The Tides of Time Review

[No rating]

I’m really not sure how to respond to this odd little novel by John Brunner. For the first three-quarters, it seems like a different take on the standard time travel story. Then it gets weird.

Rich white girl Stacy and her black boyfriend Gene are fleeing something. Prejudice because they’re a biracial couple? Maybe. It’s never made clear. In any case, they have signed up to travel through time and space, and are initially sent back to a Sphinx-shaped Greek island called Oragalia in their present day or close to it. But the next morning, they have magically jumped back in time to something like the 1980s. They spend the day exploring the island and its one small town. The next morning, they’ve jumped again, this time back to WWII.

The pattern continues: in each “Part,” or chapter, of the story Gene and Stacy spend just one day, then are bounced back farther in time, with no explanation of how or why this happens. Further, as they go farther and farther back, eventually into pre-Greek-empire times, they know the language, and the residents of the island know them as having been there for a long time. They have known Stacy, now Anastasia, since she was a child. And Gene—now Evgenos, or Eugene—and Stacy think little of the fact that they’ve jumped. They too know their history in this time.

But every evening, as the fall asleep, they discuss, in English, some other time traveler they knew. Those other time travelers, it turns out, represent seven or eight or nine bad human behaviors (greed, sloth, adventurism, and the like), somewhat like Christianity’s seven deadly sins. This too is supposed to have some kind of relevance, although at the time each conversation happens, it just makes things stranger.

During the journey, Stacy becomes pregnant, and at each jump back in time, they also move forward one month, so her pregnancy develops to the point that after the final jump, she’s ready to deliver. Then they’re brought back to their original time, but Stacy dies in childbirth.

All of this begs for an explanation, but when it comes, it muddles things further, rather than explaining anything. The scientists in charge (?) of the experiment seem to think Gene has discovered answers to great cosmic questions about how to travel faster than light without going mad, and so the final three chapters are Gene trying to explain what he’s learned.

Confused? Me too. There’s apparently all sorts of symbolism—Anastasia means “resurrection” and Eugene means “well born,” for example, and their daughter Gene names Terra (as in “save the earth,” since environmentalism is mixed up in this as well)—that the reader is supposed to decode along the way. That’s too much work for too little reward.

I found The Tides of Time a case of “experimental” fiction in which the experiment failed. Your experience may differ, but my recommendation is that you not bother to find out.


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