Time’s Eye – Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Like 2001 and it’s sequels, “Time’s Eye” is driven by the intervention in human affairs by unknowable and very powerful alien beings. In a flash, the Earth is divided up in chunks from different times. A UN helicopter crew from 2037, a British Colonial detachment in Afghanistan, the armies of Alexander the great and Genghis Khan are all shoved together onto the same Earth, in the same general area. Overlooking these humans and their reactions to the discontinuity are reflecting spheres hovering above the ground, inscrutable and silent.

While there is some focus on attempting to solve the mystery of the events which have brought the protagonists to this, the main thrust of the story is rather typical alternate history fare, much like 1632 or Island in the Sea of Time. Frankly this aspect has been done better. I did find, however, that Clarke and Baxter manage to infuse the characters with a sense of their place in time and space. Unlike many other alternate history stories, this one does not revel in, or lose itself in, the practicalities of the events. Sure, the “modern” humans introduce the stirrup and steam engines, but unlike with Stirling (who, to be fair, I much enjoy reading) the alternate history angle does not seem to be the actual point.

Time’s eye shows hints of what the superhuman beings behind the “Eyes” are actually doing. It is cruel indeed, but seen as necessary. So do the means really justify the ends?

 

Orion; Vengeance of Orion; Orion and the Conqueror – Ben Bova

Widely considered to be Bova’s masterpiece, I never really figured out these books (and yet for some reason I read three of them). Our titular hero loses his memory, fights evil as he jumps back and forth in different eras of past and future. These jumps are more or less out of his control. He constantly loses and regains his beloved. The first book is decent, but after that it’s really just rinse and repeat and they blend into each other in my memory. I gave up after book three.

Eon and Eternity – Greg Bear

Greg Bear can think BIG. Eon is his classic tale of an asteroid that arrives in orbit around the earth. The asteroid is revealed to be simply one endpoint for an endless (?) corridor named The Way. Inside The Way is the city of Thistledown, populated by humans. That human civilization is thousand of years old. Thistledown is the future, and the past. Greg Bear knows how to describe his quantum mechanics, and the non technical reader should not be intimidated. The characters and intrigues of the various factions, as well as the strong characters and fabulous descriptions all combine in a marvelous story.

The sequel, Eternity, is about how mankind must give up it’s manipulation on space-time. After the message of hope brought by the first novel, it is interesting how in Eternity Bear takes humanity back down a notch, not closing the door to the future but simply reminding us that the gods do not take kindly to hubris. And through it all, Bear’s astounding imagination is combined with a gift for good, clear and interesting prose.

Timelike Infinity – Stephen Baxter

In this important book in Baxter’s Xeelee sequence, Michael Poole, architect of a tunnel through time, must confront what happens when the tunnel ends in a time when humanity is enslaved. Be prepared to stretch those physics and existential synapses in your brain to the limit. If you are not really into hard SciFi, you should probably give this one a pass.

Marooned in Realtime – Vernor Vinge

This novel is published both as a singleton and in the omnibus edition Across Realtime together with its prequel The Peace War.

The sequel to “The Peace War” jumps 50 million years into the future. The 300 remaining humans travel forward through the eons with Bobbles, the invulnerable stasis fields introduced in “The Peace War”. One of them is left behind. The only remaining cop in the world must solve the mystery of why she had to die marooned in “realtime” while the rest jumped ahead in time. This book is absolutely fantastic. The factional disputes, the feeling of disconnection, the sheer human suffering of losing everything you ever knew, is portrayed masterfully. It delves deeply into the question of what should we, as humans, really do with our lives and our race. Some wish to recreate the human race now that enough people are simultanously “in realtime” (not in stasis). Some with to travel forward through the eons and see what awaits at the end of the universe. Some, it would seem, want to continue the nationalist struggles of a long-lost past. What a ride!

The Peace War – Vernor Vinge

This novel is published both as a singleton and in the omnibus edition Across Realtime together with the sequel Marooned in Realtime.

The “Peace Authority” has stopped war by encasing warring factions in impenetrable force fields known as “bobbles” created by the “Bobbler”. Then all high technology was banned. Fifty years later, the inventor of the Bobbler leads a revolution.

Vinge skillfully describes the human condition in this very odd future world. While most humans are poor, the Peace Authority has set itself up as a sort of benevolent dictatorship, but it has stagnated technologically. The Tinkers, under the ad-hoc leadership of Paul Naismith, inventor of the Bobbler, have advanced electronics well beyond those of the Authority. The Authority’s blind spot is that it cannot believe the Tinkers are so advanced when high energy applications are banned.

There is a little of everything here. A coming of age story, love lost and hope for its resumtion, honor, loyalty, betrayal. Vinge uses the plot device of the bobbler and the bobbles to great effect, and meticulously exhausts the implications of the technology’s effect on humanity.