54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Roger MacBride Allen's intriguing, fast-paced novel posits a far future in which the colonized galazy, filled with terraformed worlds, is linked by timeshafts. With their crew in cold sleep, interstellar ships travel for decades to enter temporal wormholes which put them at their destinations days after leaving. These timeshaft are vigilantly guarded against time paradoxes by the Chronologic Patrol and the first 80-page action-packed segment pits the Patrol against mysterious "Intruders" invading the wormhole, attacking the patrol and threatening the inviolate chronology of time.
Battered and stranded 80 years in the future, the ship's captain, Anton Koffield, though decorated by his service for necessary action in destroying the wormhole rather than allow the violation of the past, is reviled as having doomed a newly terraformed world unable to receive their relief supplies. His career at an end, Koffield accepts a research offer and the next time we meet him he's a passenger waking from cold sleep (an unpleasant experience) on a merchant ship inexplicably marooned 127 more years into the future.
Mysteries pile upon mysteries and Allen feeds us just enough answers to keep it all suspenseful rather than hopelessly confusing. His exploration of the rigid rules necessary to allow the use of time as a travel convenience and the elaborate strategems required to terraform worlds in a galaxy sadly devoid of life-supporting planets are intriguing. He has invested his imagined universe with detailed technology and ecological problems, which naturally find parallels in our own world.
Koffield, a lonely, burdened, man, is a tough, principled old veteran with an appealingly vulnerable side and his young female pilot assistant is resourceful if inexperienced. While this is clearly the first of a series (Allen wrote the Star Wars Corellian Trilogy), the author does not infuriate the reader by leaving the whole story hanging - just a few sizable chunks. An entertaining and lively tale with lots of mind-bending ideas.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2000
The most important thing I can tell you about this novel is that it doesn't end with any sort of resolution. After the initial confrontation that maroons the Koffield character, the author piles mystery upon mystery and main characters unravel almost none of it. They were _handed_ some answers at the end of the story in a most unsatisfactory fashion. I nearly hurled the book across the room in frustration. After reading the pitiful attempt at resolution, I was forced to conclude that the whole purpose of this book, all 400+ pages, was to set the reader up for the next book in the series. I don't mind a book being part of a series if each book in the series is worth reading on its own. After 200 pages I realized that the author had run out of story. This leaves the next 200 pages to bore you to tears.
The story started briskly, with a conflict at one of the wormholes. There was darned good action and suspense, and characters with believable motivations. The description of the wormhole transport system, particularly the confusing use of the terms "uptime" and "downtime" was the main flaw in this part of the story. Once I learned to ignore the terms and guess what was going on by context, I had no problem getting into the story.
But once Koffield is marooned in the future, the story just dies. Koffield is converted from a military captain to an academian, and academians other than Indiana Jones just don't make for exciting reading. Despite the misleading title and back cover, time travel plays almost no part in the story after the first (and most exciting) part of the novel. There is an interesting puzzle to be solved with regard to the attack on the wormhole but Koffield doesn't solve it and worse, makes no visible attempt in the novel to solve it. No one solves it. The main questions about the attack are largely left unanswered at story's end.
For some reason, the story turns to the problems of terraforming, of all things. This combined with Koffield's boring inactivity and the drawn out revelation of what little Koffield has discovered made the rest of the novel tiresome to read. I felt sorry for Koffield, but I never really liked him or cared what happened to him. What I really wanted from this story and what Allen failed to deliver was a resolution to the puzzle presented in the first part of the novel. The characters failed to make any progress toward solving that mystery and that made them all irrelevant to me.
What Allen did do well in this novel is develop an interesting space-faring society with its Chronological Police and its wormhole transport system and its attempts at terraforming barren worlds to make them habitable. The hard-sf elements of this novel are what save it from being a complete waste of time.
My advice to potential buyers: wait until Allen publishes all the books of this series, read the reviews of all of them and buy the books as a set if you're still interested. Allen has a long way to go to prove that this series is worth your time and money.
If you want to read a hard-sf novel where time travel is front and center, and where things get resolved at the end, try Timemaster by Robert L. Forward.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2000
I picked up this book because I saw that it was written by Roger MacBride Allen. I liked his writing in the Star Wars Universe so I figured I couldn't go wrong it picking up the book. Well, I was right but I should have waited for all the books to be out.
Like the previous reviewer said, "starts fast, runs out of gas, coasts, then... no resolution!" Allen reels you in the beginning but then kind of gets lost in the middle, in effect losing you as well. He then reels you back in, only to end the book abruptly with no resolution for the characters or the reader. Although this may seem like a bad thing, I personally think it was intentional. Since the book seems to be the first in a set or series.
That aside, I did enjoy the book. Depths of Time is enjoyable if you can overlook its cliffhanger ending. If you're a soap watcher then DOT's ending will be no surprise. Personally, I'm waiting to see what Allen has in store for us in the next book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2001
This novel is exactly the opposite of the Star Trek/Star Wars vision of the future. The feel of the book is much more along the lines of Alien/Outland, a very gritty future where there is no faster-than-light warp drive, and travel between the stars is a slow, tedious and sometimes dangerous business. What makes the trip possible is the use of wormholes to manage the time dilation effects. These wormholes are guarded by the Chronologic Patrol, one ship at each end, their job to prevent at all costs any occurence of time paradoxes. The novel opens with an attack on one of the wormholes, an unheard of event, and a very gripping portrayal of how one ship, the Upholder, and it's captain, Anton Koffield, respond to that attack.
This book is a fascinating portrait of a man who has great integrity, and knows how to handle duty and responsibility. It starts with him at a high point in his career, and then follows him as he becomes a political hot potato, promoted to Admiral and assigned a desk job. Although he made the hard decision and did his job by the book, the public sees him as a monster. He is approached to write a history of terraforming, and discovers an approaching cataclysm. If you have read any of Daniel Quinn's books (Ishmael, The Story of B) this approaching cataclysm will be very familiar.
I enjoyed the exploration of Anton Koffield. The author does a great job of getting into characters heads and showing us what is motivating them. It's interesting to me to witness a man who falls from grace, loses everything, and is flattered into doing work that may or may not be important, then discovering a hidden secret that has dire implications for all humanity. Seeing Koffield's opposite motivated by ego and grandiosity made a perfect counterpoint. I also enjoyed the exploration of the idea that terraforming may not be a viable concept. As I said before, I'm a fan of Daniel Quinn's, and this dovetails nicely into his ideas that our civilization is in trouble because of our need to control and our addiction to power. And what is terraforming but the ultimate expression of the need to control?
I agree with the other reviewers that it would help to know that this book is part of a series. There is a hint of that in the dedication, but luckily for me I read the reviews here before I reached the end of the book.
This novel is a parable, with direct implications for the time we are living in right now. The characters actions, the way crisis is portrayed, the way motivation is revealed, and an untypical vision of the future made this novel a very enjoyable read for me. I'm looking forward to the next two volumes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2004
I haven't read any sci-fi for a long time. Stopped reading it years ago because so much of the writing was just plain bad. I picked up this book thinking I might get back into it, but I found that it did nothing to attract me back.
Mr. Allen thanks, in his acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, his publisher who convinced him to turn his one-book idea into a trilogy. Apparently the formula for a trilogy is: 1) take a single book manuscript and 2) flesh it out with redundancies, pointless detail and meanderings.
Some of the time ideas were interesting, but I had a real hard time with two issues: 1.) There is a strict adherence to Einstein's speed-of-light limitation. But at the same time, NO regard for the force of gravity (there are "gravity generators" on all the ships). If you want to "generate gravity" without acceleration you have to bend space. If you can bend space without mass, Einstein goes right out the window. 2.) MOST folks traveling from star to star use cryogenic sleep chambers on space ships. The ship's captain, however, uses some sort of stasis field that slows time to a crawl. They don't use it on everyone because it takes so much power. This is just too lame for me.
If all modern sci-fi is this bad, it's back to the classics for me. I cannot recommend this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2004
I had never read anything by Allen, but I thought this looked like an interesting story. The idea of being stranded in the future looked pretty intruiging. Unfortuantely, Allen does such an incredibly bad job of setting up how the timeshafts work and how they are guarded by the chronological patrol that it really spoils the rest of the story which is actually not too bad.
First, the timeshafts are explained both in the diagram at the front of the book, and also, by the story as being holes in time only, not in time and space, so where you enter the timeshaft is the same place you exit it. However, if this is the case, then the concept of uptime and downtime ends of the timeshaft that is relayed in the story doesn't make sense. Because the uptime end of a 100 year timeshaft from the year 4900 to 5000 would also be the dowtime end of the timeshaft from 5000 to 5100. Also, since the timeshafts would have to have that dual purpose, how do you indicate whether you are going uptime or downtime when entering the timeshaft? This is never explained, though it easily could have been by using different codes, or a different nexus. Finally, the CP ships are very clearly thought of as either uptime or downtime ships, when this obviously cannot be the case, the ships would need to serve a dual role, which is never mentioned and is actually contradicted by the way the story presents them.
Second, the story makes it clear that the timeshafts are built far from any developed system, requiring them to travel at least half the duration of the timeshaft in order to reach the timeshaft to ensure that a ship cannot arrive at its destination before it left. But if this is the case, then how do the CP ships return to "their" present? Presumably, they would need to go through the timeshaft before returning home, and the uptime ship would need to go through twice, but if this is the case or how it is accomplished is never mentioned. Also, with this delay because of travel time, how long do these ships stay at their station? No matter how you try to do it, it causes problems, either with the ships leaving their station or the relief ships getting there. But Allen never even tries to explain it, so we just don't know. Also, when the Upholder send word of the attack, how can the Standfast possibly be relieved so quickly, with the travel time being so great? It doesn't make any sense.
Finally, what I think is the biggest problem with how the time travel rules are implemented, is that the author makes it very clear that he doesn't understand them himself. Even if he does a poor job of it, it would be more excusable if he was consistent, but he is not. One example of this is when a ship has been stranded in the future, and the captain is discussing his options expresses that the CP would blow up his ship if he tried to enter the uptime end of a timeshaft to go downtime. Well, why would they do that, since that is exactly what the timeshafts are for? Actually, what really prevents them from returning to their own time is the objective time it would take to travel back to the timeshaft and then back to their destination. Also, the story mentions the Upholder crew being stranded 80 years in the future, but if they are guarding an 80 year time shaft, then they should actually be stranded at least 160 years in the future, since it would take them at least 40 years to travel to the timeshaft and 40 years to return from the time shaft in addition to the 80 years they gained by going through it. The fact that the author doesn't understand his own rules is very disappointing.
Despite the poor time travel setup, I was able to enjoy a lot of this book, the opening battle is pretty good. But these problems really do overshadow what could be a pretty good story. There are also other problems later in the story that are pretty annoying, but they pale in comparison to the time travel issues. One, in particular that bothered me was the fact that early on in the story they show many different ways that identity can be confirmed before accepting important commands, from codes to retina scans to fingerprints to DNA, but later for convenience, the story suggests that an entire ship can be reprogrammed using a simple numeric code.
I will probably look for more books by Allen that do not have the time travel aspect, because I'm sure I will like them much better. But I don't think I will continue with this series because of the terrible job that was done with the time travel.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2001
The Corellian trilogy is one of Allen's best known works, but as it turns out, it's not Allen's best. With a Star Wars universe, Allen can ride on a ready made fan base and characters. "Depths of Time" is an example of Allen creating a non-Star Wars universe that is complex, believable, and open-ended. The blending of social science, mystery, and hard science fiction is a good mix. The central device is time travel, but the book effectively moves us along at a real time pace to unfold a centuries old canvas. Not an easy thing to pull off, but Allen keeps the reader balanced between the backdrop of an entire universe in crisis and the fate of just one man. I believe the mark of good science fiction is when the "sci-fi" serves to support great characters, and Allen doesn't disappoint. Fans used to Allen's action writing may be surprised when the opening ship battles evolve into the personal struggles of Anton Koffield, but the shift is still compelling. Allen coaxes you into Koffield's life with the familiarity of a good space opera, but carries you with real human crises and the mysteries that grow from them. As a character, Koffield still bears some of the two-dimensional aspects plaguing most of Allen's Star Wars influenced writing, but Koffield's no stereotype. It also looks like Allen is wisely holding back more on Koffield's psyche for the sequel. No matter; what's left unexplained is just as rewarding as what the reader is allowed to uncover. No ready made marketable endings and plot twists either. It's always a pleasure to read a story not disguised as a promo for a movie script. Thank Allen's stars it looks like the beginning of a thoughtful and original space trilogy. Wormhole or no wormhole, it will be worth taking the time to see how it all turns out.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2000
The only problem with this book is that it ends before the story does, i.e., this is just part 1. The good thing is that I liked it so much that I'll pre-order part 2 as soon as it's announced. I really appreciated Mr Allen's concept that terraforming a planet can't be simple and that we humans will probably mess it up. I also liked the concept that some people will intentionally withold information to control how fast civilization advances. But the most interesting concept is Mr Allen's solution to travelling great distances without the use of light speed, the timeshaft. Very nice. I also really enjoyed the character development of Mr Allen's protagonist, Anton Koffield. Koffield is a character that I really liked.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
I haven't been able to get past what seems like a huge, gaping logic error in the first 50 or so pages. Should I read further?
I'm sure someone is thinking "Yeah, Rob, you were just baffled by the temporal worm-hole, and the concepts of uptime and downtime." It took me a few minutes (and a whiteboard) to wrap my head around the idea, but, no, I think I get it just fine. But it's possible that the author didn't understand it. (I bet he did, but just ignored the implications.)
You see, the two "ends" of the wormhole must also be spatially separated. If not, then there would always be two ships on-hand: The "uptime" ship of the "present" and the "downtime" ship of the "future." (Either that, or civilization clearly chose to abandon this particular wormhole after 50 years or so.) Remember that the present is also the future's past.
So for a while I said "Yeah, okay, they're not supposed to have contact with each other, so the endpoints of the wormhole are also separated by vast spatial distances!" But if this civilization can create spatial wormholes, why bother with all the temporal insanity?
No, my conclusion was that this was a thoroughly contrived idea, twisted and turned to set the stage for what may be a fascinating story. But I'm used to hard-SF writers who examine the science and discover stories to be told, rather than coming up with stories and then twisting the science (i.e., the author's own basic rules of the game) to fit the story. For some reason I can suspend disbelief for David Brin's weird, populated hyperspace much more readily than for MacBride Allen's temporal wormholes. They only seem to work if you ignore the real paradox!
I tried explaining this, out loud, to the captain, but he was holed up in his cabin, sulking.
And, if this civilization is so advanced that they can build temporal wormholes and/or spatial wormholes, why aren't they smart enough to staff their spaceships with a second-in-command? What would have happened to that ship if the captain had died? Total chaos! There was no first officer, as far as I could tell.
One could assume that they staff their temporal spacecraft with slow-witted captains for a good reason, but this captain could sure use someone (smarter) to discuss options. Preferrably using intelligent dialog, which also seemed to be missing from the bridge of this particular ship.
All that in the first 50 pages. Should I read further?
Lastly, here is the author's description of death: "The rest was dark and silence."
I...oh, never mind...
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2001
What a terrific start to a book -- 150 pages of intriguing action and just-as-intriguing characters. Then the wheels come off. What happened to Roger Allen to make him spend 50 pages or so on a single docking maneuvre and a ride in an elevator? After that, I felt so let down it was hard to read further. Still, I persisted and was let down even more by the lack of resolution. I'll still probably read the next in the series when it comes out because this guy clearly knows how to write, but I hope he has a new, merciless editor who takes a very sharp knife to the excess.