Time Patrol: Classic time travel stories by Poul Anderson

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTime Patrol by Poul Anderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTime Patrol by Poul Anderson

Between 1955 and 1995 Poul Anderson published a series of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, about the Time Patrol, a secret group of people from all over the world whose job is to protect the world history we know. They jump up and down the timeline, making sure that terrorists and other disruptors don’t use time travel to remake history to suit their own malign purposes. Or any purposes, actually. Their goal is to keep history the same, even with all its evils, so as not to accidentally wipe out human civilization so that we can eventually evolve into the Danellians, a post-human species that is highly invested in making sure history doesn’t change.

Though there are many Time Patrol agents, the one we see most often in these stories is Manse Everard, an American man who was recruited by the Time Patrol in 1954. During the course of these stories, we watch Manse visit many times and places in an attempt to keep history on the “right track.” Here are the stories:

“Time Patrol” (1955, novelette) — This first story introduces Manse Everard and shows us how he is recruited and trained by the Time Patrol. Then, for his first assignment, he goes back to Victorian England to investigate a strange death.

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews“Brave to Be a King” (1959, novelette) — A fellow Time Patrol agent’s wife (who Manse has had a crush on) asks Manse to find her husband who disappeared in ancient Iran. When Manse eventually tracks him down, he’s surprised to find out how he got trapped in ancient Iran and is worried about what might happen to history if he brings him home.

“Gibraltar Falls” (1975, short story) — Some agents go back in time to witness and take photographs of the creation of the Mediterranean Sea when the Atlantic Ocean floods the basin, creating the rift between Europe and Africa. When one of the agents (stupidly) gets lost, her companion is told he can’t go back to rescue her.

“The Only Game in Town” (1960, novelette) — Time Patrol agents investigate the rumor that the Chinese had really discovered America first. If so, this must be stopped.

“Delenda Est” (1955, novelette) — After a ski vacation in the Pleistocene period, Manse and his friend return to New York City in the 20th century to discover that something is not right. Everyone is speaking Irish and steam is the power source. Something must have changed the timeline somewhere downstream and they must figure out what went wrong and how to put it back to rights.

“Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks” (1983, novella) — Manse visits Tyre during King Solomon’s reign because a couple of agents who are stationed there have reported terrorist activities against the Time Patrol. The terrorist group, called the Exaltationists, are anarchists trying to use Time Patrol’s technology for their own ends. If they don’t get what they want, they’ll bomb Tyre, thus preventing the development of Western civilization as we know it.

“The Sorrow of Odin the Goth” (1983, novella) — A professor of Germanic history goes back in time to study a barbarian tribe, but he ends up getting inextricably linked to the clan, creating a tragic causal loop.

“Star of the Sea” (1991, novella) — After the discovery of an alternate version of a Tacitus text, Manse and an agent from Amsterdam are sent to witness the conflict between German barbarians and Romans in the first century. The contradictory texts suggest that there may be an unstable time nexus that threatens the “real” timeline. As agents interact with a prophetess of the first century, once again, we see the future shaping the past.

“The Year of the Ransom” (1988, novel) — The Exaltationists kidnap agent Steve Tamberley in Peru because they want his time machine so they can remake history to put themselves in power. But the conquistador who was with Tamberley steals the machine for his own purposes. Manse teams up with Tamberley’s niece, a graduate student, to rescue him. It takes a while. This story is the prequel to the 1990 novel The Shield of Time which is the only TIME PATROL story not included in this volume.

“Death and the Knight” (1995, novelette) — The final TIME PATROL story is one that Poul Anderson wrote for Katherine Kurtz’s anthology Tales of the Knights Templar. Manse and Wanda are sent on a mission to help one of their agents who was arrested while doing some research on the Templars. The knights think he might be a spy.

I loved the settings (often prehistorical) of all of these stories and usually I learned a lot about each of the time periods featured. The way that Anderson interweaved the modern characters into historical events was clever, especially when we see the future and past interacting and even changing each other. It’s fun to think about how the world might be vastly different if even small events had not occurred, or had happened slightly differently. It’s also comforting to be reminded of the positive outcomes of some of history’s most tragic moments.

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHistory buffs will probably love all of the details, and so did I up to a point. But often it seems Anderson was more interested in the history than in his characters. We’re given lectures about historical events, often drily or clunkily in the middle of a scene, and just the sheer volume of information in such a short span of time was sometimes overwhelming, like reading a textbook. For that reason, to avoid tedium and becoming overloaded, it’s probably best not to read these stories back-to-back.

Another small complaint is that one of the most important rules the Time Patrol agents live by is that they should not interfere with history. On multiple occasions an agent explains why something can’t be done because it’s against the rules — no exception — but on the next page an exception is made and the agents are doing exactly the thing they said they can’t do. It seems unprofessional.

I listened to the audiobook version of Time Patrol, which has recently been produced by Tantor Media. I recommend this edition, though it wasn’t perfect. There was a sound production issue — I could sometimes hear when the recording stopped and started or was cut during editing. As far as Wayne Mitchell’s narration goes, for the most part I really liked it, but some female voices sound like hissing and one or two voices made the characters sound like they had a mouthful of marbles. When I write them down, these issues sound worse than they actually are. As I said, I’d recommend this version despite these small gripes. It’s 24 hours long.

Individual stories published between 1955 and 1995. Omnibus published in 2006. Audiobook published in March 2020. Forget minor hazards like nuclear bombs. The discovery of time travel means that everything we know, anyone we know, might not only vanish, but never even have existed. Against that possibility stand the men and women of the Time Patrol, dedicated to preserving the history they know and protecting the future from fanatics, terrorists, and would-be dictators who would remold the shape of reality to suit their own purposes. But Manse Everard, the Patrol’s finest temporal trouble-shooter, bears a heavy burden. The fabric of history is stained with human blood and suffering which he cannot, must not do anything to alleviate, lest his tampering bring disastrous alterations in future time. Everard must leave the horrors of the past in place, lest his tampering-or that of the Patrol’s opponents, the Exaltationists-erase all hope of a better future, and instead bring about a future filled with greater horrors than any recorded by past history at its darkest and most foul.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    This collection sounds like it would be right up my alley! I’ve always wondered how cool it would have been to witness that moment when the Atlantic first burst through to form the Mediterranean. Thanks for the hedzup on this one, Kat!

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