| Time Travel
Time travel guarantees to strain even the most nimble minds. Still, despite the ever present danger of a brain spasm, we are drawn to these stories like the proverbial moth. Work your way through David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself and tell me that your brain doesn't hurt. Yeah, like I'll believe you. Time travel is simply one of those incredibly juicy ideas that, even without any evidence to support it, we cannot resist. Without further ado, here are books for when you absolutely had to have something new to read yesterday.
The Fury Out of Time LLoyd Biggle Jr.
This is not one of
Biggle's more serious books so don't judge his works by this one example.
Fury Out of Time proves to be an enjoyable space-time opera.
Biggle's characters have a depth and charm that many such operas lack.
It's a cold autumn
day and Bowden Karvel, air force pilot Major Karvel before the accident,
is sitting at a lone table out behind Whistler's tavern enjoying the view
across the valley. At 32, Karvel's military career and dreams of being
an astronaut are finished and on a good day he'd be drinking whisky, but
this isn't a good day. At night, Karvel
is tormented by his demons and during the day he is a man without purpose.
That is until today when, far across the valley, Karvel watches a lone
tree unexpectedly topple to the ground.
At that instant a
large spherical object had popped into existence near that tree and, with
its arrival, a deadly wave of destruction went spiraling outwards from
the epicenter with the lone tree its first victim. From his vantage point,
Karvel was one of few to both witness and survive (barely) the spiraling
death. It was this unique combination that brought Karvel to the attention
of Gerald Haskins and started Karvel along a new path in life.
Gerald Haskins, of
uncertain rank and affiliation, is an expediter; a man who is given the
tough problems and produces answers. Gerald Haskins is only interested
in two kinds of people; those who can tell him what he wants to know and
those who can do what he wants done. It is with some discomfort that Karvel
discovers that Haskins finds him very interesting indeed.
And so begins Karvel's
odyssey as it is discovered that the unidentified sphere is in fact a
very destructive time machine. In the course of his adventures, Karvel
is cast far into the future to confront the supposed creators of the time
machine (to ask them to please not send any more) and into the far past.
To tell much more would detract from the book.
As I said, The Fury Out of Time is not a serious work but it is much more
substantive that a typical space-time opera. Biggle's writing style is
full of detail that lends his characters a real life. This book is well
worth reading for some lighter entertainment.
The Return of the Time Machine Egon Friedell
I've listed this book
primarily because of its novelty value. If you've read Wells' The Time
Machine and are expecting something similar, don't hold your breath.
This book begins with
the premise that Wells, rather than having written a novel, simply reported
factually the actual adventures of the Time Traveler. The book consists
of a series of letters between Friedell and various people as he tries
to determine whether the Time Traveler is real and what his fate was. Eventually,
Friedell finds someone claiming to know the actual details of the Time
Traveler's fate and there begins a lengthy narrative.
Wells' The Time
Machine is a book populated with juicy ideas and just enough prose
to get them across. Friedell's work, on the other hand, rambles on and
on with pseudo science and mumbo jumbo in an attempt to explain what is
unexplainable and frankly needs no explanation. Like Wells, Friedell attempts
some social comment by the natures of the future societies encountered
but the encounters are brief and not very satisfying.
If this book did not
bear a tenuous connection to Wells I would have set it aside long before
reaching the end. Of course your mileage may vary.
Technicolor Time Machine Harry Harrison
well known for his many excellent books, takes a humorous romp in time
with the Technicolor Time
L.M. Greenspan, head
of Climactic Studios and responsible for such great epics as The Creature's
Son Marries the Thing's Daughter, is up to his ears in hock and about
to lose it all once the banks get wind of the books. For this reason alone,
L.M. has been convinced to back a crazy scheme concocted by desperate
producer, Barney Hendrickson, whose mediocre film career is about to vanish
along with Climactic Studios. Seems that Barney has met a certain Professor
Hewett whose invention, the vremeatron, promises to haul their collective
buts out of the fire.
What Climactic Studios
needs is a new multimillion dollar asset, like a wide-screen historical
epic. With less than a week to make the film before the banks close in
for the kill, they'd need a time machine to have a hope in hell. Fortunately,
the vremeatron - vreme from Serbo-Croatian for 'time' in honour of a maternal
grandmother - is a working time machine. Barney's plan is to ship a complete
production crew into the past and film and edit the whole thing on site,
using local natives as extras and returning to L.M. minutes later with
a completed film. This sets the stage for the creation of Climactic Studios'
biggest film ever, Viking Columbus.
As one might imagine,
the road for Barney is anything but smooth. Barney's salvation is Ottar
the Viking who, having recently acquired a fondness for Jack Daniels,
is very eager to help the studio out. Ottar, created from the same mold
as the Vikings of legend, is a true method actor and as hard to control
as a force of nature.
Time Machine eschews
the laugh-a-minute formula opting for a subdued humour that is more likely
to put a smile on your face than draw outright laughter. This book is
light reading and thoroughly enjoyable.
Time and Again Clifford D. Simak
I first read this
book many years ago and had forgotten what a little gem it is. Simak has
a special skill for parceling a story into neat, tidy, little pieces all
of which then click precisely together to form a story.
It is the future and
spread to the stars like seeds before the wind. One star system, though,
shrouded in mystery, has defied Man's every attempt to visit it. Every
expedition to 61 Cygni has found its path inexplicably deflected and has
been forced to return home in frustration. In desperation, special
agent Asher Sutton was sent on a solo mission, but unlike the others he
did not return and 61 Cygni was quietly forgotten.
As the book begins,
twenty years have passed and, against all odds, Asher Sutton has returned.
The mystery only deepens when it is discovered that Asher's ship was damaged
many years ago in a crash that left it completely disabled and ought to
have killed its sole passenger. The conclusion becomes inescapable; Asher
Sutton died but now he's back. As the story develops, we discover Asher
is not alone and it's not clear that he's even entirely human. But most
importantly, Asher returns bearing an idea that will shake Mankind's beliefs
to their foundations.
Mankind is spread thin across the stars and to help hold the frontier
he has created biological androids. Created in the lab by chemical means,
androids are sterile and cannot reproduce but in all other respects are
as human as their creators. None the less, androids are treated as property
and bear a mark on their foreheads to distinguish them from "true"
Androids dream of
one day being acknowledged and treated as the equals of the "humans"
and Asher's idea is the key for which they have been searching. Asher
soon becomes the center of a struggle between three groups; humans of
the present who fear any new idea that might loosen Mankind's tenuous
grip on the stars, humans of the future who, via time travel, are waging
a quiet war to alter the past to maintain the current status quo, and
the androids of the future who struggle to let Asher's idea be born.
Simak weaves these
disparate elements into a delicious story. Hope you enjoy it as much as
The Time Machine H.G. Wells
The Time Machine is Well's first published novel (1895) and is considered a classic by
many. It should be unnecessary to summarize the story but for the sake
of those few who have never read it, here goes.
The Timer Traveler
(for he is identified by no other name) is one of those rare individuals
who is "too clever to be believed". A person who does things
so easily, regardless of difficulty, that it becomes difficult to distinguish
the miraculous from the mundane for they flow with equal ease from his
person. A startling demonstration could as easily be real or only a clever
parlor trick as he is equally capable of both.
One evening, a group
of friends have gathered at the Time Traveler's home to dine and are surprised
to find their host absent. Previous instructions bid the guests to begin
dinner at 7:00 regardless of their host's presence. A week earlier, several
of the guests had also dined with the Timer Traveler and were treated
to his theories of time travel and a simple demonstration.
Soon after dinner
starts, the guests are startled by the Time Traveler's sudden arrival.
Disheveled and weary in appearance, he is apparently also ravenous as
he downs a considerable meal of mutton before he is capable of speaking
at length. His hunger sated, the Time Traveler begins to recount the strange
tale of what has befallen him.
The rest of the book
details the events of the Time Traveler's journey into the far future
where he encountered a simple, delicate and graceful race of Men which
he called the Eloi. These people knew no toil and occupied their days
pursuing the simple pleasures of life like children. The Time Traveler's
first impression was that these were the descendants of people who had
conquered the need to labor and struggle. Without these driving forces,
he imagined, intelligence and ambition soon dwindled away.
With the theft of
his time machine, the Traveler soon became acquainted with the future's
second set of inhabitants, the Moorlocks. The Moorlocks lived underground
and had an incredibly intuitive grasp of machinery. With time, the Traveler
eventually uncovered the strange relationship between the Eloi and the
Moorlocks. I won't say more, in case you'd like to read the book.
This book is an ideas
book, unlike his later work The War of the Worlds which I consider
to be mainly about people. Characterizations in The Time Machine are thin, with the exception of the Traveler himself. Similarly, the plot
elements are pretty weak. Nonetheless, the ideas presented here are juicy
enough to make up for these weaknesses. The only thing I really didn't
like about the book was the ending. Oh well.
The Year of the Quiet Sun Wilson
Wilson Tucker must
love time travel as he has written several books on the subject. Unlike
many, however, he seems less interested in the potential paradoxes as
the human impact, especially on the travelers themselves. The
Year of the Quiet Sun follows Dr. Brain Chaney, Major Moresby and Lieutenant
Commander Arthur Saltus on a journey into an unknown future.
After publishing a
controversial translation of the biblical Revelations scroll, Dr. Brian
Chaney is quietly weathering the publicity storm on Indian Rocks beach
Florida. Saddled with sudden notoriety, Chaney is looking forward to returning
to the Indiana Corporation think-tank and his previous role as an extrapolative
statistician and futurist.
At that same time,
however, the government Bureau of Standards has other plans in mind for
Chaney. While in the employ of the Indiana Corporation, Chaney completed
a study for the bureau highlighting likely trends into the near future.
For stage two of the project, the bureau has constructed a TDV
(Time Displacement Vehicle) which is now in final testing. It seems clear
to them that Chaney is an ideal candidate to join the team that will conduct
the first physical survey of the near future, however reluctant he might
This a book, first
and foremost, about people. It does underline, however, that the career
of prophet has always been a difficult one. Predicting the future is perilous.
Seemingly small and insignificant events can lead to radical and unpredictable
consequences; a lesson our intrepid adventurers are about to learn.
In ancient writings,
the Quiet Sun is a symbol of peace and tranquility. If this is our future,
one can only wonder by what path it will be reached.