Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Traversing the Eons of Time

The Man Who Folded Himself

by David Gerrold

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? . . . What then is time?

- Confessions, Augustine, p. 230

Ever since Augustine's meditation on the nature of time in Book XI of his Confessions writers have attempted to analyze the nature of time. Over the last century and a half Science Fiction writers have used the theme of travel through time to consider some aspects of this concept. Perhaps the most famous example is that of H. G. Wells whose novel, The Time Machine, used time travel as a means for advancing some of Wells' social criticism. Written in 1895 it still has a sense of mystery and wonder. It was great fun too, and I enjoyed reading the novel and viewing the excellent film when I was younger.
A more recent example of time travel was the very popular novel by Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife. I read that book for a book group discussion which was the only reason I bothered to finish what I considered a flawed novel. The best part of Niffenegger's book was her unique gimmick of presenting time travel as a disease, beyond that the book left me yawning as the characterization seemed flat.

I recently read a much better presentation of this theme by David Gerrold in his novel, The Man Who Folded Himself. Gerrold's novel is not recent - it was published more than thirty years ago - but a friend recommended it to me (it is one of his favorites) and I finally read it. Like Wells' novel it is slight, less than 150 pages, but in that thin novel Gerrold packs a striking picture of the nature of time travel. In his view there exist multiple universes all populated with different versions on one's original self created through the process of travelling forward and backward in time. He makes an impressive case and touches upon many of the seeming limitless possibilities for time travel creation. While the novel was not particularly suspenseful since I guessed the ending early on, Gerrold does not spoil the book by going on for too long (unlike some authors - see Niffenegger above). His prose is simple but clear and using almost epigrammatic form he manages to provide the story of the life of Daniel Eakins (and some of his alter egos). The book is not without flaws for the lack of other characters was disappointing, aside from his own multiple personae there were few other characters in the book. But that did not prevent me from enjoying this imaginative journey into the realm of time and traversing its eons.

Confessions by Saint Augustine. Oxford University Press, 1991.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. Signet Classics, New York. 1984 (1895).
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Harcourt, New York. 2003.
The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. Random House, New York. 1973.

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