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The Man Who Folded Himself Paperback – June 10, 2003
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"Gerrold is such a good writer that he keeps us reading through. . . shifts of time, space and character--right into pre-history."
"Uncanny allegorical force . . . altogether most impressive."
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The other thing that struck me was the genius of the story. The narrative bothered me before, because it seemed kind of thin. But I don't see it that way anymore. There are two themes at work here. One is the sci-fi aspect, which consists of exploring in depth time travel with all of its ramifications. This can get quite philosophical at times, as the author goes into paradoxes and spends time establishing and explaining them. I enjoyed this immensely. The other theme is the life of Dan. This story is a biography of sorts, covering an entire man's life from birth to death. A good portion of the book is dedicated to thoughts of the meaning of life, what love is, and the fear of death. This is weighty stuff, and it is taken seriously here without killing the momentum of the story.
The story is a lot like the protagonist himself. It starts out linear, splits, becomes confusing, even chaotic, and then comes back together with purpose toward the end. I admire how the author was able to do this. I've never read anything like it.
Some have remarked that the book deals with Narcissism. Maybe, but I'm not so sure about that. To me, one of the ideas that the book explored is that we are always alone. That you can love a person, be friends with them, but in the end, you are alone. And that's the same whether it goes for other people, or copies of yourself. Even if you had another "you" present, it wouldn't really be you. Even if you tried to fool yourself into thinking that.
It's a great book, if a bit short. Highly recommended!
The beauty of the story, in my opinion, is that in the context developed by the author, the story is consistent and resolves all the questions. There are no paradoxes! Now, that particular context probably does not describe our real world, but we don't really know, do we?
I would love to tell you more about the story, but just about anything I can think of to say would be a spoiler. :-)
Oh, one thing I can say: This particular time machine is extremely easy to use.
Try The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Much better.
As others have said, the main character, Dan, is pathologically narcissistic. Unfortunately there are really no other characters in the book other than variations of Dan. There is a lawyer for a few pages and a few people at the racetrack near the beginning, but that's it. With the exception of 3 other versions of himself who appear for short periods, the book never involves another clearly defined character. Nothing is important in the story but Dan and his doppelgangers. After the first few pages it just becomes an endless jumble of conflicting time travel paradoxes and alternate universes which become very random and seemingly pointless, created only to say, "Hey, here's a time paradox!"
I generally like time travel stories but I believe you have to have some kind of internal logic in them. Whether it is just getting plopped back in time and the future be damned or insane complications from the "Butterfly Effect," the story has to have some kind of unravel-ability (for lack of a better term). In one very short section Dan visits all the key moments of history and in another he becomes sort of a superhero crime stopper, but these are sprinkled among the endless pages of him meeting up with variations of himself and how they all get along.
Then there is the "time belt." What it is and why it is are speculated upon (for a very few pages), but no conclusion is ever drawn. It just is and for some reason this guy gets it and off we go on the parade of paradoxes.
In the end I felt Dan and all the variations of him/herselves were not very engaging and what a pity it was that such a narrowly focused loser was the one who had control of the awesome "time belt."
For the record, one of my favorite time travel stories is the remarkable, low budget movie, Primer.
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Don't buy this book!!!