by Arthur C. Clarke and Steven Baxter
Review by Ernest Lilley
Del Rey /Ballantine/ Random House HCVR ISBN/ITEM#: 0345452488
Date: 13 January 2004 List Price 26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
As in the Space Odyssey series, Earth is visited by an advanced alien race that likes to work through artifacts and has a thing about experimenting with intelligent life. The artifact this time is a perfect silver sphere we first meet hanging over the head of an australopithecine mother and child in Central Asia and subsequently encounter at numerous other time points, in the same location. Storms and special effects occur at each sighting, and after it's all over, another slice of Earth has been sampled to be assembled in a patchwork of slices creating an Earth made of a quilt of pieces from different times along man's history, right down to the core.
After a few short introductory sequences showing the"disruption" from the viewpoints of the main characters, the book quickly settles down to mixing characters from different times and cultures together. Most of the humans alive on this patchwork Earth aren't from the 20th or 21st Century, though a sprinkling are, the most modern of which make up the central cast of the book in two groups. The first, three UN observers flying an observation mission over the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, consists of the pilots; Casey, American "Jock" Christian, Abdikadir, a Pashtun Muslim, and the observer, Biessa Dutt, third generation English, of Indian ancestry, and with no overwhelming religious stripe. The other group from the same time period is also three: Two male Russian Cosmonauts and a female American. The time slip catches them just after undocking from the International Space Station but before reentry in their Russian capsule, which gives them time in orbit to ponder the changes below them, and incidentally, to relay pictures to the group below.
The smattering of "moderns" gives us our point of view characters, along with some British soldiers from Kipling's time...including Rudyard himself and Josh, an American reporter covering the edge of the Empire in what they think of as the late 1800s. The cosmonaut's observations reveal that of man's industrial world, the only city to have survived appears to be Chicago, most likely in the steam age, and that besides the avionics in the downed observation chopper, the only radio source on the planet comes from the an unlikely source: Babylon.
Chicago is on the other side of the world from our adventurers though, and the action takes place here in Central Asia. Two of history's mightiest armies have come through the discontinuity as well as the general distribution of occasional humans from the beginning of sapience to the middle of this century. Like schoolboys with time on their hands, the unseen manipulators of mankind have decided to set Alexander the Great's army of thousands down on the same continent as Genghis Khan's Mongol horde, and to make Babylon the jewel that they both desire.
While a collaboration between SF's senior statesman and anyone else might seem one-sided, it's clearly not the case with Stephen Baxter, who has established his own reputation both as an independent writer and as an active collaborator with Clarke. Time's Eye provides a setup that will give the authors plenty to play with, and I'm sure they've got a message woven into the whole thing worth teasing out of the story.
Fans of either author will find this to be a "must read".