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The End of Eternity (1955)

by Isaac Asimov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Foundation Expanded Universe

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,680953,464 (4.01)77
A spellbinding novel set in the universe of Isaac Asimov's classic Galactic Empire series and Foundation series Due to circumstances within our control . . . tomorrow will be canceled. The Eternals, the ruling class of the Future, had the power of life and death not only over every human being but over the very centuries into which they were born. Past, Present, and Future could be created or destroyed at will. You had to be special to become an Eternal. Andrew Harlan was special. Until he committed the one unforgivable sin--falling in love. Eternals weren't supposed to have feelings. But Andrew could not deny the sensations that were struggling within him. He knew he could not keep this secret forever. And so he began to plan his escape, a plan that changed his own past . . . and threatened Eternity itself.… (more)
  1. 81
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (codeeater)
  2. 00
    Great Work of Time {novella} by John Crowley (whiten06)
    whiten06: Two great time-travel novels with similar premises
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Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
An Amazing Story by the master of Science fiction! ( )
  JohnChic | Jun 8, 2024 |
Wow! Really well written and my mind is thoroughly blown! ( )
  jfranzone | Feb 14, 2024 |
The End of Eternity is Isaac Asimov’s major foray into time travel and some of the paradoxes inherent to the genre. The story was written as a novel back in 1955, and the edition I read for this review was published in 1981 by Panther Press. That makes the time between this edition and the publication of the initial book less than the period between this edition and this review. The cover illustration is by Chris Foss.
As far as genre is concerned, it’s a bit of a mixture, with the underlying setting being Eternity, which is more of an organisation than a specific spot. Although the action is spread over multiple centuries of physiotime, it isn’t strictly speaking a time travel novel, though it’s as close as Asimov gets. Even more unusually for an Asimov story, there’s actually a quite involved love story.
So, what’s Eternity? Eternity is an organisation and a place. It’s a collection of levels spread throughout a vast range of millennia, accessible by devices called kettles, each staffed by their own collections of people who fulfil the purpose behind the establishment of Eternity. So, what are they doing hidden away from Reality? Well, the usual – change the fate of Humanity so that any really bad thing is deleted from human history by creating Reality Changes that the Eternals are isolated from.
The Eternals, the inhabitants of Eternity, are split into what are effectively Castes, the top of which are the Computers who create the formulae that tell them what changes are required, then the Sociologists, and Life Plotters who try and calculate the effects that these changes would make. Right at the bottom, below even the Unclassified maintenance people, are the Technicians. The ones that actually go out into Time and effect the changes mandated by the Computers’ calculations.
Our protagonist is one Andrew Harlan, one of those despised Technicians. We follow Harlan’s entry into Eternity and through his initial explorations into Time as an Observer, one of those people who spent time in the current Reality, where he excelled. He finds himself coming to the attention of the great Computer Twissell, Head of the All When Council. Here he comes to know a new member of Eternity by the name of Brinsley Sheridan Cooper, a Cub, who seems to have developed a rather unusual interest in the Primitive era – that being the part of human history predating the establishment of Eternity. Unusual – Harlan had thought it was just himself, but, frankly, he was so pleased to find an interest he shared with someone that he didn’t really question Sheridan’s interest. As he learns more about Sheridan, the stranger the situation appears, for Sheridan in his early twenties, not the more usual eighteen. Even worse, Sheridan was married, though without children. Harlan’s boss was less than happy with him when he took Sheridan on a trip in one of the kettles as well, which dives Harlan’s growing disillusion with Eternity.
Harlan is sent back to his old training ground under Computer Finge, who seems to have a real hate going on with Harlan, and is determined to destroy his reputation. By this time, though, Harlan has a growing understanding of his importance to the future of Eternity and pushed back against Finge’s bullying, especially when he finds out about Noys Lambert, a young woman Finge had brought into Eternity. That was enough to anger Harlan, but Finge’s insistence that Harlan’s observations of the current milieu were made from Noys’s resident Reality almost brought him to open rebellion.
While spending time with Noys Harlan finds himself falling in love with her, until they finally do the naughty with each other, and he feels compelled to save her from the impending Reality Change. This leads to his final rebellion against Eternity, when he has a life-plot made on her survival in that Change, only to find she was a low order probability in the current Reality. At this point, he barely notices this, but it makes an interesting bit of foreshadowing, only seeing the fact that she won’t exist in the Changed Reality as an opportunity to pull her out of Reality altogether. He grabs Noys and takes her in the Kettle up into the far future of Eternity where the Eternals were unable to leave Eternity! Still focussed on his mysterious Cub, Harlan wonders a little when he finds some unusual books in her library but is more scared by the near miss of him nearly meeting himself in her home.
After trying to get back to Noys, Harlan is shocked when his Kettle is brought to a crashing halt right on the 100,000th Century mark, firing up all his paranoid fears, and driving him into open violence against the All When Council and he’s determined to wreck what he perceives the mission of his Cub to be. Of course, Harlan hasn’t got the full picture behind the mission until after he makes his strike. He’d thought his Cub, Cooper, was being trained to go back past the beginnings of Eternity to show Victor Mallansohn how to generate the field that was the forerunner of Eternity of itself. The truth was even more fundamental to Eternity’s existence, though! This doesn’t really lessen Harlan’s desire to do in Eternity if his demands to free Noys from her imprisonment aren’t met. Harlan learns that his love affair with Noys wasn’t the major infraction of the rules that he’s imagined, and that Twissell’s past held an even bigger no-no. but still not enough to soften Harlan. He was placed in the control room, but he’d expressed enough concern about his mental state that he is locked in there with no apparent way to alter events, but they didn’t know he was armed, and he uses this to gain access to the controls, where he applied his own impulse to them! For a short while he thinks he’s won and destroyed Eternity. With the minor caveat that Eternity still appeared to exist. After a discussion of past transgressions, Twissell breaks Harlan’s despair by pointing out their continued existence. Now, it was a matter of making some choices and assuming they would keep Eternity in existence. First, when did Cooper actually end up, then how would the marooned Cooper communicate with Harlan through the intervening millennia? All choices made, and Eternity still stood. Harlan reasoned out that Cooper would try and communicate with him through the medium of adverts in the news magazine he’d been using to teach the Cub about the Primitive eras. Committing to searching through his back issues, Harlan finds Eternity survives, and almost three days of blurry eyes as he searches through those magazines. But Eternity exists! And Harlan finds his message.
Here, he puts his foot down again, and demands the barrier between himself and Noys be taken down. Twissell denies any knowledge of this, and Harlan’s centred enough this time to notice the fear that accompanied Twissell’s denial. After lots of testing, the maintenance staff also say there’s no blockages and Harlan and Twissell take a ride Up When where Twissell expounds on his fears of the Hidden Centuries. Infected by his fears, Harlan rushes through the Century where Noys had been exiled. After a heart stopping few moments, the two are re-united, though Twissell’s appearance seemed to upset her more than Harlan had expected.
Soon, everyone’s back in conspiracy HQ, and Twissell demands that Harlan fulfils his side of the deal and goes and rescues Cooper. Harlan’s final demand is that Noys goes with him, and with the pressure on, Twissell agrees. As the kettle makes its momentous journey, Harlan starts putting together answers to a few of those questions he had about this whole situation, and not particularly liking them! When the kettle deposits them in the 19.38th century, he confronts Noys about his guesses and she pretty much confirms them, leaving the future of Eternity to his trust in her…
The story holds up surprisingly well. It’s not a great ideas book unusually for Asimov, and equally unusually for an Asimov tale, the characters actually play a major part in the story, though I reckon he ought to stay clear of romance, which he did to my knowledge. ( )
  JohnFair | Dec 31, 2023 |
At first I thought I was going to be bored by this adolescent novel from the 1950s. But as the story progressed I was slowly sucked in. I really liked the finish. I did not see it coming. Now I know why some Asimov fans really like this one. ( )
  ikeman100 | Aug 8, 2023 |
Pretty damn good.

Gosh, I love time travel. So utterly, hopelessly flawed and yet so very, very awesome.

There's a fairly unbelievable and shallow romance that runs through the book, and the main character is a bit naive, but other than that I thought this was great. Very enjoyable and thoroughly gripping during the second half.

Endure the weak elements and bask in Asimov's plethora of intellectualy stimulating ideas. ( )
  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
The End of Eternity is a love story. Our questions about Andrew’s love are right. In the end as the mists melt — indeed by reflecting on Noÿs — we recognize what he has been and done. His mistakes are worse, and his character better, than we thought. We are left with a man who learns.

Asimov's spare prose is here at its height. It stands in his language, his focus. Hills of detail are at a stroke given to the imagination. Minds and hearts — and this is a novel of the mind and heart — are painted partly by silence, by the author's silence, by what is set before us and what goes unsaid. The reader, the re-reader, who looks, who notes, is rewarded. Theodore Sturgeon used to say "Science fiction is knowledge fiction." That is true not only of physical knowledge.
 

» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Asimov, Isaacprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giancola, DonatoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Horace L. Gold
First words
Andrew Harlan stepped into the kettle.
Quotations
If there was a flaw in Eternity, it involved women.  He had known the flaw for what it was from almost his first entrance in to Eternity, but he felt it personally only that day he had first met Noys.  From that moment it had been an easy path to this one, in which he stood false to his oath as an Eternal and to everything in which he had believed.  

For what?

For Noys.

And he was not ashamed.  It was that which really rocked him.  He was not ashamed.  He felt no guilt for the crescendo of crimes he had committed, to which the latest addition of the unethical use of confidential Life-Plotting could only rank as a pecadillo.  

He would do worse than his worst if he had to.

For the first time the specific and express thought came to him.  And though he pushed it away in horror, he knew that, having once come, it would return.

The thought was simply this:  That he would ruin Eternity, if he had to.

The worst of it was that he knew he had the power to do it.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A spellbinding novel set in the universe of Isaac Asimov's classic Galactic Empire series and Foundation series Due to circumstances within our control . . . tomorrow will be canceled. The Eternals, the ruling class of the Future, had the power of life and death not only over every human being but over the very centuries into which they were born. Past, Present, and Future could be created or destroyed at will. You had to be special to become an Eternal. Andrew Harlan was special. Until he committed the one unforgivable sin--falling in love. Eternals weren't supposed to have feelings. But Andrew could not deny the sensations that were struggling within him. He knew he could not keep this secret forever. And so he began to plan his escape, a plan that changed his own past . . . and threatened Eternity itself.

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