I will begin with a contrite confession: Before this, I had never read an Issac Asimov novel before. Not a single one. Oh, certainly I had heard of the guy, but my childhood interests in Science Fiction lay primarily with the likes of Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, and a vast array of Star Trek and Star Wars themed novels. Flash forward a decade of two to a friday night of perusing the stacks of my local library. I already had a burgeoning pile of materials under my arm when, out of a sudden and pure sense of nostalgia, I found myself walking into the sci-fi section. I didn't go in with any express intent or desire. If I could find a Doctor Who novel or maybe a set of short stories by Clarke, so be it. As it happened, I zigged when I should have zagged and found myself completely turned around in the section. I was about to give up and head back out when I found this little gem, just wasting away on a dusty shelf. It's spine was cracked, the cover was faded and peeling at the edges, and many of the pages were dog eared. There were even highlighted passages throughout, along with hand written annotations detailing the thoughts and feeling of one past borrower or another. Had this book been a donation the librarians didn't inspect closely enough, or perhaps a research tool for a student's literature class? Whatever the mystery behind them, these were the hallmarks of a book which had seen action and could tell far more tales than just the one hidden between its covers, but had since been left to languish in obscurity while waiting for another chance to entertain. This was a book the demanded to be explored! This was a book which begged to be read! This was a book with a personality.
Without knowing anything about the story (hadn't even read the synopsis on the back cover), I quickly tucked the book under my arm and made for the check-out desk. If this book was screaming "Try me and you'll not be disappointed," who was I not to give it the benefit of doubt? Well, I tried it.....and I was far from disappointed. Make no mistake: beneath the veneer of a time traveling story is a deep rooted morality tale about the question of Loyalty to One's Self or Loyalty to The Cause and what it truly means to play God. The titular place in question, Eternity, is a place which exists out of sync with time and space and home to a group of people whose job it is to watch over the entire course of mankind's history and make plot out subtle course corrections here and there for the "betterment" of humainty. The job of executing these changes falls to "Technicians" such as the story's principle character, Andrew Harlan. Andrew is one of the best at his job: Cold, apathetic, never focused on the people but rather on the problem at hand....that is, until he falls in love with a woman in a century he is supposed to "fix." Realizing she will be erased from history, he breaks every rule in his society's book to save her. When they are captured, his punishment is to kill the woman he loves to save his own reality.
This book was PHENOMINAL!!! The prose sucks you in from the first sentence and maintains a death grip on you throughout, until it finally releases you with the last syllable, gasping for breath and grasping for reason. Make no mistake, though: beneath the veneer of a time traveling story is a deep rooted morality tale about the struggle of staying loyal to everything you've ever been taught to believe in or being loyal to yourself and the consequences of playing God. The characters are all firmly fleshed out from the get-go without any "getting to know them" (read: having to slog through three chapters before their personalities start to shine through) and it never feels like ideas are being re-hashed or familiar ground is being tread on. This is definitely a must try for anyone who likes to have their science fiction grounded in some semblance of reality. Moving on now to "The Currents of Space" and hoping for the same kind of magic.