Time’s Eye – by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

A couple of weeks ago my sci-fi nut colleague suggested I might like this book. She will read this and not be offended. She is one of the few people I know who is a published author, and who knows other authors personally. In my book you qualify as a sci-fi nut if you have attended sci-fi conventions and sat at the breakfast table for kaffeeclatsch with Robert Forward, and have met Larry Niven and a host of other writers.

I am grateful to her for turning me on to Time’s Eye. This is the first book of the Time Odyssey trilogy, co-written by Clarke and Baxter. I already went down to the big Borders on Washington Street (I am still in Boston) and got the second book of the trilogy, which I will start reading on the plane home.

The time/space continuum experiences a “discontinuity” for reasons unexplained. Different parts of the earth shift to different times. If you were to be downtown Boston and you stood in front of Faneuil Hall during the “event” on May 21, 2009 at 4:00pm, you would see the sun shift all of a sudden if you ended up say at 10:35am on August 9, 1771. You would be surrounded by horses and buggies. If you were lucky you might spot John Adams walking upstairs for another of the famous fiery revolutionary debates that took place there at the “cradle of liberty.” And you’d be stuck there, in 1771, since the slice of earth where you stood shifted there.

As it turns out, the earth was shifted in many sections, to times as far back as two million years, and all they way forward to 2037. Say you took a buggy and horse from Boston and headed west, through the roads of Massachusetts of the 18th century, and you traveled long enough, you might end up on a slice of earth that shifted 10,000 years and you could run into a Mammoth or a saber tooth tiger.

Needless to say, it was a strange world for those stranded there. Most of the story takes place in what today are Afghanistan and the surrounding areas. Wouldn’t you know it, the two “greatest” conquerors of all time ended up alive at the same time, armies eventually crashing: Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.

Quickly, how do these two relate on the timeline? My take was they both lived a long time ago. Alexander died in the year 323 B.C. and Genghis Khan died in the year 1227. That means that from Genghis Khan’s point of view, Alexander is twice as far away from him on the timeline as we are.  Yet, to us, both are ancient history. The amazing effects of temporal relativity continue to fascinate me.

In this story, a small and completely outnumbered minority of “moderns” including a few people from 2037, and a regiment of British soldiers from 1880 get thrown in with the ancient Macedonians under Alexander and a few others with the fierce and deadly Mongols. And they make do. What would you say if you were all of a sudden with Alexander the Great. That’s what this story is about.

There is a plot, there are questions that lead you to buy the next book, but overall it’s great speculative entertainment, and that’s why we buy science fiction.

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