Time’s Eye: Action, science and… Alexander the Great vs. Genghis Khan?

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTime’s Eye: by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen BaxterTime’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Action, you say? Science!? Characters in 3D!?? But wait… there’s more! How about an ancient battle-royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde?

Oh yes, sci-fi power couple Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have all that and more in the 2003 opening to their A TIME ODYSSEY series, which, in theory, takes place in the same universe as Clarke’s SPACE ODYSSEY stories.

Inexplicably, at least initially, Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed “Mir” by the remnant individuals from the 21st century). The story is broad in scope, with multiple plot lines intersecting, connecting and culminating in a satisfying conclusion. While the ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger, it certainly sets up the sequel, Sunstorm, nicely.

Time’s Eye has the requisite amount of hard- and pseudo-scientific — and sometimes atheistic — philosophical musings. These are elements that Baxter and Clarke fans anticipate in their works. The philosophical vignettes are tightly written, and rarely feel forced or out of context with the rest of the story. I was thankful that there wasn’t much rumination on the structure and specifics of their own flavor of time travel, as there’s a tendency for the entire sub-genre to naval gaze.

The characters are solidly drawn and the authors were able to make the “real” characters like Alexander the Great, some of Alexander’s cohorts, and Rudyard Kipling (who gets caught in the time shifts), believable and relatively cliché-free.

In addition to the science fiction standbys of time travel and “those-that-watch-us-from-above,” the book contains solid historical fiction elements when dealing with Alexander and the Mongols. The authors take time to detail their histories, battle strategy and tactics of each set of warriors. There are also shades of Baxter’s Evolution while writing on the early hominids that get caught up in the time shifts as well.

Easily classified as science fiction, Time’s Eye also certainly does well if categorized as alternative fiction. This is a recommend read… particularly if you’re a fan of Clarke and Baxter individually, you’ll enjoy what they’ve written as a pair.

For eons, Earth has been under observation by the Firstborn, beings almost as old as the universe itself. The Firstborn are unknown to humankind— until they act. In an instant, Earth is carved up and reassembled like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly the planet and every living thing on it no longer exist in a single timeline. Instead, the world becomes a patchwork of eras, from prehistory to 2037, each with its own indigenous inhabitants. Scattered across the planet are floating silver orbs impervious to all weapons and impossible to communicate with. Are these technologically advanced devices responsible for creating and sustaining the rifts in time? Are they cameras through which inscrutable alien eyes are watching? Or are they something stranger and more terrifying still? The answer may lie in the ancient city of Babylon, where two groups of refugees from 2037—three cosmonauts returning to Earth from the International Space Station, and three United Nations peacekeepers on a mission in Afghanistan—have detected radio signals: the only such signals on the planet, apart from their own. The peacekeepers find allies in nineteenth-century British troops and in the armies of Alexander the Great. The astronauts, crash-landed in the steppes of Asia, join forces with the Mongol horde led by Genghis Khan. The two sides set out for Babylon, each determined to win the race for knowledge . . . and the power that lies within. Yet the real power is beyond human control, perhaps even human understanding. As two great armies face off before the gates of Babylon, it watches, waiting…

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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7 comments

  1. Normally not a book I would have reached for, but this sounds kind of fun.

  2. This sounds kind of fun, as Marion said, but I was so disappointed with the way Clarke ended his SPACE ODYSSEY series that I’m a little hesitant to revisit that universe.

  3. Perhaps I need to re-read it. I had no idea it was in the same universe outside of the publisher stating so. :-/

  4. I wasn’t clear enough — I’ll explain what I meant. Apparently, Clarke intended the TIME ODYSSEY series to be viewed as a perpendicular universe to his SPACE ODYSSEY series, as opposed to a parallel universe. (The math needed to understand the intersections of time/space is beyond me. I like words.)

    My issue, and my hesitancy, come from Clarke’s advanced age at the time that this book was written. He remained extremely prolific until his death, but the quality of that work (in my eyes, and I am open to other opinions) showed a severe decline. But I’m glad you enjoyed reading Time’s Eye, Jason. Really!

  5. This book sounds just right for you Jason, since it covers time-travel, alternate universes, and battles between ancient historical armies! I would never have expected that from either Clarke or Baxter. Speaking of which, the Baxter-Pratchett Long Earth series also has a multiverse theme that sounds intriguing, but I’ve read that they didn’t exploit the concept fully.

    As far as this series being related to SPACE ODYSSEY, once we start shifting to 90 degree perpendicular universes, you may as well connect anything to anything else, like linking TWILIGHT with HARRY POTTER and JAMES BOND and GAME OF THRONES~

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