Book Report: Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (2004)

Book coverThe Winter 2022 Reading Challenge has a category Time Travel, so I found this book first amongst the many I have on my shelves that deal with time travel of one sort or another (all of them, at least the fiction books, deal with time travel at the speed of now, anyway). It helped that this book had “Time” right in the title.

At any rate, it’s an Arthur C. Clarke book. You know, he’s considered one of the big three with Asimov and Heinlein, but in the years since someone made that judgment, he’s really tailed off, ainna? He had, what, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, and 2001: A Space Odyssey followed by a bunch of sequels for each. Except, of course, with the one with end right in the title. Perhaps his short stories were something else, but barring that, I would not put him in Asimov or Heinlein’s class. Maybe the people who put him in the big three were his publicists.

This book, the first in a series called A Time Odyssey, has the premise that a couple of groups of mid-21st century people find themselves removed from their time and placed somewhere/somewhen else. A UN Peacekeeping reconnaissance helicopter is shot down and manages to crash in Afghanistan near a 1890s-era British fort. Just over the horizon, scouts find an army–Macedonians led by Alexander. Three astronauts returning to earth from the International Space Station arrive in the same time period in Mongolia–where Ghengis Khan’s army has found itself also. A member of the missing link species is captured with her daughter near the fort; and amid all the disruption, one of the helicopter officers’ phone calculates based on the position of the stars that they’re in the 13th century. The descending astronauts did not detect many signs of human life or activity aside from themselves. Oh, and alien orbs, impossibly perfect spheres, float above the landscape in various places.

So we’ve essentially got a book that throws a game of Civilization into a blender with tropes from Clarke’s other works (an ape, elevated; a computer that asks if it will dream when it’s shut down; an advanced civilization’s artifacts) and maybe some other works (Under the Dome, although that book came out five years after this one) to make a readable book that leaves one saying, “What’s it all about?” The groups and armies come together in a great battle at Babylon, where the biggest of the alien artifacts resides. And after that climactic battle, we get sixty pages of denouement that leads to…. What? The next book? One of the protagonists is returned to her own time, only to find one of the alien artifacts there.

You know, I read the Wikipedia entries for this series to see where it goes, and it goes like an Arthur C. Clarke series does. A conceit, readability, and then it’s an alien reveal that doesn’t lead to a triumph or resolution for man, but rather a big conceit. Meh. I prefer space opera, thanks.

So I checked off a book, and I have revisited Clarke and find my opinion of him has not changed since I read 2001: A Space Odyssey in 2007. I still haven’t gotten to that series’ sequels yet, and they’re on the outside edge of the to-read shelves in my office. Maybe next year since I’m finding myself in a mood to clear some of these old books out (which will last one or more of these old books or until my next trip to ABC Books).

But the first entry in the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge is complete.

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4 thoughts on “Book Report: Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (2004)

  1. I’ve always wondered why Clarke was included also. His best-known work didn’t come out until 1968 and even though “2001” drew on two of his short stories, it was heavily collaborative with Kubrick. Maybe it was the opinion among fellow authors rather than a kind of public acclaim.

    I always thought his strengths were in short stories because he’s seemed primarily an idea man and the short stories and novellas gave him the proper arena to work out the ideas. Most of his novels were dressed-up short stories; only a few like “Childhood’s End” have a narrative arc long enough to sustain a novel. Many of the others are almost like documentaries even though they concern fictional events. Sometimes that’s a strength; I like the way that the Rama ship enters the solar system a mystery and leaves after its rendezvous with humanity launches more questions than it ever answered.

    I don’t think much of the sequels to either “Rama” or “2001.” The 2001 series has a few ideas at its core but takes a looooooong time to get where it’s going. And the “Rama” series shows clearly how sometimes an author who tries to use later books to answer questions posed in earlier ones formed the question with much more ingenuity than the answer.

  2. You know, I meant to include Lost in the list of things mashed up in this book. The last sixty pages or so really just follow up, and after the battle, there’s a jump forward five years, and the book goes into what it wants to say about some of the characters five years in, but it does not tell much of the story of what happened at Babylon in those five years.

    I didn’t even like Childhood’s End when I read it as a kid.

    The books are as hard science fiction/engineering as Larry Niven, but without the personality and decent narrative.

    Still ahead of Greg Bear in my estimation, though.

  3. Agreed. Niven is head and shoulders superior. Given the length and breadth of Niven’s career and the way he sort of spans the tail end of the Golden Age into today, and given the number of major works he’s delivered, if there’s a *really* a big three he’s one of them.

    Also agree on Bear. I usually get him mixed up with David Brin and Gregory Benford until I recall which one wrote which book and then I remember he’s the lousy B.

  4. Niven got a healthy assist from his stable of co-authors. I don’t know if Clarke’s co-authors were as good, but I’ve not read any of Stephen Baxter’s work although I probably have some around here. And I hope I’m forgiven for confusing him from time to time with Steven Barnes.

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