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The Time Patrol by Poul Anderson
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The Time Patrol (1991)

by Poul Anderson

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Showing 4 of 4
This one's a collection of time travel tales featuring Manse Everard, agent of the Time Patrol. It's an unremarkable concept, but the stories stand out in that Mr. Anderson avoids all the temporal tourist traps: No Civil War. Nary a Nazi in sight. Manse does visit the Roman Empire, but it's out at the fringes of the Empire. All-in-all, a pleasant collection of tales.
--J. ( )
  Hamburgerclan | Jun 20, 2015 |

Collected herein are the nine stories -- one is of short-novel length and most of the rest are novelettes/novellas -- in Anderson's famous series; missing is the 1990 novel The Shield of Time, but this is already a very long book: 458 pages may not seem so much, but the pages are large and the type is small, and a lot of the prose is pretty soporific, lurching haphazardly between a sort of relentless drab utilitarianism, an affected cod-epic poesy, and a clumsy impressionism. I recall reading some of this material in the very much earlier (and shorter) collection Guardians of Time (1960), 'way 'way 'way back when, but, though I recall it being surprisingly dull -- for this reader at least, it's quite difficult to make a time-travel story dull -- I don't recall the writing being quite so rotten. Maybe part of the dullness is that, while Anderson gives us great slodges of political and military history, there's almost zero evocation of the various ages in which the stories are set. Since there's no real sensawunda either -- the time cops ride around on their sort-of-motorbikes in a very business-as-usual way -- and since it's difficult to care too much about the fates of characters who are, with very rare exceptions, little more than named cyphers . . . well, I kept glancing at the copy of Robert Cowley's The Collected What If? (2005) on my shelves and wondering if I'd have more fun reading that instead.

What of the stories themselves? "Time Patrol" (1955) is not much more than a sort of setter-upper for the series. In the mid-20th century Manse Everard answers a job ad and gets hired as a time cop. Time travel will be invented centuries in the future; untold centuries beyond that mankind has evolved into a species called the Danellians, who persuaded the early time travellers to set up the Time Patrol with the aim of protecting all of time from any alteration by interfering temponauts that might risk the Danellians' existence. Manse's first mission is to go back to the late 19th century to correct the circumstances that led to the appearance of an anachronistic item in an old burial mound; the case has baffled even Sherlock Holmes (unnamed, but clearly identified through description). It's easy to get the impression that Anderson's initial aim was to make Everard a sort of time-travelling Holmes -- he gives him the pipe to go with the role -- but changed his mind. As it is, all through the series of tales there are offhand references to matters Holmesian. Manse earns the right to be an Unattached Agent of the Patrol: rather than being limited to any particular era, he can roam the timeways at will and with a considerable degree of autonomy.

The second tale, "Brave to Be a King" (1959), is easily the best. A Time Patrol friend of Manse's, Keith, has gone missing in 6th-century Iran, and Keith's wife begs Manse to go find him. Trouble is, Manse has always had the serious hots for the wife, despite her somewhat whiny voice, so it's very tempting not to try very hard -- to assume that Keith has landed on his feet and is happy where he is, sort of thing. But his honourable self knows better. He discovers Keith has been forced to adopt the persona of Cyrus the Great; rescuing him while preserving the course of history proves to be a far more tortuous business than one might imagine. What makes this story so good is that two of the characters -- Keith and his 20th-century wife Cynthia -- are actual characters, and for once Anderson has sufficient understanding of them that, rather than make their reunion at story's end a joyous affair, he shows Keith having second thoughts and more about having given up a life of constant challenge and a wife who was a true companion (not to mention the harem of which she was a part) in order to spend the rest of his days in a cramped Manhattan apartment with ghastly decor and a wife with a whiny voice.

"Gibraltar Falls" (1975) is the shortest piece in the book, and the worst. Anderson wanted to show us what must have been the most remarkable spectacle of known prehistory, the collapse of the isthmus at the Gates of Hercules and the inundation of the basin that is now the Mediterranean Sea by the waters of the Atlantic, but didn't really bother constructing a story to go with it. In "The Only Game in Town" (1960) Manse and a friend manage to head off the Chinese colonization, pre-Columbus, of the Americas. In "Delenda Est" (1955), another fairly good entry, Manse and a friend return from a holiday in the Pleistocene to their own time, only to discover it considerably changed; clearly there's been an unauthorized change to history. Eventually they trace it to an incident during the Punic Wars, which incident made it possible for Hannibal to defeat Rome. They succeed in reversing the change, but know that in so doing they're wiping out all the people they've befriended in the alternative 1950s. They succeed, though, in saving the laughing-eyed Hoirish colleen whom Manse's friend has fallen for.

"Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks" (1983) is set in Tyre during the time of Solomon and Hiram and sees the introduction of the Exaltationists, the 23rd-century cult whose obsessive pursuit of hedonism renders them unimpressed by the effects their vicious power-and pleasure-seeking could do to the timestream, including the possibility of their wiping the existence of their own culture out of history. The story is held together by the character of Pummairam, a youth who takes Manse under his wing when first the patrolman arrives in Tyre, and who engineers much of the tricksterism Manse must use to thwart the baddies. In "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" (1983) Manse for once takes something of a back seat. Here a history prof, Carl Farness, has allowed himself to become the personification of the god Odin to a 4th-century tribe of Goths; he has also allowed himself to become far too personally involved with the people whom he's there to study, marrying one of them (with the knowledge of his 20th-century wife) and keeping an eye on the usually somewhat messy fates of his children, grandchildren, etc. Manse gets involved because incarnations of gods are the kind of thing that cause history to be altered; in fact, as Carl points out, all kinds of Goth tribes were convinced they'd been visited by various deities, and their stories were usually quickly dismissed as myths, then forgotten. Still, he must extract himself from the situation with care.

"Star of the Sea" is, I suppose, technically a short novel, but there have been plenty of stories published as full-length novels that have been shorter than this. (Certainly seemed so, anyway . . .) Europe in the 1st century, and various peoples, led by the likes of Civilis, are rebelling against corrupt Roman rule -- with the violence continuing even after it becomes clear that an honourable peace could be struck. A major factor keeping them at war is the zeal of a visionary/prophetess called Veleda, who for reasons unknown has had a far greater and longer influence in a revealed timeline than she had in the known history of the period. Manse and a historian called Floris, who becomes his first real love, manage to sort out the situation.

Finally, The Year of the Ransom (1988), published originally as a standalone illustrated volume, is a prequel to The Shield of Time, featuring, as well as Manse, that novel's heroine Wanda Tamberley. Here her Uncle Steve, living among Pizarro's brutal conquistadors at the time of the ransoming of Atahuallpa, is attacked by the Exaltationists and then abducted into a very distant past by a quick-witted Spanish soldier who believes him to be a demon. Manse and Wanda to the rescue, of course.

At an early moment in the story "Time Patrol" Anderson casually sideswipes the pretensions of Heinlein's "All You Zombies" and Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself: "You could not be your own mother, for instance, because of sheer genetics. If you went back and married your former father, the children would be different, none of them you, because each would have only half your chromosomes" (p7). And there are some moderately elegant avoidances of time-paradox issues:

In the case of a missing man, you were not required to search for him just because a record somewhere said you had done so. But how else could you stand a chance of finding him? You might possibly go back and thereby change events so that you did find him after all -- in which case the report you filed would "always" have recorded your success, and you alone would know the "former" truth. It could get very messed up. No wonder the Patrol was fussy, even about small changes which would not affect the main pattern. (p38)

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 came near failing. Only the energy and genius of Lenin pulled it through. What if you traveled to the nineteenth century and quietly, harmlessly prevented Lenin's parents from ever meeting each other? Whatever else the Russian Empire later became, it would not be the Soviet Union, and the consequences of that would pervade all history afterward. You, pastward of the change, would still be there; but returning futureward, you'd find a totally different world, a world in which you yourself were probably never born. You'd exist, but as an effect without a cause, thrown up into existence by that anarchy which is at [time's:] foundation. (p420)

And some that are, er, less elegant:

Don't ask me why they weren't "always" wiped out; why this is the first time we came back from the far past to find a changed future. I don't understand the mutable-time paradoxes. We just did, that's all. (p113)

Among my favourite phrases were these:

Everard finished a night's sleep and a breakfast which Deirdre's eyes had made miserable by standing on deck as they came in to the private pier. ("Delenda Est")

The floor had been given a deep-blue covering that responded slightly to footfalls, like living muscles. (The Year of the Ransom)

An ongoing irritation with the text, aside from the problems I have with the writing style, as mentioned above, is a frequent palavering about the difficulty the English language, like all other ordinary languages, has with the tenses required to talk about events along timelines -- like those of era-hopping Time Patrollers -- that don't match the world's standard timeline. Often enough someone will interrupt their own narrative to bewail the difficulty they're having expressing past and future in English, and what a good thing it is that the Time Patrollers' own invented language, "Temporal", has extra tenses to deal with this sort of stuff. The trouble is, it's baloney: yes, occasionally writers of time-travel stories have to choose their words carefully, but it isn't a major problem, and in a milieu where time travel was common listeners would have even less difficulty understanding what was going on. And, just to cope with those rare cases where there might be difficulties of comprehension, people would soon enough invent ways of getting around them -- in effect, would introduce those new tenses to their native tongue. They wouldn't have to learn a whole new blasted language to deal with the problem. (Of course, there are other good reason why Time Patrollers from different cultures and eras should have a common language to use; my point is that the tenses problem isn't one of those reasons, yet Anderson is tiresomely insistent that it is.)

I'd initially planned to read The Shield of Time immediately after this book, but in the event I couldn't face it. I decided to have a break from Anderson for a while. My deadline for this essay is fast approaching, though, so I can't put off The Shield of Time too much longer. Gulp.
( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
A collection of novellas around the Time Patrol and specifically Manse. I enjoyed how the stories went to lesser known parts of history and the stories were compelling. Some of them were a bit long, but all of them enjoyable. ( )
  VVilliam | Dec 11, 2012 |
It is a good book if you enjoy ancient European History with a Sci-Fi twist. I read it a couple of years ago, but still managed to enjoy reading more than half of it again, before I got bored. ( )
  Dadbrazelton | Aug 24, 2011 |
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This work contains stories 1 to 9 in the Time Patrol series. Please do not combine with 'Time Patrol' (short story); Time Patrolman (stories 6 and 7); or Time Patrol (stories 1 to 9 and 11.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312852312, Hardcover)

From the winner of eight Hugo Awards and three Nebula Awards comes an entirely new novel of the Time Patrol--the far-future agency charged with responsibility for the stable continuity of human history, plus all the previous tales in the series available in one volume. Original.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:57 -0400)

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