||A wonderful story about obsession and
asks about the paradox of time travel, of how changing the past could
destroy the person who makes the change, I will from now on have to cite
this book. In it, everything is explained. Usually, we talk about
parallel universes, so that the person who makes a change in the past is
from another universe altogether, so that the change does not affect
him. In this book, the Technician, who makes changes, is surrounded by a
sort of time stasis field, which protects him. Eternity, the company,
exists literally outside of time.
It's amazing to see how much of this
book still holds up so well after nearly half a century. The book could
have almost been written recently. The only problems are cultural,
especially with Asimov's view of women. As always, he sees them as
distractions and housewives. But that was how women were viewed in the
1950s, and only Asimov's use of Noys as a special agent makes this book
special in that regard. Eternity, however, has no women. The main
character starts to envy the maintenance class of people, but how could
they be so happy without families?
As usual, we get a very clear picture
of the world of Eternity through the actions and thoughts of the main
character, Andrew Harlan. There is very little exposition through
narration, only from Harlan to himself or Noys or his protégé, Cooper.
We get little hints of information, some of it misleading, but all of it
is put to good use somewhere, even seemingly-trivial things.
I love the way Harlan is always so
passionate in his opinions, and especially how he was always so wrong.
His opinions and jealousy of his superior, Computer Finge, was a lot of
fun to read about, because it was so over-the-top and so blinding that
he just had to be wrong. As a reader, I just had to wait and see how far
he would go before realizing that his initial assumptions were wrong, to
see how deep he would dig himself, so to speak.
But the really fun part of this book
was the time-travel, and how it was so casual. This is another of
Asimov's studies of how to make humanity better in spite of itself. It
happens also in Robots and Empire,
Prelude to Foundation, and again in
Foundation and Earth, at least. The people at Eternity deal with
altering Time in order to destroy all desperate times, and to make the
world a better place. Eternity exists for almost a hundred thousand
centuries, and the analysts and psychologists in every century get their
input on how to better humanity. In one instance, the destruction of a
new technology for spaceflight prevents serious drug addiction for much
of humanity centuries "upwhen".
The people in those centuries don't
know that a change occurred, of course, as their memories and
personalities changed to fit the new Reality. In short, Reality is a
fluid thing, and the Eternals take advantage of that.
Humanity also goes through cycles.
Through the centuries, humans seem to forget many things, and they
repeat social evolution. They create spaceflight many times over the
centuries, but abandon it shortly and return to Earth. Ground cars,
nuclear power and other technology return again and again. I loved it
when Harlan says, on numerous occasions, that such a thing as he was
talking about was similar to something in the past or future, and rhymes
off several centuries as examples.
Of course, when he is put into a
mission that involved the woman, Noys, he falls desperately in love with
her, and breaks so many of Eternity's rules in order to keep her
unchanged. He plots how she would be altered when her Reality was
changed, and brings her into Eternity, hiding her in the Hidden
Centuries, years that Eternity has no access to. He comes across a
strange plot that he thinks he can use as bribery to keep Noys for
When things start to come together,
Harlan doesn't even realize it. Several plots actually unravel at the
same time. His superior's casual disregard for the rules is so funny
because Harlan doesn't believe it, and he continues to try and sabotage
Eternity. His protégé, Cooper, is being sent back to help invent the time stasis
field that makes Eternity possible. He manages to disrupt that because
he thinks even his most trusted superior is going to kill Noys. Going
back in time to try and reverse the damage, he discovers that Noys is
actually from the Hidden Centuries, and plans on destroying Eternity
herself, through him.
The picture that Asimov paints of
humanity's future under the guiding hand of Eternity is a grim one. By
eliminating any hardship, Eternity has weeded out the strong people, as
well: the ingenious ones. By Noys' time, they have discovered how to
look across the infinite alternate realities, and found that humanity
died out because they couldn't cope with the mediocrity that total
equality brings. Mankind finally did make it out into the Galaxy, but
found that they were last to do so, and most primitive, and were
seriously inferior to the alien beings that were out there already.
This is a concept that Asimov is well
known for believing in, but his first editors would not allow humanity
to be even second-best. This is why he created a galaxy with no aliens
in it for his Robot, Galactic Empire, and Foundation novels. He did not
believe that humanity could be the top galactic species, but more likely
somewhere in the middle. That kind of galactic society would have to
wait for Devin Brin, and his Uplift series.
So what he does in this novel is to
restore humanity to the history that we know, from the early 20th
Century, which will allow humans to create a Galactic Empire. I know
that there is mention of the Eternals in one of the later-written
Foundation novels, and I suppose that rumor could even come from
Harlan and Noys. For although Harlan wants to kill Noys because he
discovers who she is, he ultimately decides to give humanity the chance
by not rectifying his sabotage. This will strand Cooper in the 20th
Century, and not allow him to create the temporal field, which means the
End of Eternity.
I liked the sudden turns this book
took, and I really loved the setting. I've always loved time travel, and
never worried about the loops or paradoxes; in fact, I've always loved
the paradoxes, and the means people find ways to explain them. To have
an interesting and passionate main character is an added bonus. This was