Customer Reviews: Timescape
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on January 15, 2005
A lot of the reviewers of this book obviously read it not expecting hard SF. Another big chunk did not expect character developments approaching what one would expect from non-SF.

This book is full of details on the science that are highly believable, and as exact as feasible without messing up the plot. That's the point of hard SF, and it succeeds marvellously. For those of the reviewers that expected "mainstream" SF or a non-SF fiction it is a major distraction.

It also spends a lot of time on character development, which is unusual for hard-SF, and many reviewers seem to have expected traditional hard-SF.

On the other hand if you do love hard SF but find most hard SF to have two dimensional characters, this is a book for you.

The book juxtaposes 1963 and 1998. In '63 America had survived the missile crisis, and there appeared to be progress all around - the test ban treaty was being signed, the economy was booming, and the centers of education in California were seeing a massive growth, with a bustling research establishment. Kennedy was pushing the space race. In '63, Gordon (one of the main characters) were assistant professor, had a sexy,sexually liberated girlfriend and was frantically working on a problem that could make his career. It was all good.

The books 1998 is a world in crisis, mostly described via the impacts it has on the main characters - a research team at Cambridge and the rather unsympathetic Mr Peterson - responsible though tough at work, but an chronic womanizer outside of it. The ecology is badly messed up, and we get to see it not just in terms of headlines, as you might in more typical hard SF (i.e. food production is down, fish is dying off, blah. blah.) but in terms of how it changes social structures and the daily lives of these characters.

The two are tied together by the experiments of Gordon and the group at Cambridge and the groups attempts at telling Gordon how to solve the problems they are facing, while attempting to avoid a paradox.

The group succeeds in communicating through time, but does it succeed in fixing the problems of the now they live in? How do you avoid a paradox? What happens if you create a paradox? These ideas and their resolutions are fairly routine in science fiction now, but I have not previously seen anyone handle them so thoroughly and in such a believable way.

Some complain about lack of character development, but I would claim that anyone who does so does it because they would not normally read hard SF. Some complain about too much character development because they are looking exactly for the hard SF. It's perhaps an awkward combination.

I too found myself wanting to skip ahead at various points, but not because I found parts boring, but because the development of the problem kept me in a lot of suspense. But I'm glad I didn't skip ahead - the "filler" material some have complained about was vital to the feel of this book.

It was "filler" material that provided the tie in with the Kennedy assassination that provide answers to several major questions of the book. It was filler material that demonstrated the mood of the respective time periods and give you the basis for judging the time after the "turning point". "Filler material" expanding on the characters explained much of their motivations for acting the way they did instead of always doing what might have been the logical way to behave for a typical cardboard scientist in typical hard SF.

And the end is stunning in terms of the way it describes time. Only one other time have I had a similar reaction to the end of an SF book, and that was with Arthur C. Clarkes "The City And the Stars" (read it!) which sent chills down my spine (I don't think any piece of fiction have ever done that with me before) for it's haunting image of how limited our view of time is by our viewpoint and our physical existence.
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on March 14, 2006
but a lot of people expected it to be and thus the wildly conflicting reviews posted by customers. The sci-fi in this book is really light and anyone who has even a modicum of interest/knowledge of the genre will understand the basic concepts (tachyons, time travel, etc.). The novel is really about PEOPLE, not the sci-fi, and how they deal with implications of time-travel, ecological disaster, and competition for resources. The main characters are likable and somewhat tragic, people muddling through their careers, fumbling toward meaning in their lives amidst chaos around them. Though the novel is dated (having been published in 1980), it still has relevant topics for our time. I would suggest reading this book if you are interested in the human side of sci-fi, but personally, I thought the time-travel aspect was well done and not over the top, with just enough mystery there to make it real. It reminded me somewhat of The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov in which communication between a whole other dimension and humans was tricky at best.
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on January 17, 2004
A Nebula winner, and one of a handful of hard SF books considered a classic. I`ll admit that hard SF doesn't gel well with my personal reading tastes with its emphasis on scientific explanation and frequently stock characters; however, I have enjoyed some immensely, such as _The Forge of God_, and this novel only proves that Hard SF CAN be both technically fascinating and be superby piece of literature and characterization as well.
Initially, Timescape caught my attention with its central premise of a dying future (well, 1998, the future when the book was written) finding a way through tachyon messages of contacting the past (1962). But the book does tend to tread water for a long time, and some of the character conflicts get a bit tiresome. But in the finale, which contains a stunning surprise, the strange science at last coalesces into a emotionally stirring vision of time as a landscape. It was at this moment that I saw the book itself become a whole-and an admirable whole. As the thoughtful afterward points out, the book tackles many different types of stories, not all of which will appeal to every reader. Give it shot, even if Hard SF insn't your thing.
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on August 27, 2008
I read this book many years ago and loved it and I have been recommending it to others and buying copies for them in the time since. I had a need to get a replacement copy for myself and came to Amazon for that purpose. I was surprised to see the distribution of ratings of reviewers so spread across the entire range and so I read a few. It is amazing just how many people can fail to grasp the point of a book such as this. Is there any formula which says that a science fiction book has to depict action? This book unveils the process of scientific discovery, showing how a scientist has to have enthusiasm and talent but also dogged persistence, a capacity to ignore criticism and even to remain deviant. Benford describes how an individual unravels a problem like a fictional detective unveils a murder mystery. The book shows also the ambiguous nature of institutional support for scientific investigation, with apparently altruistic characters being quite ruthless and egoistic. This story does indeed develop characters who have flaws, scientists who have lives outside of their scientific endeavours which can detract from their focus. But their lives revolve around solving a problem and how many of us have had the experience of meeting obstacles in thinking, of emotional intrusions, which nevertheless can be removed by the passage of time and by the action of unconscious processes of thought. How many of us are without flaws and have difficulties in our interpersonal relationships? I thought that was something that we were meant to enjoy in fiction. The science is brilliant, the notion of parallel universes seems to solve many of the paradoxes of time travel and the social psychology of scientific discovery is better depicted than it is in the professional treatises on the topic. Alternate history is another genre that can be hard to get a good grasp on and make persuasive and the author does a great job here also. This book is more than science fiction, it borders on science as fact. It deserved its awards and it further deserved reprinting as a classic in the field. Benford is a truly great author in the genre.
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on November 30, 2014
Timescape (Bantam Spectra Book) by Gregory Benford is an ambitious sci-fi novel that takes on the universe and makes an interesting journey of the attempt. The ingredients of this book include not only the basic three of setting, character, and plot, but also a mixture of real and speculative physics. In a sense, the book tries to be all things to all readers, and, taken together, it reaches the level of almost great, and certainly well above the level of worthwhile reading. There are two brief spoilers below, labeled as such. Just skip ahead if you wish to avoid them.

Benford's novel, written in 1980, is set largely in "the past", 1962, and "the future", 1998. This is a rather narrow timescale for SciFi, and the result is that we are now living about 16 years after his chosen future. The historical setting of 1962 is very well done: it will be quite familiar to those who've lived through the '60's. His 1998 future is, as often occurs in SciFi, much farther "advanced" than the developments of 36 years have actually taken the world. Overall, though, his descriptions of 1998 are still somewhat plausible as possible outcomes of our current world (perhaps in 2030?). The geographic/cultural pictures he draws of his two principle locations, Southern California and Cambridge, UK, ring true.

[SPOILER: The book ends up in 1970 in an altered universe, and I think his portrait of this setting and the transformations resulting from time paradoxes is less convincing.]

"Timescape" contains both more and better-developed characters than many Sci-Fi novels. As a result of the larger cast plus Benford's choice of referring to characters by either their first or last name, the reader needs to pay more attention than usual to each character when introduced. The quality of the characterization is generally good. The strong emphasis on the personal lives of those involved in the story is both a gain and a loss for the main story line. On the plus side, the characters are complex and broadly believable. On the minus side, the large effort in character development can be boring, at times, and certainly delays the development of the plot. In spite of the extensive efforts towards developing real-seeming characters, I find that the characters remain somewhat artificial and opaque, and did not find them especially likable or admirable. For my taste, Benford has tried too hard at character development and focused too much on the characters' flaws.

The plot puts some intriguing new twists on the oft-used Sci-Fi theme of travel or communication between different times. The new conceptual twists are quite fascinating if you enjoy unconventional speculations about the nature of time. I found the plot to be rather thin for a book of this thickness. This is an inevitable result of the strong efforts devoted to settings and characters.

The science and science fiction are, for me, the most impressive features of this novel. Since Benford is himself a physicist, his scientific content is MUCH more detailed and in better alignment with known physics than the average Sci-Fi book. The "science atmosphere" is quite realistic, as well. Benford's science fiction speculations are outstanding in terms of exploiting the gaps in modern physics. For the lay reader, the connections between the science and science fiction of the book are so seamless that this has the two-fold effect of raising questions about "known" physics and, at the same time, making his speculations beyond the "known" seem unusually believable. To help you separate the science from the science fiction, I note that (as of 2014) tachyons have been considered theoretically by physicists, but no experimental evidence of their existence has been presented. A different experimentally observed phenomenon, quantum entanglement has "spooky" communication-at-a-distance properties that have not been tested against relativistic limits. The "multiverse" is highly speculative, though string theorists are promoting the idea-- in this case, the field has not yet arrived at testable predictions. It's worth noting, though, that 40 years ago, the "black hole" was a theoretical construct, but we now have considerable evidence that they exist.

[SPOILER: As a retired physicist, I think Benford presents the most intriguing speculation I've seen in terms of how time might fit into a purely quantum-mechanical universe. As is the case with "standard, known" quantum mechanics, the world he describes has a probablistic, whimsical reality. Also, as in most science fiction, some of the speculations fall outside of what might be termed "probable" discoveries. Finally, I share Einstein's famous bias that "God does not play dice with the universe." To me, this means that the universe is neither entirely deterministic nor completely random, but contains qualities and mysteries that are beyond the realm and reach of physics or of mankind's puny (though useful) intellect.]

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes Sci-Fi or who enjoys learning or thinking about scientific concepts and endeavors.
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on April 18, 2012
Timescape by Gregory Benford was first published in 1980. It won the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel that year. It is a work of "hard" science fiction, i.e., it is based upon science instead of social science. The story emphasizes physics (mostly theoretical physics), and I found it to be difficult to cope with all the scientific explanations. Surprisingly, that beginning physics course that I completed in college 43 years ago did not help me understand the seemingly endless physics lesson that I plodded though in this book! It is true that Benford also included much character development, considerable relationship experiences for the many characters, and much flavor of the times (1963, 1998, and 1974) and settings (mostly La Jolla California in the US and Cambridge in England). Unfortunately, I did not particularly like the characters in this book and I found most glimpses of their lives provided by Benford to be boring. The basic story of the book is interesting, but not unique for a science fiction book. The characters in 1998 were experiencing an ecological disaster that was escalating to apocalyptic proportions. Their scientists attempted to contact scientists in 1963 to warn them about certain scientific/industrial processes that were leading to the ecological disaster. They hoped to change the future by changing the scientific/industrial processes of the past. They attempted to send a beam of tachyon particles (which travel through time) carrying a message to the 1963 scientists. That story line was interesting and the results brought some interesting paradoxes. However Benford's propensity to dwell on detailed theoretical physics and scientific processes required much more knowledge then this reader could bring to the book. That scientific content is what makes this book unique. If you are interested in details about scientific experimental processes, and you know a little about physics, you would probably get more out of this book and enjoy it. Unfortunately, I am not a physicist and I have never even played one on TV! I should have skipped this book.
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on June 20, 2016
Have you ever read a book that was really, really good? You want so much to know what's going to happen that you can't make yourself put it down? That was how I felt about this book. It follows a group of people in 1998 (I think) who need to communicate with someone in 1963 in order to save the world by changing past events. The scientific explanation for this communication is quite believable. The confusion and reactions of the recipients and their technology which allows them to detect the signal is all very good. The characters are complex, interesting, believable, with strengths and weaknesses. The lives of the characters outside of their scientific endeavors, their wives, girlfriends, coworkers, friends, allows you to identify with them as real people. What a great book!

And then...And then you get to the end. The disappointing end. The end you have anticipated so anxiously. And it disappoints you by being mundane. I am still giving it four stars because the rest of it was so good.
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on July 21, 2014
One of my favorite hard science fiction books. This was the 2nd time I read it (first Kindle edition) after having read it some 10 years ago in paperback. Almost 40 years old now this book has stood the test of time and does not feel dated, even the parts that represent 1998, which was the future at the time the book was written. While the science is not plausible (as far as I know), it at least SOUNDS plausible, which makes all the difference for me when reading hard science fiction. Benford didn't neglect the human feeling and interaction, including slimey politicians and the class distinctions in GB. Great book and highly recommended.
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on April 5, 2016
This book was written in 1980 and is as timely today as it was when first released 36 years ago.

The concept of time travel has been seriously discussed since the U.S. Navy's Philadelphia Experiment
took place in the 1940s. To this day the Pentagon claims that the experiment was a failure, however,
the Pentagon has a long history of being less than candid with the American public.

This book is written as hard science fiction, meaning that while fictional, there is enough legitimacy to its content
that the story contained within could be more than a bit plausible.

And that is what makes TIMESCAPE so enjoyable.

Rather than spoil it for the reader, this writer suggests reading this excellent book when time allows.

Highly recommended!
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on October 10, 2011
I just bought and read the Kindle edition of this book. It was my third reading of the story since it came out in 1980. (I last read it about 15 years ago and could not locate my copy. Next time I won't have that problem.) I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in the mysterious side of modern physics. I gave it only four stars because it does get "bogged down" in some pretty deep issues of physics. And, I am not sure the author, who is a noted physicist, has actually resolved all the issues of space/time displacement properly. But he has done a remarkable job in many ways. The book is entertaining while it shows the way real scientists do their work and the constraints under which many have to work. I was an engineer for 30 years (aerospace). Though many think of engineers as more directed toward applicability than scientists, that is not always true as we sometimes have to find, develop and dig through the theory before we can develop something. In my case it was gliding parachutes. "Cut and try people" were flying them as kites in the 1960's but I was one of the first to figure out what they do and how they do it. I was driven to bring the work home and stay up all night working out equations. This can cause considerable friction in a young marriage. This time through TIMESCAPE I stayed with it through all the hard parts and worked through the logic problems as presented by Benford. This is great stuff for any young person who wants to get into work like this, which can be very exciting at times. Benford knows what he writes about and gives us a taste of the hunt for a scientific conclusion. Recent tachyon experiments show this topic is still at the front of physics.

The issue of information travel in time that bothers me is the idea that you simply have to beam a tachyon stream through space to the exact location the Earth was at on a particular date and, therefore, that there remains continuity along that line between 1998 and 1963. Are the same events still happening at the locations where the Earth was when they happened in the past? I think not. But it's a nice try.

I kept asking myself why the senders of the messages didn't have the sense to start a message with their names, the place and the date of the message. That would have saved a lot of time and anguish for the receivers. But it would have shortened the story and eliminated some suspense. Instead the author beats around a very strange bush.
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