I wonder what she’s thinking.
‘There goes the neighborhood.’
-Bisesa Dutt and Abdikadir Omar, UN Peacekeepers, 2037, upon first seeing Seeker and Grasper, pre-history
It wasn’t so long ago that I wrote a review for what I believed was the last Odyssey book, 3001: The Final Odyssey. Foolish me. It seems that, having gone over one thousand years ahead in those books, we’re starting a new Odyssey: but instead of chronicling space, we’re hitting the other half of the equation: time. With Stephen Baxter, Arthur C. Clarke brings us Time’s Eye, the first book of “A Time Odyssey.”
The simplest way to state the premise could be “something weird is going on”; Earth has changed (or perhaps been rebuilt?), with parts of the planet coming from all parts of the planet’s history-or perhaps only mankind’s history. There are a number of points of view tacked by this book, and the simplest to relate to is probably the UN peacekeepers from the year 2037, running a mission in Afghanistan. At about the same time period, there are a trio of cosmonauts making a departure from the International Space Station. Both groups have the somewhat dubious honor of being caught in the discontinuity that cuts them both off from their own time-and puts them on the same footing as people from the distant past. The UN mission falls in with a unit of British soldiers from 1885, while the cosmonauts (not nearly as lucky) become acquainted with a Mongol horde.
Watching above it all appears to be a number of alien artifacts. No, they aren’t black monoliths-we’re in a Time Odyssey now, not a Space Odyssey. What we have are a number of silvery globes, hovering in mid air. Are they responsible for the sudden “toss in various spots and time and mix” situation, or are they simply recording something-or something else altogether? The only signs of what could be considered more modern technology seems to be coming from the city of Babylon; the journey to reach it and learn the secrets there will bring in conflict two of the greatest military leaders in history: Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. (No, I’m not spoiling anything here; you can read it on the front flap)
This book is quite different than the Space Odyssey books; I expect that in part, this is because it’s not looking at the future so much as the past (what we see of 2037 isn’t all that different than the present day). It’s possibly also in part the writing style of Stephen Baxter. The biggest difference is the introduction of conflict-the closest conflict that hit the Space Odyssey books was a bit of a fight on a luxury liner (well, physical conflict). But in Time’s Eye, we have conflict between the cosmonauts and the Mongols (and I gotta tell you, the character of Sable is really unlikable; makes you wonder how she got in the space program), between the cosmonauts themselves, and of course, the big meeting between the forces of Alexander and the Khan. This is no action novel, though-fans of previous Clarke works will find plenty to chew on, as the various characters begin to figure out what has happened, compare just when everyone came from; it’s also worth noting that the folks from further back the timeline adapt pretty well to meeting folks from the future.
I also should note that there is a companion CD-ROM that comes with the hardcover edition of this novel; I doubt it’ll be included with paperback versions, but you never know. I haven’t really had a chance to peruse it yet, but (among other things) it includes the novel Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter, which shows that this book isn’t the first book dealing with time that Baxter’s dealt with.
In the beginning of the book, the author’s note indicates that this is not a sequel to the Space Odyssey novels, but rather a part of a series that is kind of askew of it; there is indeed something behind all of this, and we only get short glimpses of it. And while the conclusion seems to open up more questions than answers, it does succeed in making me curious as to where things will go from here (there are quite a number of loose ends that will undoubtedly be picked up in the next book). I don’t know how many books will comprise this series, but Time’s Eye does a pretty nice job on setting the stage for future books.