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Classic hard SF
on June 15, 2011
Pros: clever plotting, hard SF
Cons: protagonist is not particularly likable and is surprisingly naive and narcissistic
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, those who live outside time, Observe and create Reality Changes which positively affect the greatest number of people throughout history. Only two periods are unaffected by them - the prehistoric age, before time travel was invented, and the far FAR flung future.
Harlan's skill as an Observer in the 482nd attracts the attention of Computer Twissell, who arranges for him to become a Technician (someone who actually performs the change) and teach his hobby of primitive history to a student.
On an assignment back to the 482nd, he meets the beautiful, non-Eternal, Noys Lambent, who changes his life. He breaks numerous laws to rescue her from the proposed change to her era and makes plans to request her removal from time so they can stay together.
Naturally, things don't go as smoothly as he hoped they would.
For some reason I always think of Asimov as a writer who's concerned more with science and plot than character. While the science is sound (even to mentioning how time travel can work with the movement of the Earth around the sun), and the plot is clever, character development isn't neglected.
Harlan begins the book as a self-absorbed resident. He works hard and resents how the others who work towards the changes they all make in history shun him as one of those who actually performs the changes. Meeting Noys changes him. He initially becomes more narcissistic and paranoid, then slowly learns to smile and enjoy his time with her.
The question of why she's interested in him is satisfactorily answered by the end of the book when the plot within a plot is revealed. And by this time, as a reader, I'd warmed to him.
While I am happy to see this title brought back into print, I was annoyed to find that the publisher's cover copy was misleading in terms of the book's plot. Asimov told a fantastic story, just not quite the one the publisher lead me to expect.
If you're not a hard SF fan, don't despair. He includes enough science to understand the plot but doesn't bog down the story with pages of explanation.