Sunday, 3 February 2013

Timescape by Gregory Benford - book review

   Timescape by Gregory Benford is a nebula-award-winning science fiction novel, written in 1979.  When it is set is important, because the novel is split between two different time periods:  1998, when the world environment is in near-collapse after the oceans start dying, and 1963.  1963 is when a message sent by the scientific team in 1998, a team of nuclear physicists, work with tachyons to send back a message in time.  They pick 1963 because scientists then are just beginning to work in the field around tachyons, without knowing they exist. The first experiments with working with nuclear resonance equipment, which allows the messages from the tachyon beams to go back to 1963 to be received - is why 1963 is picked.  Timescape is about the world as Benford foresaw in 1998, and looked back on in 1963, from his position in 1979, when he was writing it.  We, as the reader, now look back on all of it as all in the past, and so this novel should feel dated, but it doesn't.  Even though 1998 is 15 years ago now, I read it from the perspective of Benford, from 1980, and so looking ahead to one possible future of earth in 1998, and back on the past that was in 1963.

This sounds all complicated, like listening to the Doctor try to explain time business in Dr Who -
'Timeywimey"  is a word I like now and hope to see in the dictionary one day.  "A big bowl of wibbly wobbley timey wimey stuff," is  how he describes it to Sally Sparrow in the first weeping angel episode. Of course, she's writing it from the future back to him in the past in an event that hasn't happened yet either, or is happening now and that she has to send back to make sure it happens in that way so they survive.  In Timescape, the 1998 team are trying to get a message back to 1963 earth to not create - or use - a certain type of chemical that when it gets into the food chain, the molecule works as a virus and mutates within the food organisms so they become inedible. 

All this in itself is cool.  It's fascinating to watch the one team sending the message back in time, running the program, beaming it when they know the earth is in that position in the sky in 1963.  Seeing how physics, astronomy, and chemistry are all needed to solve this riddle in 1963, where Gordon Bernstein is running the nuclear resonance experiment, and picking up the coded message that sounds like intereference in his experiment.  He ends up going to chemists for the molecular code sent back, to astronomers for the latitude and longtitude delineations that he realizes gives a star in space - and a time period when the earth is there. The lives of all the scientists are explored, which gives a  human grounding to the messiness that is time travel story.  This also lets us see the inner lives of the scientists, especially Gordon, and John Renfrew from the 1998 team, who has to keep the message going back and wonders how they will know it is received, when the 1963 team can't send any message to the future. He wonders, if the world - the future - is changed by the 1963 team acting on the message received, how will they know in 1998?  How do you experience the world changing?  Will they be able to stop the diodom bloom in the oceans?  Save the environment? 

I won't give all the answers here, as how this is resolved is done in a very interesting manner.  It involves an event everyone knows, so that the reader - you and I - are involved in imagining what if this happened?  it's part of our history too.  Very interesting, and very well done. And, the future is involved too, in a very cool way.

I really liked this book. I loved seeing how the scientists work out their problems - and they really are 'head in their clouds', distant, constantly trying to work it through while going through their daily lives.  Like artists, creators,writers, they are involved in their minds working through data, especially when working through new experiments.  How does a scientist win a prize?  what does it take to be a scientist?  what's it like to run with ideas while in the midst of doing something else?  This is probably the best book on the inner workings of a scientific mind.  It's highly readable.  Trust me.  I am not a scientist, and Benford wrote the physics in such a way that I don't feel like an idiot because I don't understand, but made me feel smart because I could understand the theories behind tachyons, planets in space and time, and how a message might be sent back in time.  Brillliant, clever writing that makes the reader feel smart. 

And it might just be possible to send a message back in time.....though it is still kind of timey-wimey at it's heart, too.  Time travel is that.

Read for Carl's Sci-fi Experience, it is a really well-written, and one of the best books on how at least a message through time could  be done.  


Cath said...

I love it when a book surprises you and is entertaining even when the subjects involved are complicated. Glad you enjoyed this one, Susan.

Susan said...

Cath: thanks so much! It is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading, that I can learn and be entertained while learning. Explore all kinds of topics in so many ways.

I love the surprise too, when a book does exactly as you put it so wonderfully, Cath.

Gavin said...

I somehow missed Benford when I was reading science fiction decades ago. I'm adding this one to my list!

Susan said...

Gavin: I hope you enjoy it! It was good and satisfying. Glad I could help add to your list! :-)

Vintage Reading said...

Love the Madeleine L'Engle quote on your blog. I adored A Wrinkle in Time.

Susan said...

Vintage Reader - I really enjoyed A Wrinkle In Time too, and have the next two books in the series to read now! Thanks for liking the quote :-)

Anonymous said...

These contemporary fitness devices are worn
around the waist, positioned proper about the abs and then employing what is known as electronic muscle

Also visit my web blog; related webpage

ninest123 said...

louboutin, replica watches, ray ban sunglasses, longchamp outlet, air max, cheap oakley sunglasses, sac longchamp, louis vuitton, louis vuitton, oakley sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren outlet, nike air max, tiffany and co, uggs on sale, louis vuitton outlet, ugg boots, nike free, ray ban sunglasses, replica watches, louboutin outlet, longchamp, ray ban sunglasses, nike roshe run, louis vuitton outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet, jordan shoes, louboutin pas cher, longchamp pas cher, gucci outlet, kate spade outlet, tory burch outlet, tiffany jewelry, prada outlet, air jordan pas cher, louboutin shoes, chanel handbags, nike air max, prada handbags, michael kors, christian louboutin outlet, burberry, longchamp outlet, ralph lauren pas cher, ugg boots, nike outlet, nike free, oakley sunglasses, oakley sunglasses

ninest123 said...

nike free run uk, tn pas cher, ray ban uk, coach outlet, true religion outlet, sac guess, hermes, true religion jeans, true religion jeans, ugg boots, hollister, converse pas cher, air force, timberland, nike air max, ugg boots, new balance pas cher, nike blazer, michael kors outlet, michael kors outlet, north face, nike air max, vans pas cher, michael kors, michael kors, michael kors, abercrombie and fitch, coach purses, oakley pas cher, michael kors outlet, nike roshe, burberry outlet online, vanessa bruno, michael kors outlet, burberry, michael kors outlet, mulberry, kate spade handbags, hollister pas cher, nike air max, hogan, lululemon, coach outlet, north face, ralph lauren uk, true religion jeans, lacoste pas cher, ray ban pas cher, replica handbags, michael kors

ninest123 said...

nike roshe, oakley, babyliss, gucci, valentino shoes, north face outlet, ghd, chi flat iron, insanity workout, lancel, baseball bats, new balance, nike air max, lululemon, nike huarache, hollister, beats by dre, giuseppe zanotti, celine handbags, herve leger, hollister, ferragamo shoes, timberland boots, soccer shoes, birkin bag, north face outlet, reebok shoes, converse outlet, mcm handbags, iphone cases, soccer jerseys, nike trainers, abercrombie and fitch, asics running shoes, nike air max, p90x workout, wedding dresses, ray ban, mont blanc, instyler, jimmy choo shoes, vans shoes, hollister, nfl jerseys, louboutin, ralph lauren, mac cosmetics, bottega veneta, longchamp, vans

ninest123 said...

moncler, moncler, moncler, canada goose, doudoune canada goose, marc jacobs, pandora jewelry, juicy couture outlet, canada goose, canada goose outlet, hollister, swarovski, moncler, canada goose, sac louis vuitton pas cher, louis vuitton, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, louis vuitton, pandora charms, karen millen, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, moncler, montre pas cher, toms shoes, supra shoes, coach outlet, moncler, canada goose, bottes ugg, replica watches, ugg pas cher, moncler outlet, ugg boots uk, wedding dresses, pandora charms, louis vuitton, canada goose uk, juicy couture outlet, thomas sabo, swarovski crystal, canada goose outlet, links of london, pandora jewelry, louis vuitton, moncler