The End of Eternity: Tadiana revisits a retro time-traveling tale

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The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov science fiction book reviewsThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov science fiction book reviewsThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

Re-reading a favorite book from your teenage years is always a risky endeavor. I’ve been dismayed by how often my youthful memories are tarnished by a re-read, and I end up wondering if my taste as a young adult was all in my mouth. But I couldn’t resist trying The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov again, partly because I remembered liking it so well as a teenager, but my memories of it were so extremely hazy (for the longest time, until a Google search saved me, I couldn’t even remember the title of the book, it was just “that really cool Asimov time-traveling book” in my head). So I bought a used copy, got a few chuckles out of the 1970s sci-fi cover and how short novels used to be (192 pages here), and settled down to read.

Andrew Harlan is one of the so-called Eternals, men (almost invariably men) who have been pulled into kind of a bubble called “Eternity” that exists outside of normal time. Eternity, and a time-traveling machine called the “Kettle” that acts as a type of elevator through the years of the Earth’s existence, give them the ability to easily travel backwards and forwards in time. Eternals can change the past, present and future, which they frequently do when they think that society is taking a turn that leads to an undesirable outcome. Strangely, however, the Kettle is inexplicably blocked from stopping anywhere during the 70,000th to the 150,000th centuries, and afterwards lies only emptiness: Earth and its inhabitants are gone.

The End of Eternity by Isaac AsimovLove and marriage aren’t permitted for Eternals, other than brief sexual liaisons that are required to go through authorized channels. But Andrew, despite his best efforts to avoid it, manages to fall into a relationship, and then love, with a woman, Nöyes Lambert, who has been temporarily brought into Eternity. Soon he finds himself in the middle of not only his own small personal rebellion, but also a series of events that may affect Eternity and change the entire history of the Earth.

I’m vastly relieved to report that The End of Eternity has held up quite well over the decades. It’s certainly dated, and for a while I thought I was going to have some fairly serious issues with the secondary role of women in this novel, but that all actually resolved itself quite well in the end (though to explain why would spoil the tale).

The End of Eternity has the retro charm of 1950s science fiction, but with more depth than most sci-fi novels from that age. It has its weaknesses: Asimov’s scientific theory and technology for time travel are a little wild and woolly, female characters are non-existent other than Nöyes, and all of the characters except (to some extent) Andrew and Nöyes are strictly one-dimensional. If you can roll with it, however, it’s a fun and interesting ride, with a few twists and turns that definitely make the story memorable.

Published in 1955. The best time-travel story since H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, by the Grand Master of science fiction, the story of Andrew Harlan, Technician and Eternal. Andrew Harlan’s job is to range through past and present centuries monitoring and even altering Time’s myriad cause-and-effect relationships. As a Technician with the Allwhen Council, he initiates Reality Changes that may affect the lives of as many as fifty billion people – and a million or more of them may be so drastically affected as to be considered new individulas. Above all, therefore, a Technician must be dispassionate. An emotional make-up is a distinct handicap. Then Harlan meets Noys and falls victim to a phenomenon older than Time itself – love. Years of self-discipline are cast aside as Harlan uses the awesome techniques of the Eternals to twist Time so that he and Noys might survive…together.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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One comment

  1. I’m glad to hear it held up! I think that cover might be in the running for our “Retitle this horrible cover” column, though.

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