum Diagrams..

Other reviews on this site of Arthur C. Clarke books include: The Other Side of the Sky, The Wind From the Sun, A Fall of Moondust, 3001: Final Odyssey, The Other Side of the Sky, and The Wind From the Sun.

And by both Clarke and Baxter: The Light of Other Days..

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