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Time's Eye: A Time Odyssey Book One

by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter

(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.)

Review by Stuart Jaffe

Writing is a solitary action most of the time. But on occasion writers get tired of locking themselves away in a dark room, spilling cover scan (US)their 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 separate contributors.

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 cover scan (UK)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.

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