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Timescape by Gregory Benford

Timescape (1980)

by Gregory Benford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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    Incandescence by Greg Egan (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both these novels use twin themes to explore the use of science in understanding and changing the world

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English (23)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Dull, with a soupçon of “women are not important” (and I’m a man myself), characters who lack character and are hard to tell apart, and so far (I’m a third in) nothing has happened. Long passages of people explaining things to one another that they ought to know already. No charm, no surprises, and a very uninspired imagining of the near future (at the time). It gets 2 stars for being competently written (I try to save 1 star for "how did this get published???" books), but I am clearly the other end of the target market for this kind of fiction, and I'm stunned that it would win any award, let alone something so major.

Time to abandon and find something more fulfilling. ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
This is probably the best book about time I've ever read.

The fact that Gregory Benford is a physicist is obvious throughout the book.
First, to the questions regarding time travel, time paradoxes, alternate universes, he gives his well documented answers in accordance with modern physics, and they are bewildering by the fact that they do not contradict what we know so far about this universe.
Whenever I read something about time travel I say to myself nice story" but never take it seriously. This is not the case here - this book raises questions about the very essence of time. What is time, really?

Second, Benford does a good job in describing the world of the scientists - his characters are well portrayed and interesting.

This is SF at its best. It will teach you something about physics, it will make you sympathise with the characters and it will make an exciting and intriguing reading." ( )
1 vote LauraM77 | Jun 28, 2016 |
I could not stop thinking about this book. The premise is fascinating, the two worlds described are fascinating. The scientists of the past and "future" are character studies and their pursuits are interesting. The climax just kept going. I highly recommend this book! ( )
  yonitdm | Dec 10, 2015 |
Timescape is one of my favorite sci-fi novels. I first read it around 1990 and recently finished my third reading. The characters are varied and complex, yet I don't find myself relating to any of them very well. Instead, I enjoy the detailed discussions of the science, how science is performed as well as descriptions of the academic environment. The realism can be attributed to Benford's practice as an astrophysicist at UC, Irvine. More importantly, the story is an interesting, unfolding mystery posing questions involving possible communications between time and multiverses.

One timeline within the story occurs in 1963. The other timeline is in 1998, which, at the time of it's writing, was a good 18 years in the future. Consequently, when reading it today, one finds that the 1998 "future" misses the mark on several occasions. I found myself able to ignore those issues and think of the future timeline as simply an alternate universe not incompatible with a near future of my own timeline.

Each time I've read through the book, I've understood a little more given it's many cultural references. For example, one character in the 1963 timeline mentions a new Phil Dick book titled: "The Man in the High Castle". While I haven't read this book, I did recognize it as a recent TV series produced by Amazon. ( )
  farquhj | Dec 3, 2015 |
This is a novel of scientific discovery that does not neglect the story of the people who make the science. It is a better novel as much due to both its fusion of detailed character development and interpersonal drama and the science fiction narrative that includes time travel, an alternate reality, and ecological issues.

The story is written from two viewpoints, equidistant from the novel's publication in 1980. One narrative is set in a 1998 ravaged by ecological disasters and is on the brink of large scale extinctions. It follows a group of scientists in the United Kingdom connected with the University of Cambridge and their attempts to warn the past of the impending disaster by sending tachyon-induced messages to the astronomical position the Earth occupied in 1962–1963. Given the faster-than-light nature of the tachyon, these messages will effectively reach the past. These efforts are led by John Renfrew, an Englishman, and Gregory Markham, an American most likely modeled on Benford himself.

Another narrative is set in La Jolla, California at the University of California-San Diego in 1962, where a young scientist, Gordon Bernstein, discovers anomalous noise in a physics experiment relating to spontaneous resonance and indium antimonide. He and his student assistant, Albert Cooper (also likely based on the author and his experiences at UCSD), discover that the noise is coming in bursts timed to form Morse code.
The resulting message is made of staccato sentence fragments and jumbled letters, due to the 1998 team's efforts to avoid a grandfather paradox. Their aim is to give the past researchers enough information to start efforts on solving the pending ecological crisis, but not enough that the crisis will be entirely solved (thus making a signal to the past unnecessary and creating a paradox). Due to the biological nature of the message, Professor Bernstein shares the message with a professor of biology, Michael Ramsey. Since the message also gives astronomical coordinates, he also shares it with Saul Shriffer, a fictional scientist who is said to have worked with Frank Drake on Project Ozma. Initially, these characters fail to understand the true meaning of the message. Ramsey believes it to be an intercepted military dispatch hinting at Soviet bioterrorism, while Shriffer thinks the message is of extraterrestrial origin. Shriffer goes public with this theory, mentioning Bernstein in his findings. However, Bernstein's overseer, Isaac Lakin, is skeptical of the messages and wants Bernstein to keep working on his original project and ignore the signal. As a result of this interruption in their experimentation, Bernstein is denied a promotion and Cooper fails a candidacy examination. The signal also exacerbates difficulties in Bernstein's relationship with his girlfriend, Penny.

In 1998, Peterson recovers a safe deposit box in La Jolla containing a piece of paper indicating that the messages were received. Meanwhile, it is clear that the viral nature of the algal bloom is spreading it faster and through more mediums than originally expected. Strange yellow clouds that have been appearing are said to be a result of the viral material being absorbed through the water cycle, and it soon affects the planet's agriculture as well, resulting in widespread cases of food poisoning. Flying to the United States, Markham is killed in a plane crash when the pilots fly too close to one of the clouds and experience seizures.

In the past narrative, now advanced into 1963, Bernstein refuses to give up on the signals. He is rewarded when the signal noise is also observed in a laboratory at Columbia University (a nod "Tachyons were the sort of audacious idea that comes to young minds used to roving over the horizon of conventional thought. Because of Feinberg I later set part of my tachyon novel at Columbia towards the inventor of the tachyon concept, Gerald Feinberg of Columbia). Using hints in the message, Ramsey replicates the conditions of the bloom in a controlled experiment and realizes the danger it represents. Bernstein finds out that the astronomical coordinates given in the message represent where the Earth will be in 1998 due to the solar apex. He also receives a more coherent, despairing message from the future. Having built a solid case, Bernstein goes public and publishes his results.

The remainder of the story involves the possibility of an alternate reality and some surprising consequences. The combination of science, the impact of the scientists' work on their interpersonal relations, and the impact of the science itself on the future made this an excellent work of science fiction. It is no surprise that it won several awards including the Nebula Award in 1980. ( )
  jwhenderson | Oct 18, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gregory Benfordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eggleton, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, PamelaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone-Blackburn, SusanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Remember to smile a lot, John Renfrew thought morbidly. People seemed to like that.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553297090, Mass Market Paperback)

Suspense builds in this novel about scientists, physics, time travel, and saving the Earth. It's 1998, and a physicist in Cambridge, England, attempts to send a message backward in time. Earth is falling apart, and a government faction supports the project in hopes of diverting or avoiding the environmental disasters beginning to tear at the edges of civilization. It's 1962, and a physicist in California struggles with his new life on the West Coast, office politics, and the irregularities of data that plague his experiments. The story's perspective toggles between time lines, physicists, and their communities. Timescape presents the subculture and world of scientists in microcosm: the lab, the loves, the grappling for grants, the pressures from university and government, the rewards and trials of relationships with spouses, the pressures of the scientific race, and the thrill of discovery.

Timescape merits the tag "hard science fiction"; it tells the story of scientists, and readers can't help but learn something about tachyons and physics while reading it. Yet much of the story is about humanity: the men John Renfrew and Gordon Bernstein and their relationships--between husband and wife, lover and lover, English working class and upper class, professor and student, and academician and colleagues.

Winner of the Nebula Award in 1980 and the John W. Clark Award in 1981, Timescape offers readers a great yarn, in terms of both humanity and science.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:15 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In 1962, a young Californian scientist finds his experiments spoiled by mysterious interference. Gradually his investigations lead him to the shattering truth that scientists from the end of the century are using subatomic particles to send a message into the past to try and avert disaster.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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