The End of Eternity Mass Market Paperback – April 12, 1986
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- Item Weight : 4 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 0345336550
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345336552
- Publisher : Del Rey; First Edition Hardcover (April 12, 1986)
- Language: : English
Best Sellers Rank:
#1,349,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #34,679 in Contemporary Literature & Fiction
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Asimov introduces the concept of a space outside of or orthogonal to time as a sort of fourth dimension that can be accessed and traversed. In addition as with his other writings of this time period he relies heavily on the evolution of mathematics and theory to allow for detailed predictions of human population development over time. This precision allows for a level of control to subtly alter the present to create different futures. Ultimately the moral of the story is that playing it safe in the short term may not be safe in the long term.
I know this wasn't the first time machine story, but this may have been more influential on films like Primer and Back to the Future which involve recursive time changes and the inherent ripple effects than Jules Verne. Even Terminator borrows a few tricks from Asimov. (FYI, it wasn't until 9 years after this book was published that Ellison wrote the outer limits episodes Cameron borrowed whole cloth for the plot of Terminator) Usually these books/films deal with subjects experiencing time travel for the first time and how "crazy/amazing/scary" that is. In this book Asimov conjures an entire society (complete with mechanics) dedicated to using time travel on a constant basis, which is a very different and interesting way to cover some of the same ground that all time-travel stories do.
Unlike Foundation, this book keeps you interested in what the characters are going through and just how their technology works. Asimov even deals with the issue of how to time travel when the Earth is in a different spot in space/solar system/galaxy at different points in time. It isn't really explained well, but there are several nods to the reader that at least Asimov is considering these things in his writing.
One con, Asimov hasn't much of an imagination for how technology might evolve. In the Foundation whole planets either ran on Coal or Nuclear (no solar, no geothermal, nothing...really?). Here in Eternity, although they've managed to harvest endless amounts of solar power directly from the sun, information is stored on something that sounds like metallic microfiche and is viewed on something like a television. Let me clarify this for you - a society that has taken all the advances of science and technology up to past 500 centuries (not years, but centuries) and has the computing power to actually project how doing something in year X will affect year Y is using microfiche for their data storage. I know computers were giant room-size machines that only existed at IBM laboratories in 1955, but surely Asimov could have imagined something simpler than metallic paper for folks operating 503 centuries from now. It's little moments like that that take you out of the story momentarily. But, as that drawback doesn't significantly shape the plot, it shouldn't stop a sci-fi time travel story lover from enjoying this book.
and... spoiler alert... the end of the book was known to you all along ;)
Humans have manipulated the reality of Earth from "primitive times" (20th century and before) through the 100,000th century and beyond by traveling through time and making minimal changes in the world's reality when necessary. This process assures that mankind will remain safe and peaceful throughout eternity.
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, a privileged technician who travels through time collecting information and making these minimal necessary changes. He meets and falls in love with Noÿs, a beautiful young woman from a distant century and the two begin an affair...something that is taboo for an Eternal. Harlan schemes to hide the affair, often thinking that he and his lover have been found out, and fearing that the powers that be will tweak reality to eliminate Noÿs from the new reality or change her, drastically. He begins to have doubts about the morality of what his organization does.
This excellent novel is loaded with the philosophical questions and fascinating paradoxes that one would expect to find in a good time-travel story.
Top reviews from other countries
The End of Eternity explores time travel and resultant paradoxes and changes in Reality that can occur through manipulation of history. However this novel is at times messy and confusing. I had to read several sections over again to ensure I'd got what was going on as the custodians of Eternity step in and out of Time at various different centuries.
I couldn't help wondering at the conclusion whether the whole thing really gelled, but gave up worrying about it....
The plot is centered around the existence of an organization, Eternity, outside regular temporal flow. This organization can access every century of human history since its creation on the 24th century (before that are the primitive centuries where temporal flow is immutable), until the 70.000th century (the hidden centuries, blocked by some kind of barrier). It also assumes an active role in shaping human history by conducting surgical modifications in its normal course (or the one with maximum probability of happening), thus creating multiple realities. Eternity is run by Eternals, mostly male humans that are subtracted from their realities in childhood to live almost as disciples of time.
The End of Eternity introduces many of the most obvious time-travel paradoxes, such as one meeting with oneself, or a Bootstrap Paradox. But perhaps the most important discussion resides on the actual good of performing changes in time, even if with best intentions. Asimov, as usual, provides clear explanations of the assumptions behind his sci-fi constructs. One that I found particularly interesting is the limited impact of timeline modifications. Asimov considers that any change will wear out in a couple of centuries, and not exponentially increase its effects across human history.
Of course the narrative also includes a human side, even a love story that will decisively change the course of history. And, as always, Asimov provides an unexpected finale where everything comes together quite nicely.
The story feels real, mainly because of its simplicity and deeply developed characters, all with human frailties. Asimov's imagination was still exceptional and the reader has no difficulty in entering into the blissful state of `willing suspension of disbelief'.
I put it into the same gem category as `Solaris', `The Day of the Triffids' and `Roadside Picnic'. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favour and get a copy as one cannot fully appreciate Asimov without reading The End of Eternity.
Over the years, the ideas behind The End of Eternity have stayed firmly imprinted in my mind - it was a slow burner, but I came to understand what a visionary work of genius it was. Recently I re-read the book and found myself awed by the brilliant simplicity of the idea behind it, and the fabulous architecture of the story.
The book is perhaps an attack on utilitarianism (the greatest happiness for the greatest number), claiming that, to be our very best, humans must have room to breathe, spread out and create. The discussion of the need for or dreadful waste of resources that space exploration represents is as important and relevant now as it was in 1955 when first published.
The main protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is a very special member of the human society known as Eternity. He's a technician, responsible for tweaking history here and there to constantly improve humanity's lot. Depending on your point of view, it's his own human frailties that either jeopardize his hard work or threaten to put a stop to this meddling with time.
The imagination is five star as is the plot construction. The quality of the actual writing doesn't reach those dizzy heights and is clunky at times, but it's well worth persevering with to leave you with a memory that will last for ever, or at least until the next reality change...