Sunday, September 02, 2007

Timescape (SF2)

Timescapes is a 1980 novel by Gregory Benford, which won the Nebula Award, the major science fiction award voted by writers.

Very interesting in that it presages a number of major zeitgeists of the time it was set - 1998. There's a version of the internet, and major global environmental catastrophe - albeit more serious and immediate than global warming.

Amidst what I would say is a major undercurrent of irritability, it still manages to be rather insightful and intelligent. Much of the setting is based around a university physics department, and is very true and detailed in its portrayal of academic research, politics, politics of research, career and hierarchy. The richness and complexity here is hardly surprising, since Benford was a university professor at the time of writing.

The perspective on mathematical and scientific discovery and philosophy is one that only someone very much steeped in the milieu could muster. He captures the excitement and motivation of a scientist. "People became scientists [or mathematicians] because they liked solving riddles, not because they would win prizes." It brought back a lot of nostalgic feeling for me.

Although the denouement is somewhat abrupt, the richness is in the journey. And the resolution of time travel paradoxes is certainly a less common one, and one that is satisfyingly neat for a scientist.

The book is also particularly prescient in its depiction of global environmental disaster, one that is more abrupt, albeit no less inexorable, than our current situation.

Again, I would like to point out that the accolade of the top science fiction award is not an automatic path to fame and riches. This is yet another novel (along with Philip K Dick's The Man In The High Castle) that doesn't exactly lie in abundance on the shelves of libraries and bookshops. But the award in itself bestows the simple imprimatur that it is worth seeking out, since it was favoured by a jury of peers.

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