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Classification: Effects of Time Travel Technologies on Society


Imagine: one day you are outside, lying on your back and watching the stars with your two best friends. Suddenly, something happens: the stars vanish, all at once. Just like that. This is how Spin begins.


In Spin we are introduced to Tyler Dupree, the protagonist, and his two closest friends, the twins Jason and Diane Lawton. Tyler, Jason and Diane were doing exactly what I described in the previous paragraph: watching the night sky when all the stars suddenly vanished. This event which has occurred everywhere has come to be called the “Spin”.


At first no one knew what happened. It seemed that the Spin is some sort of an artificial barrier created around the Earth, by someone with clearly an infinitely greater understanding of technology than humanity. For reasons of their own, the Hypotheticals (as people have started calling them), have chosen to erect this barrier.


The barrier’s goal is actually not to hide the stars: that’s merely a side effect. The goal is much subtler than that. Although the barrier is permeable, meaning, objects can pass through it, time goes much faster outside the barrier than in it. Much, much, much faster: for every year that passes on Earth, 100 million years pass outside. Think about it: every minute that passes on Earth is equivalent to centuries outside the barrier.


This is a truly scary situation Humanity has suddenly found itself in. Current predictions give the Solar System 4 additional billion years: in human terms, this is infinitely long: but with the Spin intact, this will happen in only 40 years. Meaning, most adult humans will live to experience this. And what then? Is that the goal of the Hypotheticals – to destroy humanity and Earth?


In Spin the way humanity is dealing with this event is examined from two different perspectives. The first is the practical one: obviously, many nations attempt to destroy the barrier, multiple times. But there are other ways of dealing with this issue. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but the fact that time goes MUCH faster outside the barrier is a huge advantage from some aspects. For example, what if one attempted to terraform mars with Earth microbes. If one does this correctly, this could work. Of course, it could take a couple of hundred thousand years… but that’s only a few days from Earth’s perspective. And if that worked.. what if a spaceship with settlers was sent to colonize Mars with the goal of inhabiting it, and eventually work on a way to neutralize Earth’s barrier from outside. A day in Earth would mean centuries have passed for them. Very interesting ideas, don’t you think? I won’t elaborate beyond that.


The second perspective is how humanity collectively deals with the fact that in just a couple of decades it will probably cease to exist. Is there a point in having kids, if their lives are going to be so short? Is there a point in investing in a pension fund, if you won’t live to that age? Maybe there’s no point in living at all? Spin does a superb job in dealing with these complex issues and questions. [Note that in The Chronoliths, another novel by the same author that I reviewed, similar issues are examined from a different perspective (and reason)]


Spin is an excellent novel on every conceivable measure. It has a fantastic and imaginative plot. It has deep and well developed characters. It feels completely realistic (in fact, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a movie made at some point). Finally, it it extremely well written: one frequent criticism of science fiction is that often the ideas they present are good, but as for the writing, well, that generally leaves much to be desired. Well – I think that Spin could win awards for writing as well. (It did win a Hugo, but surely that’s “only” because of the brilliant concepts and ideas it raises).


In summary: highly, highly recommended, Spin is immediately a classic. Every year there are 1 (sometime 2) book I consider my personal favorite book of the year. In 2006, Spin was that book. You can’t go wrong with Spin. If you pick one book to read this year, pick Spin.


The book’s details on Amazon.com


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Classification: Past and Future Time Travel


It is the year 2057. Lady Schrapnell is a wealthy patron of Oxford’s university time travel research unit (time travel being already an established science). She promises to provide ample funding, if the unit can help her build an exact replica of Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by Nazi bombing in 1940. The unit is so eager to get her endowment, that every member is going back and forth in time, looking for items which existed in the destroyed cathedral. One particular item, an esoteric piece of furniture called the Bishop’s Bird Stump is proving exceptionally hard to track down: was it stolen? burned during the bombing? No one manages to find an answer.


Ned Henry, the protagonist of To Say Nothing of the Dog – together with his teammates, repeatedly finds himself going to various periods in search of the elusive object. It’s almost as if someone is trying to keep this object from them. But the lady’s search eventually proves to be too much for poor Ned; after numerous jaunts to the past, Ned contracts a severe case of “Time Lag”. Thus, he goes for two weeks of rest in Oxford circa 1888. There he meets another time traveler, Verity Kindle, and realizes that he must fix a time anomaly accidentally caused by Verity when she brought something from the past.


Even worse, Ned’s very presence accidentally causes two lovers to never meet, and unintentionally he introduces someone to the girl whom she quickly falls in love with. He and Verity must to fix this as well, but the problem is that they are not exactly sure whom the girl was supposed to marry – her diary (which they’ve seen in the future) was unfortunately damaged in exactly the section describing these events.


Somehow the events of the missing Bird Stump related to what’s going on in 1888. But how? And can this be fixed?


To Say Nothing of the Dog weaves a very complicated story, with very memorable characters. I admit it took me three separate occasions to get to the hang of things, and I almost gave up. But I’m so glad I pulled through as it has become one of my all time favorite novels. It involves comedy, mystery, romance, Victorian etiquette, time travel, science and unresolved paradoxes. At times it can get confusing, but I advise the reader to bear with the novel – it’s absolutely worth it.


One of the novel’s strength is its humor. It is very hard to create a serious and believable story, and yet continue seeing the funny aspects. This is more the case when it comes to time travel stories. But the author successfully captures the ridiculous aspects of time travel and the Victorian era (and there are so many). More so, the humor feels right at home historically speaking (it’s often a comedy of manners, think “The importance of being Earnest”).


In terms of time travel, this is one of the few novels that is able to create multiple threads the reader knows must eventually be tied together, and yet do this in a satisfying – and unpredictable – manner without resorting to cheating or some pseudo-mystical solution. It’s a novel that constantly keeps you guessing.


In summary: To Say Nothing of the Dog is a very witty, very funny time travel novel. Despite being a highly ambitious novel, when one considers the number of things it’s trying to achieve, it does not disappoint for a moment. Highly recommended!


Link to the book’s details on Amazon.com


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