Action, you say? Science!? Characters in 3D!?? But wait… there’s more! How about an ancient battle-royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde?
Oh yes, sci-fi power couple Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have all that and more in the 2003 opening to their A TIME ODYSSEY series, which, in theory, takes place in the same universe as Clarke’s SPACE ODYSSEY stories.
Inexplicably, at least initially, Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed “Mir” by the remnant individuals from the 21st century). The story is broad in scope, with multiple plot lines intersecting, connecting and culminating in a satisfying conclusion. While the ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger, it certainly sets up the sequel, Sunstorm, nicely.
Time’s Eye has the requisite amount of hard- and pseudo-scientific — and sometimes atheistic — philosophical musings. These are elements that Baxter and Clarke fans anticipate in their works. The philosophical vignettes are tightly written, and rarely feel forced or out of context with the rest of the story. I was thankful that there wasn’t much rumination on the structure and specifics of their own flavor of time travel, as there’s a tendency for the entire sub-genre to naval gaze.
The characters are solidly drawn and the authors were able to make the “real” characters like Alexander the Great, some of Alexander’s cohorts, and Rudyard Kipling (who gets caught in the time shifts), believable and relatively cliché-free.
In addition to the science fiction standbys of time travel and “those-that-watch-us-from-above,” the book contains solid historical fiction elements when dealing with Alexander and the Mongols. The authors take time to detail their histories, battle strategy and tactics of each set of warriors. There are also shades of Baxter’s Evolution while writing on the early hominids that get caught up in the time shifts as well.
Easily classified as science fiction, Time’s Eye also certainly does well if categorized as alternative fiction. This is a recommend read… particularly if you’re a fan of Clarke and Baxter individually, you’ll enjoy what they’ve written as a pair.