Gregory Benford
Timescape (1980)
Winner of the 1980 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Reviewed: 1999-05-09

What a bore! Prefaced by a special acknowledgement, where Benford shares the blame, pardon, recognizes the contribution of his sister-in-law for "bringing to it her special qualities of interest in people" and helping out with the British idiom, this book just slogs on and on to finally peter out, without much of interest ever happening along the way.

The novel is bisected into a pair of intertwining story lines. There is the world of 1998. Economy and biosphere are deteriorating at an alarming rate. An experiment set in Cambridge, England, is one of the last desperate measures to prevent the oncoming global downfall. A tachyon beam is sent into the past, to warn people of unforseen environmental consequences of their doing, and to stimulate basic research desperately needed to solve the world's crushing problems. At the other end, there is 1962 La Jolla, California. (Note the symmetry. Timescape was published in 1980.) Between cameo appearances of various famous scientists, a young physicist at the local university picks up an annoying interference in his experiment. The noise signal might just be a message not from his world, an idea much too fantastic for the academic establishment.

The idea of sending a signal into the past to change the present raises a familiar set of questions: What about paradoxes? Just what is time anyway? Benford manages to evade the resolution almost to the end. What we finally learn smacks more of a cop-out.

The Benfords' style in this novel is virtually identical to that of John Cramer without the excitement, a judgment which I am afraid will not pass for a compliment. The writing is turgid, the sparse plot smothered by forced spouts of exposition sidetracked into details we don't care about. The human interest angle is devoid of curiosity. Similar to Cramer's books, petty squabbles, personality clashes, and infighting for grants and tenure dominate the world of scientific work. Like Cramer, Benford is a real-world physicist, so I guess they have seen it all. Much of the story is an extended soap opera about who has the hots for whom and a stereotypical Jewish scientist from New York dealing with the residual culture shock brought on by the Californian lifestyle. It grates.

I am at a complete loss to justify the Nebula this novel was awarded.

Home Page | Review Index | Latest Reviews

Generated: 2006-04-26

Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>