The End of Eternity

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The Good Doctor's 1955 novel about time travel does things a little differently. He postulates a reality outside normal Time, called Eternity. In Eternity, bouncing back and forth between centuries (in vehicles called Kettles) is easier than traveling Interstate 95 between Florida and Maine in your Camry. Eternity is (naturally enough) populated by Eternals, a priesthood of technicians, calculators, and observers who watch over Time. Their self-appointed task is to monitor Time, and make slight butterfly-effect Changes at critical points to alter subsequent events for the "better."

(Did you ever see that Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Timecop? It's kinda like that, except much more talking, much less violence, and much more imagination. Come to think of it, it's not much like Timecop.)

All is well and good with Eternity, until one minor Eternal, Andrew Harlan, falls in love with a young lady from Time named Noÿs. (Yes, a y-umlaut). Harlan discovers that one little planned Change will have the effect of deleting Noÿs from reality. He decides that he can't let that happen, even if he has to bring about—drumroll, please—the End of Eternity!

A pretty good yarn from Asimov. As often happens, the Asimovian protagonist must wade through a lot of circumstances that aren't as they initially seem, and deal with a number of people whose motives are mysterious. Downside: the workings of Eternity require piles of tedious explication, usually accomplished by wooden dialogue. "As you know, Harlan, …"

Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:09 PM EDT


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As I type, IMDB rates Inception as #3 in its top 250 movies of all time, outranked only by The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. That will probably come down a bit: Christopher Nolan's previous movie, The Dark Knight, was in the number one spot when it was in theaters, but since has dropped to #11. Still, it's pretty good.

It's quite a yarn: the main protagonist, Cobb, is an expert in infiltrating the dreams of others. He's made this into a profession, hired by corporations to ferret out the secrets of the competition.

[I'm not sure how this would work in reality. I plumbed Steve Jobs' dreams to find out Apple's secret: Make glitzy, dead-easy-to-use tech stuff that you can build a mystique around, and fills a need that people didn't know they had. I shopped this around, but nobody wanted to pay me for it.]

But one employer wants Cobb to do a little more than the standard secret-extraction: instead, he wants to plant an idea into the dream-mind of a competitor in order to alter his business strategy. Apparently, in the world of Inception, that's a lot easier than market competition.

Also, Cobb is a wanted man in his home country, and separated from his kids. And he has a complex relationship with his wife, who keeps popping up in his dreams as a hostile force. It's pretty dysfunctional.

Nolan does a fantastic job of setting up the detailed rules for these dream escapades, and how they play out (typically spectacularly) in the dreams themselves. As at least one reviewer pointed out, the dream-construction business is quite similar to the moviemaking process, and that's probably not an accidental coincidence. But it's a tremendous amount of fun, and will almost certainly engage parts of your brain that aren't touched by watching (say) Hot Tub Time Machine. I'll probably get the DVD just to catch the details I missed, and I think that will take a few viewings..

Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:44 PM EDT