Book Review: "Time's Last Gift" by Philip José Farmer
- by Señor Editor, 8 July 2012
Though Philip José Farmer's name is one I've definitely heard before, I've never been formally introduced to the late great science fiction author's works. That is until "Time's Last Gift" (first published in the 1970s) was reprinted in the Wold Newton Series by Titan Books, and I got a chance to review it. I like a good sci-fi read, I love pulp and I dig time travel stories, so I was happy to get into it.
Right, back to "Time's Last Gift"! Like I mentioned, the book deals with time travel, but it doesn't focus on the slightly overused notion that "whatever you do on your trip back in time will affect the present world in one way or another, so try not to do much". No, the philosophy here is that you don't change anything when you go far back in time and do whatever you please, because whatever you did in the past was already done before you were born. If it is in the past and you were about to do it, then you already did it! Get it? I'll be right here when you're done thinking about it.
It's the year 2070 and a team of highly trained specialists is going on a trip back in time to the year 12,000 B.C. In the prehistoric Europe the crew will collect all sorts of anthropological data to further the 21st century man's knowledge. Their mission there will last 4 years. The team consists of Von Billman - the Earth's greatest linguistic expert; the Silversteins (Drummond and Rachel) - a married couple with vast knowledge in many disciplines, and John Gribardsun - the team's highly intelligent, highly athletic leader (and our main protagonist).
The journey is successful, the team is all ready and equipped for the earliest stages of civilization they're about to encounter, and soon they begin to mingle with a primitive tribe. They first awe the tribe with their seemingly magical equipment and strange clothes and later gain it's trust and start living with the primitives. The crew member that gets the most admiration from the locals (they are called The Bear People, after their totem animal) is Gribardsun, who's a believer in "when in Rome..." and adopts some of the tribe's customs, to eventually become something of a leader to them. Since the rule about not changing the past cause you'll screw up the present is out the window, the team has no trouble with using their advanced tools and knowledge to help out the tribe. They always do their best to remain level-headed scientists and stay away from needless violence, though.
But things are not all peachy keen. That would just be boring. Most likely due to the time displacement, the team members slowly start giving into some less than rational behavior. There's tension in the Silversteins' marriage as Rachel starts to admire Gribardsun more and more, and Drummond's jealousy starts eating him up. Additionally, there seems to be something very strange about the team's leader and the way he quickly adapts to those prehistoric surroundings. Even among the mighty cavemen he still remains the strongest one and he oozes almost godly confidence and magnetism. The circumstances surrounding him being chosen to lead the project also seem somewhat suspicious. There's definitely something different about Gribardsun, something that everybody can sense but can't yet understand... And you'll have to read the book yourselves to find out what it is and experience the big reveal on your own.
"Time's Last Gift" is a really smooth read. It's wonderfully pulpy, without being cheap. It's a good piece of literature, that does include some crazy concepts and plot twists that will keep you reading. You may need to suspend your disbelief a bit for some of the interactions the team has with the tribesmen, but you should probably expect that in a book about time traveling back to 12,000 B.C. The main characters play off of each other well, it's easy to become interested in what happens next and where will all the tension between the team lead them. As my first exposure to Farmer's work, it did a good job of getting me hooked and interested in picking up more of his books.
Now let's talk about some things, that have to do with this current printing, specifically. I really like the book's simple cover. It gives me an old school sci-fi, pulpy, but very classy vibe. I think it fits perfectly and having a few of those Wold Newton series books on my shelf would look rather nice. There's also a nice extra at the end of the book, that expands on the whole plot and the main character. So good job, Titan Books!
One thing that bothered me a bit while reading was the considerable amount of typos found throughout the book. It's not horrible or anything, but considering it's a book that's just over 200 pages long (I'm a relatively fast reader, so that meant "Time's Last Gift" took me one -very enjoyable- sitting to finish; I wasn’t sitting all the time, though) it's more noticeable when it happens, sometimes twice in a paragraph. Example (from page 171): "I hope it won't cause time travel to he abandoned. (...) In any event, you can be sure that those chosen for future expeditions wall be much more deeply tested." So yeah, small stuff that doesn't take away from the book itself, but is noticeable enough to maybe consider an additional proof reader.
So check out "Time's Last Gift"; it's some classic pulpy goodness and it made me really wanna read Farmer's other works, especially more of the Wold Newton stuff. Ok, see ya! Bye!
OH! Right! You're probably wondering what the hell does that whole Wolt Newton universe thing have to do with this book! Well, that's actually the coolest part of the book to me. Other than it being a perfectly good standalone science-fiction novel, it actually does have a neat connection to the pulp heroes that were fathered by the meteorite incident. It's really subtle, actually only hinted at, but if you pay attention you can piece it all together. So other than the book having a good twist related to the plot, there's an extra one related to the Wolt Newton concept, just waiting for you to uncover. How often do you get that type of bang for your buck? Highly recommended.