by Charles Stross
Cover Artist: J.K. Potter
Review by Charity J. Sands
Subterranean Press Hardcover Limited Ed. ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064218
Date: Fall 2011
Links: Author's Blog / Publister's Book Page / Show Official Info /
Following its 2010 Hugo award for best novella, Palimpsest by Charles Stross is being released as an independent volume. It had previously appeared in Wireless, a book of Stross' short stories.
In Palimpsest, Stross creates a world in which a small group of people (the Stasis) have figured out how to remove themselves from their own time streams and move back and forth in time in order to produce the results that they want with the world. Their main goal is to continually restart the human race every time it goes extinct, which it does again and again and again. Since mankind can be reseeded each time it goes extinct, the species has the potential to exist long after the sun would engulf the earth if only they can keep the earth habitable, or restore its habitability after habitability has been lost.
Fortunately, with near infinite time and the knowledge provided by many different human societies, the Stasis can keep the planet going for a long, long time.
But there is forbidden fruit in this tale. The stasis constantly tries to prevent mankind from leaving Earth in order to explore other star systems, even though some cultures find evidence of life on other planets. The stasis sends agents in to prevent these discoveries from occurring to keep the planet on the course they’ve set for it.
When the events in one place are rewritten again and again as the Stasis (or others) keep attempting to change the outcome to something they like, a palimpsest is created. Those events that existed once but were rewritten out of existence become unhistory, documented (as everything is documented) in the final library, but gone from the actual timestream.
The result of the palimpsests and the unhistories is that there are many sort-of parallel worlds that existed before being rewritten, and some of the members of the stasis, existing outside of these rewritten timestreams as they do, find that the worlds they lived in and people they knew no longer exist. Members of the stasis find that many iterations of themselves exist, some of which have lived very different lives from their own. Each iteration might at any time find its own memories or experiences wiped away as prior events in their lives are changed by the stasis.
All of this creates a world in which paranoia reigns as different groups compete with each other to create the history of the world that they desire, often finding that their enemies across the lines are simply more iterations of themselves. The winner will determine whether earth cuts loose from the solar system it was born in to set out into the emptiest part of the galaxy (and eventual, permanent extinction) or whether mankind will seek out other worlds where other intelligent life or habitable worlds might be found.
Stross noted that this story wanted to be novel length but that he kept it short to include it in his book of short stories. It's a powerful story deserving of longer treatment, and we can only hope that Stross will revisit this world in future.