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March 30, 2006

Up The Line - Robert Silverberg

It seems a great idea - have a time travel story where the hero goes back to Byzantium about one thousand years ago and falls in love with his great, great, multi great, grandmother. Robert Silverberg is a renowned science fiction writer, so I wondered why I hadn't seen this one on the shelf any time. I picked it up in the local second-hand store however, and soon discovered why it's out of print.

Although this novel does explore the interesting concepts of the paradoxes of time travel, it was written at a time, the early 1970s, when there was far too much graphic sex in science fiction. The writers of the day all seemed to assume that the future would be full of liberated women, walking around practically naked, and under the influence of new recreational drugs that made them open to advances from any man around. Maybe that's the way society looked like it was going in a world before AIDS. LSD was hip, the psychedelic scene and the popstar lifestyles of people like the Beatles encouraged this freedom of expression. Perhaps people thought this future was inevitable, like flying cars and three course meals in a pill. But now we can look back and see how it all panned out, and it just hasn't happened that way. A lot of the fiction therefore looks outdated and embarassing at best, but this one is also quite unpleasant. Either it's that, or someone must have hit me with the politically correct stick, because in the book I found that the casual attitute to incest, under age sex, and rape, was so unpleasant that I had problems enjoying the rest of the story. It's for this reason I think it must have fallen out of favour with publishers.

It's a shame about the X rated nature of this book, because there is actually a good story hidden inside. Judson Elliot gets a job as a Time Courier. He takes groups of tourists back in time to witness famous events in history - and specialises in Byzantium. Whilst on a trip one of his party escapes into time and starts changing history. Judd and the other couriers have to do a lot of hopping around the centuries to try and find him and put things right. Of course, there is a Time Police force they have to try and keep all this activity hidden from. It's quite fun, and completely impossible, to try and keep track of all inconsistencies that time travel would create.

"The grandfater paradox" is very famous - what would happen if you killed your own grandfather before he had met your grandmother? You would therefore not be born. But if you weren't born, then you couldn't go back and kill your grandfather. So you'd be born again. Would this create some kind of loop? In this book the added complication of going back in time and actually being your own grandfather is explored.

If people really could go back and see Byzantium, surely all these tourists would eventually fill up all the available viewing spots.
If you could travel anywhere in time, why not go back and buy a nice property and some slaves and spend your vacations there. These issues are examined, but of course no conclusion is reached. The chances for disaster are so great that even supposing Time Couriers and Time Police really existed, I do not believe they would be able to control things at all.

So the time travel bits are good, the Byzantium history lessons are a bit too detailed and overlong, and the morals are disturbing. Overall, I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone but a stereotypical frustrated teenage boy - he could read this on the bus-ride to rent "American Pie" or "Porky's".

Posted by se71 at March 30, 2006 05:21 PM


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