The End of Eternity
By Isaac Asimov
Published by Blackstone Audio
Read by Paul Boehmer
Now here’s an old SF classic! I thought I had reviewed this one before, but I cannot find an old review, so here goes. (and if I have reviewed it before, well we shall find out how consistent I am…).
In this novel, Eternity is an artificial construct of imaginary physics that exists outside normal time starting in the Twenty-seventh Century and running until… well, forever, I guess. It at least runs until the Sun goes nova, billions (and billions) of years from now as Nova Sol is the main power source for “Eternity.”
The men who live inside Eternity (and, yes, it is a male-only society with only an occasional woman allowed to visit temporarily) are ostensibly inter-temporal traders, carrying goods from one century to another, but in actuality they secretly control the course of events for the good of all mankind. What that means gets explored in the story, so I won’t get into that. One change leads to others, of course, so the Eternals are constantly meddling with the course of human events and I could not help but wonder if all that inter-temporal trading (which goes on too) may have lead to a lot of necessary changes in spite of claims by Eternals that they are very careful about what gets traded and to whom.
Reality is a flexible concept in this future world. The Eternals know that it changes, but the people in real Time are obviously unaware of it. So, we have phrases like the 14th Reality of the 57th Century being bandied about and our main protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is a Technician, the guy who actually makes the changes.
Eternity might be trying to create a perpetual Utopia on Earth, but it is no Utopia inside Eternity with all the sorts of biases and prejudices between varies ranks of Eternals that one can imagine. The Technicians are despised, for example, because they are the ones who make the changes, even though every other sort of Eternal (Computer, Life Plotter, etc.) must plan and approve those changes before they are made. There is also more political scheming and plotting than you can see reported on CNN each evening.
So, our boy Andrew is a rather closed-off individual who keeps to himself most of the time, studying the “Primitive Times” before Eternity was founded… and then he falls in love with a woman in… uh, I forget which century exactly (the 482nd maybe). Meanwhile he has also been tasked with teaching Primitive History a new recruit (called a “Cub”) into Eternity, a younger man who is several years too old to have been recruited. Andrew eventually becomes suspicious of the cub, and by extension various other higher ups in Eternity as he strives to have and keep the woman from real time even if that means the ultimate destruction of all Eternity.
The story seems, at first to be a simple one, typical of science fiction from the 1950’s, but as I listened to it this time, I found complexities in the plot line I had not noticed before. There is some surprisingly good character development (SF is not known for character development. It happens, but while the point of much mainstream fiction is to show how the world changes people, SF shows how people change the world) in the case of Harlan. Admittedly most of the rest of the character were flat, but as I said, character development is not a requirement in SF, especially classic SF.
This could have been a dirty, gritty story and if written now it might have been, but like most of 1950’s SF it is an optimistic story and, frankly was a breath of fresh air after some of the books I have listened to in the last few months.
What I liked is that this was a very different take on time travel stories. Rather than having our characters going back in time and accidentally changing something fundamental and then having to go back again to set things right, there are intentional changes to time going on all the time. Of course, it is all in the future, so maybe it does not count, but definitely it was an original idea, especially at the time it was written.
Definitely it was great to get back to one of Asimov’s stories.
I’ve listened to Paul Boehmer’s narrations before. Some of his characters sound like they are whining a bit when he tried to pitch his voice higher than normal (such as when he does female characters, but to tell the truth I only noticed that on a second listening. The first time through I only sat back and enjoyed the ride and, if I noticed anything, it was how well, he was able to differentiate each of the characters vocally. A few times he comes close to annoyingly “funny voices,” but I do not think he quite crossed the line even if Computer Twissel, for example, sounded like the stereotypical old man. Well, he was old, but to be honest I speak to elderly gentlemen frequently and never heard anyone who actually sounded like that, although I suppose someone must or how else would that have become so cliché?
All, in all, this was a very enjoyable book and the reading of it was worth the time.