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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Depths of Time by Roger MacBride Allen. New York: Bantam Books, 2000. ISBN: 0-553-37811-2

A run of the mill science fiction story about, well, that's a big part of the problem. This book doesn't seem to know what it's about. The title suggests time travel, and the book kind of starts out that way, but not exactly. We're aboard a Chronologic Patrol ship guarding a "timeshaft wormhole" which allows "normal time" travel between star systems through an admittedly clever ploy. By transiting the wormhole, ships instantly travel back in time, allowing them to negate the long amounts of time needed to travel from one star system to another. The crew remains in cryosleep hibernation throughout most of the journey.

The role of the Chronologic Patrol is to insure that no temporal paradox occurs during this process. That no information is ever allowed to travel from the future back to the past. Our story begins with an exciting battle, fast and furious, as a group of ships attack the two Chronologic Patrol ships, on guard at either end of the timeshaft, in an apparent attempt to improperly transit the wormhole.

Once that battle is over, we shift to a completely different story, one in which the concern seems to be the method by which humanity is attempting to spread throughout the galaxy via the laborious and very time-consuming process of terraforming planets into suitable earthlike conditions. It appears that there are flaws in this process, which are due to the hubris of one notable scientist, the so-called father of terraforming, who in fact, stole the process from a much earlier scientist, largely forgotten.

At the very end of the book we learn that there is apparently a connection between these two seemingly unrelated events, and the stage has very clearly been set for a sequel. Two sequels, apparently, as The Depths of Time has been followed by The Ocean of Years (2002) and The Shores of Tomorrow (2003).

My main complaint about the book is that it combines these two otherwise unrelated technological ideas: space travel via time shifting wormholes, and planetary terraforming, either of which would have provided plenty of scope for a full-fledged novel, in a way that hardly seems related. And the fact that the same two individuals, the captain of the Chronologic Patrol ship, and the egotistical plagiarist of the terraforming, turn out to have significant roles in both stories, to in fact, be the prime movers, which of course, is the sort of coincidence that only happens in fiction, not in real life.

I suppose, however, that I ought to hold my criticisms in abeyance until I've read the rest of the trilogy. In light of the truism "So many books, so little time" however, that tends to exert a great deal of influence on my reading habits, I'm not sure I want to spare the time. There are just too many coincidences. Too many "setups." It strains my "sense of disbelief" a little too far. So which will win out? My curiosity over how the author resolved the mysteries left hanging at the end of this book? Or my sense of disappointment over having read this entire 426 page tome, just to be setup for the next volume? Only time will tell. Just how deep are the depths of time, after all?


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