Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review - The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov


Short review: Andrew Harlan and the other Eternals guard humanity by changing time. But their "help" may turn out to be not so helpful after all.

Haiku
Travel throughout time
For humanity's safety
And that's the problem

Full review: Asimov is most famous for writing his Robot books and the Foundation series, but I think his stand alone novels are among his best works. This is one of his best - a time travel story that avoids creating a situation in which time paradoxes weigh the story down while pointing out some of the troubles time travel might cause, even if applied for apparently benevolent purposes.

Asimov liked time travel stories. His catalogue of short stories is full of them, but this appears to be his only time travel novel. The central character, Andrew Harlan, is a member of the Eternals, an organization that controls time travel technology, and as a result, controls history. The organization is run for generally benevolent purposes, and seeks to protect humanity from danger. Harlan travels through time "fixing" small events to prevent the development of dangerous technology, and protect humanity from itself. Unfortunately, as the plot develops, it turns out that this benevolence comes at a cost, and protecting humanity from danger also means protecting it from opportunity, leading to stagnation and death.

Though Asimov's characters are generally seen as somewhat one-dimensional, the character of the protagonist in this novel makes sense (even if he is a bit wooden). What truly drives this book is its examination of the implications of time travel, even if it were to be used wisely (and not, for example, to go back and create a time paradox by killing your own grandfather before he sired your father). This is one of Asimov's best works, and one of the reasons he is considered to be one of the "Big Three" of the genre.

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2 comments:

  1. Gosh, I read this so long ago I barely remember. I think I went through all his books in record time and now they sort of run together in my mind.
    Except for The Foundation Trilogy.

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  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: I think this one was one of his best non-Robot non-Foundation stories. Taking a completely benevolent use of time travel technology and examining how even the most benign intentions can result in disaster makes this book a very interesting piece of fiction.

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