Time's Eye: A Time Odyssey Book One
(US: Del Rey, $26.95, 368 pages, hardback; January 2004. UK: Gollancz,
£12.99, 263 pages, hardback, published 17 June 2004; Gollancz,
£6.99, 345 pages, paperback, this edition published May 2005.)
Writing is a solitary action most of the time. But on occasion writers
get tired of locking themselves away in a dark room, spilling
innards onto paper, and displaying it for public ridicule. On occasion,
writers seek out other writers to share in this masochistic art. And
on occasion the result actually goes beyond the capabilities of the
Even when it works, though, it still can be clunky. For example, in
the well known team-up The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter
Straub, while the story plays out wonderfully, the writing has clear
marks of stylistic difference. In other words, the reader can feel
that this page was written by one author and that page by the other.
In Time's Eye, offered up by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter,
the prose is blended into a smooth style that never betrays which author
wrote which words.
The story works well, too, and at times, borders on superb. It is a
new step in the famous Odyssey series (notably, it's Book One
of A Time Odyssey, so, yes, there are more on the way), described
by Clarke as
a novel that is neither sequel nor prequel to 2001, 2010
and the rest, but rather an orthequel -- "taking similar premises
in a different direction". As unnecessary as that distinction may sound,
when I finished reading the story I agreed that it aptly served.
So, what the heck is this orthequel about, and why is it any good?
Well, it's like this: A bizarre shift in temporal space patchworks a
new planet Earth from 2,000,000 years' worth of slices. An Australopithecine
mother and child, Genghis Khan, the Mongol army, Alexander the Great,
the Macedonians, Rudyard Kipling, a small portion of the 19th-century
British army, three UN peacekeepers from 2037, as well as three Soyuz
cosmonauts and many others, all find themselves thrown together to survive.
All the while, they are constantly observed by floating gold balls that
defy the laws of geometry and physics. How this mess entangles and unfolds
is the major thrust of the story, with the centrepiece being an epic
battle between the armies of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.
Questions of God and gods come into play as the main characters realize
that these gold balls speak of greater technology than anyone known
possesses. That's right. If you're paying attention, you've noticed
that the greater technology of the monolith has been replaced by the
greater technology of these observing spheres. That choice, as well
as others (starting the novel with the Australopithecine's having an
intelligent machine asking if it will dream, that kind of thing), could
have been disastrous, turning the story into a sad remembrance of a
better odyssey. In the hands of such able writers as these, however,
the gambit pays off.
There are a few flaws (nothing can be perfect, of course). Some digressions
into the history and lives of the Mongols and Macedonians, as well as
their respective rulers, read like classroom lectures, mainly because
they are not seen effectively through any character's eyes. Also, several
potentially dangerous/disastrous events are thwarted rather easily.
These are minor matters, though, in a book that generally delivers.
In the end, Time's Eye is a fast-paced wild ride written with
a flare of Golden Age SF that leaves me anxious for the next book.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: