Fascinating Premise is an Excuse to Pit Ancient Armies in Battle #review #bookreview #scifi

Earth shattered through timeSegments of the Earth are suddenly transmorgified into their own past – “a patchwork of eras, from prehistory to 2037, each with its own indigenous inhabitants”. Two small groups of “moderns” from 2037 briefly make contact and agree to meet in the only place where a technological signal has been detected – Babylon. Along the way they meet Victorian era British soldiers and two famous ancient armies – led by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.

What I thought of the story
The book claims Clarke’s Space Odyssey series as its inspiration – a time odyssey instead of a space odyssey. I guess that’s why it opens with furry pre-human hominids. While interesting, they only appear occasionally and don’t add much to the story.

Once the premise is established and the weird world explored a bit, the book slows down. Its main purpose seems to be to show us what it would be like to live in the ruling courts of Alexander and Genghis. Very smelly among other things.

When two rulers dedicated to world conquest meet, it may not be much of a spoiler to say mayhem ensues. Personally I’m not a big fan of battles and began skipping entire chapters. The book ends in a mystical alien sort of way which allows a narrator (not a character) to provide a glimpse of what’s going on.

I liked parts of the book and skipped other parts, so that averages out to an “okay” rating from me.

What others are saying
As you’d expect from a legandary author, Time’s Eye has a high sales rank on Amazon – roughly top 7% in its time travel category on Kindle. (Amazon is starting to hide the data that lets me calculate a rank, so I may not be able to do this in the future.) From 109 reviews it gets 3.7 stars, which isn’t bad.

Readers who disliked the book found the middle with its long trudge to Babylon boring. Others called it “entertaining” and “interesting if not compelling,” while some say they’re going straight off to buy the rest of the trilogy.

About the hardcover book
I’m always a little skeptical when a book’s description starts by telling me how famous the authors are. Here’s the pitch:

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is a living legend, a writer whose name has been synonymous with science fiction for more than fifty years… a genuine visionary. If Clarke has an heir among today‚Äôs science fiction writers, it is award-winning author Stephen Baxter… [who] demonstrated dazzling gifts of imagination and intellect, along with a rare ability to bring the most cerebral science dramatically to life. Now these two champions of humanism and scientific speculation have combined their talents in a novel sure to be one of the most talked-about of the year, a 2001 for the new millennium.

I guess that’s inevitable when a publisher has a living legend in its stable.

I read an old hardcover edition from 2004 which included a CD with two of Baxter’s novels (downloadable pdf files that I haven’t read yet, but I reviewed another of his books here) If you buy a used copy be sure to ask if the CD is included.

There was also a pdf on how the book was created (which includes author biographies and lists of works). From these notes and wikipedia I get the impression that Clarke and Baxter developed the outline for the book and Baxter wrote it. Maybe that applies to all three of the books in the trilogy, since the last was published in December 2007 and Clarke (who had been ill for years) died three months later. A sad day.

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Tomb and Throne

Abduction_of_Persephone_by_Pluto,_AmphipolisThe famous king, scion of an ancient royal dynasty, conquers a large empire. He dies in his new capital city, perhaps poisoned, perhaps from a disease picked up in his far-flung military campaigns aggravated by years of heavy drinking and many war wounds. In the battle for his throne, one of his generals puts his wife and young son to death, eliminating his obvious heir. His mother continues to wield political power, until the traitorous general murders her, too. But don’t feel too sorry for her – she may have assassinated her husband to help her son take the throne.

This king isn’t a character in the latest fantasy best-seller, he’s Alexander the Great. Now archeologists may add to his story with a wonderful mosaic uncovered in a tomb from the end of Alexander’s reign, near the ancient site of Amphipolis in northern Greece. The large mosaic shows the God of the Underworld kidnapping a red-haired goddess who will become his queen.

The large tomb was clearly intended for someone of importance from the period of Alexander’s death. The motif of a queen carried to the underworld leads to speculation the tomb’s occupant was a woman, and possibly Alexander’s wife Roxane or mother Olympias. There is even some basis for believing the mosaic depicts Alexander himself with his parents cast in the roles of gods. “Only time, and further excavation, will tell.”