Read Timescape by Gregory Benford Hilary Benford Online


The author of  Tides of Light  offers his Nebula Award-winning SF classic--a combination of hard science, bold speculation, and human drama. In the year 1998, a group of scientists works desperately to communicate with the scientists of 1962, warning of an ecological disaster that will destroy the oceans in the future--if it is not averted in the past....

Title : Timescape
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780553297096
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 499 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Timescape Reviews

  • Jokoloyo
    2018-11-28 13:07

    One of the earliest Hard science fiction novel that I have read. A mind blowing for a simple reader who just thought faster than light concept was it was moving very fast. A solid gold five star book in idea side.I have read some of author's short stories, and failed read one of his Galactic Center novel. Even with all that negative experience, I could finish read this book. The plot and storytelling is slow, as if confirmed my low expectation before reading this book. But you should read this book because the idea. That's one reason I read SF novels.

  • Brad
    2018-12-09 21:15

    The Coolness—• This book won the Nebula in 1980! Pretty cool for it and the author, Gregory Benford. It would have been nice for Hilary Foister to share in the credit, though, considering she supposedly co-wrote this with Benford.• It deals with tachyons! (once in a while)• It works well as a mild sedative.The Meh!-ness—• There are some cool bits of forward thinking in this book, although none of them are truly prophetic, and they needed to be if they were going to be better than average. Benford and Foister project some terrorism in New York (which is a bit like a Sci-Fi writer suggesting that someday the Boston Red Sox would once again win the World Series), some ecological disaster, some biological disaster, some poverty and some hunger. Wow! That's bravely walking the plank, isn't it?• This book receives much praise for its “strong” characterization, but I’ve always felt that strong characterization requires more than just time spent with the characters; it also requires a thorough understanding of at least one character’s depths and shallows. We need to get inside a character and really experience the meat of him/her. Not so here. We meet quite a few characters, mostly men, spending a lot of time with Ian Peterson (a womanizing English “gentleman”), John Renfrew (a whiny physicist from England of the nineties), and Gordon Bernstein (a whiny physicist from the US of the sixties), but I never felt like I knew any of them well, nor did I want to get to know them any better. If this really is the strongest aspect of Timescape, it is a fine example of why this book deserves no accolades.The Crapness—• There is no way in hell this book deserved the Nebula award in 1980 or any other time. How it beat books like Joan D Vinge’s The Snow Queen or Walter Tevis’ Mockingbird I will never understand. This book was barely Sci-Fi, and I think I would have appreciated it far more if the clever little time messaging business had been taken out completely. A novel about Scientific competition in the sixties would have been good enough for me, and it was the story Benford and Foister were telling anyway, and I wouldn't have spent the bulk of the novel hoping for the Sci-Fi elements that never came. • Sadly, the cool bits of forward thinking were matched by some clangers. The authors imagined a late-20th century world where all the movie theatres were closing down out of disinterest, a world where photographic film was strictly rationed and no digital cameras were invented to pick up the slack (which wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the tachyon messenger was sending what amounted to digital images), a world where a woman being a housewife was expected by everyone everywhere, which leads me too ....• The portrayal of women in this book annoyed me constantly. It wasn’t that Benford (not to mention his ghostly partner because he didn’t, after all) was misogynistic. I didn’t sense any hatred of women in his writing. What was clearly present, however, was the cloistered attitude of an academic in a field that – in the Eighties – kept women firmly out of its ranks. It is the writing of a man out of touch with the changing social conventions of his day, which translated into an inability to foresee the way social conventions would be formed seventeen years later. Benford’s downfall is a lazy acceptance of patriarchy and a lack of imagination for past, present, and future gender roles.• The authors’ sickening defence of those three unassailable pillars of benevolence: England, the USA and the educated middle class. Puke, puke, puke.• Racism towards the whole of South America, with special attention given to Brazil and Argentina. The bulk of the ecological blame falls to Brazil for their destruction of the rainforests, but there is no mention, anywhere in the book, of the worldwide market forces that must motivate such destruction.• Page 413-414 of my copy – which I received as a bookmooch – are missing. It looks like someone took an Xacto knife to the page, and I am dying to know why and what the hell I am missing. If any of you have a copy of this book, I would appreciate a photocopy of the pages so I can read them and add them to my copy. I suppose it’s not a big deal, though, since the book was far from impressive.• Finally ... JFK survives! And there was definitely only one shooter. Whew.

  • Stuart
    2018-11-27 16:25

    Timescape: Intimate but slow-moving story about scientistsOriginally published at Fantasy LiteratureTimescape (1980) has been on my TBR list for 35+ years, and I've long wanted to read the work of physicist Gregory Benford. The book won the Nebula Award, and it deals with time paradoxes, which I find fascinating but invariably unconvincing. First off, most of the book’s considerable length is devoted to a slow-moving and detailed portrait of scientists (mostly physicists, but also some biologists and astronomers) at work in the lab as well as their personal relationships with colleagues and wives/girlfriends. So to describe this as a “techno-thriller” would be inaccurate. At the same time, Benford spends a lot more time on character development than most “hard science fiction.” In the end I had mixed feeling about this book. It was interesting at times but too slow-moving to generate much excitement.The book is set in two time periods — the first is 1962 in La Jolla, CA at UC San Diego, where physicist ordon Bernstein and his graduate assistant Albert Cooper discover mysterious interference in their experiments on spontaneous resonance relating to indium. Over time, they realize that the noise can actually be decoded using Morse code into scattered fragments of messages relating to chemical formulas and star coordinates, etc. Furthermore, they begin to suspect that these messages are coming from the future, delivered by tachyons due to their ability to travel faster than light and move backwards in time.The second narrative takes place in 1998 at Cambridge University, where the world is suffering from various forms of ecological collapse, particularly an algae bloom that is destroying the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. Two scientists, Englishman John Renfrew and American Gregory Markham, lead a team that is urgently trying to use tachyons to send warnings back to the physicists of 1962 to head off the environmental collapse that will occur in the intervening decades.Given the premise, you might reasonably expect the story to be a nail-biting thriller in which the scientists of the future are racing against time to send back messages sufficient to convince the scientists of 1962 that they are really from the future, not a hoax or communications from aliens, and provide enough data that these scientists of the past can mobilize the world to stave off future disaster. But instead Timescape takes its time showing us all the minutiae of the scientists‘ lives, particularly those in 1962 — their daily experimental routines, rivalries with colleagues, dissertation committees, worries about promotion to tenure track positions, exercise regimes, etc. Gordon even has to fend off his Jewish mother back in NY who doesn’t want her precious son to marry a sexually-liberated goyim girl from CA. One thing to note is that scientists’ world of 1962 is dominated by men, with the women almost exclusively playing second fiddle as wives or girlfriends. So if you are bothered by that, even though it may be an accurate portrait of the times, keep that in mind. It got on my nerves a bit.It’s fairly obvious early on that Benford, an Emeritus Professor of Physics at UC Irvine specializing in plasma physics and astrophysics including wormholes and galactic jets, is injecting much of his own experiences as a physics graduate student at UCSD into the characters of Timescape. There’s certainly nothing wrong with drawing on your own life experiences to write a novel, since you know this world intimately. But you do have to be careful just how much to commit to paper and how to balance this with the proper pacing and not harming the plot. Personally, I thought there was way too much time spent on this part of the story, and cutting this down by 100-150 pages would have improved the pacing dramatically.The other problem I had was the central scientific concept of using tachyons to communicate with the past. Since it involves calculating where the Earth would have been positioned in 1962 and shooting a stream of tachyons in that direction (that was my faulty understanding, at least), the message is garbled and in fragments. But strangely, the messages are focused almost exclusively on describing the environmental and ecological problems of the future, including detailed chemical formulas, rather than providing details to convince the 1962 scientists that these messages are really from the future. So much of the middle portion of the book is spent on the 1962 scientists at UCSD arguing about whether the messages are coming from secret military communications, the Russians, extra-terrestrials, etc. Why not just spell it out from the beginning and save a huge amount of time???Though I didn’t fully understand it, apparently the future scientists were attempting to avoid spelling out exactly their identity and intentions to avoid the time paradox of having the 1962 scientists correctly understand the messages, inform the world of the danger, and take actions to prevent ecological collapse, thus negating the future in which the messages were sent from. This is a classic time travel paradox, known as the grandfather paradox, which asks what would happen if you went back in time and killed your grandfather — would you instantly disappear? Or is this impossible?Instead, if they can provide just enough data to encourage the past scientists to take actions to avoid future disaster but not enough to erase the future timeline of the messages, they can avoid the paradox by creating a new alternative and better timeline. It’s enough to twist your brain into a Moebius strip, which is what time travel stories should do. But I just couldn’t really make sense of this particular idea. It comes from the many-worlds theory of quantum physics, with the idea that alternative universes are continually being created in infinite variations, and in Timescape the scientists were trying to direct this process. These ideas were explained with greater clarity in Greg Egan’s Quarantine.I listened to the audiobook produced by Recorded Books, and they went the extra mile by using two narrators, Englishman Simon Prebble for the Cambridge scientists of 1998, and American Pete Bradbury for the UCSD scientists of 1962. It’s a nice way to distinguish between the two narrative streams, since you can immediately recognize them by the alternating accents, which is very helpful for audio readers. I thought they both did excellent work, and any failing are due to the turgid pace of the story.

  • Connie Dyer
    2018-11-17 17:24

    It's interesting to read the mixed reviews on this book. Surprising that of those who liked it many felt it was long, dense, too much detail, too much science, or science that was hard to understand. Oddly, my recollection of reading it multiple times back when it first came out was that both the writing and plot development were remarkably elegant and spare. And that surely is one reason it won the Nebula. There was just enough science in my view, described as was fitting for the advancement of the plot since key plot lines in the future and the past revolved around understanding what was possible and what it meant. I was gripped by the desperate and uncertain efforts to communicate something to the past that might prevent the ecological disaster in the present. And, by the slow, uncertain process of discovery, efforts to interpret and understand and finally communicate its import--the slow poignant unraveling of the truth. Benford's evocations of past and future academic settings was dead-on and sobering to those of us who've worked in those environments as I was when I read the book. Characterizations were PERFECT, deeply human without a scrap of unnecessary detail. You felt equally for the people who cared and thought deeply and for those who had lost their way following their ambitions in a fatally materialistic world. Today we face multiple potentially world-killing ecological causal chains, and have the processing ability to tease them out and predict their outcomes much more accurately and chillingly then back in 1980 when this book was first published. And that makes it particularly compelling for me now - because what might have seemed like deep cynicism about human culture and society and technology back then now seems especially prescient. I definitely want to read it again.

  • Kelley
    2018-12-01 17:09

    For about the first 150 pages, I considered DNFing this novel. But it slowly picked up. While I still think the novel is too long--by at least 100 pages, due to detailed descriptions of building architecture and what characters had for dinner--I ended up giving it 3 1/2 stars. The story came together, becoming quite interesting, and by the end, was exploring the possibility/probability of a (view spoiler)[multiverse (hide spoiler)]. One must remember this was written in 1980! (I wonder if it's the first novel about that subject, then?) The fact that the author is a physicist helped my rating (info given in the Afterword).

  • Sesana
    2018-11-21 18:12

    Timescape is both a fascinating, hard SF book about sending messages backwards through time to save the world and a dull soap opera. The premise is that the world is on the brink of total ecological disaster in 1998, because of the overuse of pesticides. Scientists have discovered how to use tachyons to send a message to the past, with a warning and pointers on how to avoid the catastrophe. The messages are received by a lone scientist in 1963.The SF portions of the book are really well-done. There are tons of scientific explanations of the tachyons, time paradoxes, etc., which I found mostly fascinating. A bit above my head at times, but fascinating. And the inside look at academia, research, and funding was way more interesting to read than I thought it would be.However... Much of the book is taken up with the personal lives of the scientists involved. This is where the dull soap opera comes in. For the most part, these characters just aren't leading terribly interested lives, but they're treated as though they are. The lovingly detailed scene of the 1963 scientist walking in on his girlfriend in the bathroom, for example. Most of the characters are thoroughly unlikeable on top of that, especially the womanizing Peterson. Which brings me to the part women play in the book. They are sexual conquests, housewives, and helpers to men. There are a few female scientists, but they aren't allowed to actually do anything on the page. This is somewhat understandable in 1963, far less so in 1998. I'd even give that a bit of a pass as a product of its time, but this book was written in 1980, not 1960. One last thing. The messages being sent back in time are meant to give scientists a head start on the pesticide problem. What they actually do is prevent the Kennedy assassination. The chain of events here is more than a little forced, and it's never actually explained why that made a difference.

  • Jackie
    2018-12-12 19:22

    Lots of potential but never realized. Too wordy with unintelligable technical jargon. I hated the end, though it was probably more realistic than another scenario.This is the first and only time I ever threw a book in the garbage after reading it. I just couldn't inflict anyone I know with it.

  • Sable
    2018-11-27 14:10

    Read for the 12 Awards in 12 Months Reading Challenge, the Apocalypse Now! Reading Challenge, the Hard Core Sci-fi Reading Challenge, and the SF Masterworks Reading Challenge and the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club.Method of the world's destruction: A major failure of chemical balance in the oceans, mostly caused by an overabundance of hydrocarbons, overwhelms the ecosystem and leads to a toxic ocean bloom.This book won the BSFA, Campbell and Nebula Awards (1981).I am fascinated by the mixed reviews of this book! Overall the enjoyment of it seems to depend upon whether the reader understands the science behind it. I do not have a background in physics, but I do have an amateur's appreciation for the workings of astrophysics and the flow of deep time, so this might have had a bearing. And personally, I loved it!There are two concurrent plot threads that Benford follows. Written in 1980, this book postulates a future ecological disaster, and the work of physicists attempting to use tachyons to send a message into the past, in the hopes that doing so will change the course of events. Benford also follows the flow of the physicists in the past with whom they have made contact as they attempt to understand and interpret what has happened to an otherwise simple physics experiment.Much of the novel is concerned with the social and political workings of the scientists. The team of the future faces constant constraints in their work due to top-down limitations imposed by a council who allocate scarce resources to what they view as the "most practical" science dealing with the disaster; and this physics experiment is (perhaps rightfully) viewed as a long shot. The lead physicist in the past must contend with the resistance of his scientific community and administrators, who dislike his results and view the idea of a "message" sent from somebody with incredulity, and they make an active effort to discredit his work. I imagine it's interesting to some people to understand that scientists are themselves human, dealing with all their innate flaws and prejudices, and to realize how much of our understanding of science depends on flawed human beings doing their best.Some critiques. First, I found it very slow to start with and hard to get into, but once I had done so and understood the nature of the drama, I was engrossed.Second, a modern reader like myself may find the casual sexism and racism distracting, though I wouldn't call it a deal-breaker. We tend to think of 1980 as a modern time that follows women's liberation, but evidently we were not that liberated yet. As a Jewish scientist, the physicist of 1968 is viewed with unconscious distrust and suspicion that is not even explained by the author, probably because it was so ubiquitous at the time. And women are bookends to the men who are the movers and shakers of the drama. It rankles on me how the 1968's protagonist's girlfriend, who is also faculty (though in the English department) is expected to come home and make dinner for the great scientist after a hard day's work (like hers is any less hard.) And even in 1998, the other end of things, women are mostly wives who have no other purpose (there are peripheral female scientists in both times, but they are exceptions and hardly mentioned.) I think it best to view both timelines as alternate histories, with corresponding differences in culture, in order for this to be palatable, and that works well with the way the book resolves (though I won't tell you any more because that would be an awful spoiler.)But as I said, this is still an awesome read, well worthy of its place as a SF Masterwork, and I would highly recommend it to all fans of the genre.

  • Ron
    2018-11-14 13:09

    This is it: good, hard science fiction. The science is so hard my head hurts. The fiction is so imaginative that separating fact from fiction requires too much thought, too. Best of all the people and place "ring true" even though you know—don't you?—that some of them can't possibly be factual. With each point of view shift the reader is taken inside the mind and the world of that character.Benford has no trouble recreating southern California in the 60s because he lived it, but his 1998 Cambridge, UK (written in 1979) tastes just as authentic. The gloomy future is the worst of all possible worlds as projected by liberals and conservatives about the time Benford wrote. (Remember James Gallagher's England? Or Jimmy Carter, huddling in his cardigan sweater, telling the nation that the future would be cold, gloomy and small? Or Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (1964)?)Benford also captures the horror of science (and it might as well be arts) dictated by government committees interested in only in practical applications. And the tyranny of the established opinion: such as today's string theorists who will not even admit to alternative models of physical reality. Or Darwinists who shout down not only creationists but anyone questioning their orthodox beliefs.Well worth reading.

  • Olethros
    2018-12-03 15:05

    -De lo interesante desde la perspectiva de género y pero no así desde lo estrictamente literario.-Género. Ciencia ficción.Lo que nos cuenta. El desastre medioambiental es la principal amenaza para la humanidad en 1998. Un físico de Cambridge, John Renfrew, demuestra que es capaz de enviar un mensaje al pasado usando la ciencia y propone avisar, en lugar y forma adecuados a la única naturaleza posible del mensaje, para que pongan los medios necesarios y eviten la situación catastrófica. En 1963 y en California, el profesor Gordon Bernstein está molesto por una fuente de “ruido” no identificada en su experimento de resonancia nuclear. Su investigación sobre el origen del mismo, con la intención de continuar con su trabajo, le revelará que es mucho más que una interferencia: es un mensaje.¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

  • Buck Ward
    2018-11-24 21:27

    In 1998 the world economy is failing due in large part to ecological collapse. Scientists experiment with sending a message of warning, via tachyons, to the past. The message is received by scientists in 1963 among controversy as to its authenticity. That's the science fiction part of the book, a relatively small part. The story gets bogged down in interpersonal conflicts and social vagaries in the lives of the scientists, their colleagues, department heads, and funding sources. It just goes on and on.I almost abandoned this book about two thirds of the way through. It has entirely too much extraneous social drama. If I wanted that, I would have read a romance. In the end, though, it picks up.Timescape explores the concept of time and the classic paradox. If only Benford had had an editor who could have nixed the soap opera. It would have been a much better science fiction book and about two hundred pages shorter.

  • Joy Pixley
    2018-11-15 15:15

    I can see why this book won a Nebula. Benford packs a lot of different ideas and threads into the book without making it epic (either in length or feeling). It's an interesting take for a hard science fiction book, especially in that era, that he spends so much time on the human element of the story. We see two time periods. We start in 1998, which was 18 years into the future at the time the book was written. This future world is experiencing economic, political, and increasingly environmental catastrophes. I liked how we saw these problems through the eyes of everyday characters, how the power outages affected their everyday lives, and how they only gradually came to realize the seriousness of the situation. We don't start post-apocalyptic; we watch it gradually collapse from the POV of suburbanites who still hope their dinner parties will go well. Some of these characters are scientists, who have an idea for how to send a message back to the past, to prevent the catastrophe from happening. The other time period is 1962, 18 years before the book was published. Here again the main characters are scientists, who observe what appears to be a message they can't explain. Will they understand it? Will they be able to convince others? Will they do it in time, and what does that even mean, in a book about time travel? The result is a really rich story, with almost too many overlapping elements that all must be explained and interwoven: an environmental collapse and its effects on the world, an idea for scientifically plausible time travel (if only messages), the inner workings of academic science labs at both ends of the time travel line and the problems that each group has sustaining funding and peer respect given their bizarre ideas, and the personal lives of the men involved, including several substantial relationship issues with their various wives and girlfriends. I especially appreciated the author's in-depth exploration of the lives of academics, being an academic myself; it's unusual to find any book deal with issues like whether your outrageous idea will mean your best student doesn't get approved to advance to candidacy by the other faculty. It's a lot to squeeze into one book, perhaps more than was necessary. It took me quite a while to get involved in the story, for instance, because there were just so many characters and all these male scientists just blurred together, and the conflict did not seem to build especially compellingly at first. Eventually, though, it grabbed me and kept me interested until the end, mostly. The action kept being paused for long passages of exposition about the science behind the time travelling particles, and endless debates about causality. Often in science fiction books, the hand-wavy-science-y bits are sufficient for the average lay reader but unconvincing to real scientists. I suspect this may be the opposite: maybe someone with more physics training than me would be convinced by the extensive explanation, but I read carefully and still was unconvinced that the causality problem was solved. I was impressed with how much detail Benford got across about the characters' personal lives, although I wish it would have been tied into the main plot more tightly. It seemed like I was reading two different books at times; one book about these men's home lives and another book about this important science thing happening at work. The portrayal of the scientists' home lives was mostly realistic, and did give a solid grounding to why what was happening at work was important: the men in the future were literally trying to save the world, so the reader has to care about the world. But I found myself lost in the details at times. One aspect of their personal lives was downright annoying, and that was the sex. Given that their sex lives had zero to do with the rest of the book, there were an awful lot of scenes of discussing sex or having sex or thinking about having or not having sex. I had the distinct impression that the author thought he was being edgy and shocking, but it frequently struck me as dated and sexist. In particular, one character spends the entire book seducing every woman he meets, including other men's wives. Entire scenes seem to exist primarily to introduce another woman for him to bed, long after the fact that he's a shallow womanizer has already been established. (view spoiler)[ If you are hoping this vile creature is either vilified or turns over a new leaf by the end, I suggest curbing your expectations. (hide spoiler)] The women in the book are given much weaker characterization than the men, spending most of their limited page time entertaining, supporting or whining at their husbands, and having sex. I had high hopes when a female scientist joined the team, but they were quickly dashed. At least there are a few scenes attempting to show the women's perspectives, so it's better than the worst male-oriented science fiction of the era that preceded it. Still, this element of the book don't hold up as well over time as some of the others. Overall, I found it to be an ambitious book, especially for its time, and worth a read, whether you think you like hard science fiction or not. I'm not sure it ever uncovers "the truth behind time itself," as promised on the back cover, but it does as good a job of that as any other time travel book I've read, and better than most.

  • Branko Savić
    2018-11-17 21:11

    Otprilike kao i prethodni Benfordov roman koji sam procitao Artifact, odlicna nauka, tacnije kvantna fizika, i sve ostalo moze slobodno da se preskoci. Ocena 2.5

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2018-11-16 17:22 in 1980, with storylines set in 1962-63 and 1998, this is a scientists' sf novel, the future 1998 world facing ecological and social catastrophe and its physicists trying to communicate with their predecessors to prevent it from happening.As a Cambridge NatSci graduate I loved the visceral detail of the decaying 1998 setting, though Benford failed to predict one element of real life decay, the extinction of independent bookshops - he still has Bowes and Bowes open and staffed by attractive young women, when in real life I think it closed in the early 90s.But it's a bit less satisfactory as a novel than I remembered it from my first reading. Both ends of the time line feature almost entirely male working environments, with the odd distant woman scientist collaborating but the protagonists enduring varyingly problematic sex lives with their various female partners. I was not completely convinced, though I can see that it's written from the heart.And the sending-messages-through-time plot, the core of the book, actually doesn't work very well. Rather than the messages from 1998 inspiring scientific research to get the world out of the mess it is in, they accidentally prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that seems to be the crucial point of departure which kicks the 1963 world out of our timeline and into a better one. Why Kennedy's survival should make the difference is not really explained. (And the elaborate system developed by the 1998 scientists to check that their message is getting through is unnecessary given that their telephone system still works.)Though I do like the nod to Silverberg's Dying Inside, whose protagonist makes a brief appearance on page 273.

  • Greg
    2018-11-25 19:26

    Couldn't get through it... The science is interesting and clearly written, but it's just background noise to the character drama on the forefront. This novel's big problem is that it has aspirations to be something more: it wants so badly to be Real Literature (tm)... to elevate sci fi out of its genre gutter... but it only rarely reaches that level. The rest of the time is spent fumbling around in an overly wordy mix of boring interpersonal struggles.Every so often it hits the mark. There is a brilliant chapter in which a character builds shelves in his home, an extended metaphor of applying his scientific rigor to the crooked and convoluted realities of human interactions. The timing is right on and the whole chapter is very satisfying.On the flip side it's outweighed by incompetent segues: a highly romanticized scene in which a character accidentally stumbling in on his girlfriend using the toilet, vividly describing e.g. "the unending oval yawn" of the potty. Or there's Peterson, highly successful womanizing bureaucrat who spends most of the book trying to get every female character in bed - at one point it's revealed, almost apologetically, that the sex he's had thus far hasn't been very good... as if it's a concession to the reader or something. All told there's a lot of wading through the bland and occasionally awful just for a few bits of perfectly crafted writing (or as your interest may be: the "science" half of this SF novel). After nearly 400 pages, I had to give up.

  • Rachel (Kalanadi)
    2018-11-22 21:14

    Slow, with annoying characters. I got highly irritated by some bits, and probably missed key explanations because I listened (distracted and bored) to the audiobook. I can see why it won a Nebula for the science, but the other 75% was a protracted snoozefest of old-fashioned stereotype-laden domestics.

  • Scott
    2018-11-21 16:15

    This book has rightly been called a classic of the hard science fiction genre. The novel's portrayal of scientists engaged in research, and the internal politics of research groups in physics, is realistic and believable. I base that assessment on my own experiences working in a condensed matter physics lab as an undergraduate, as well as on my short stint as an accelerator physics graduate student working daily at a lab facility. Benford wrote "Timescape" in 1979-80, and the book alternates between 1963 and 1998. Faced with a worldwide disaster caused by biological interaction with pesticide agents, the protagonists of 1998 try desperately to contact the past world to head off environmental and societal catastrophe. This type of contact may be possible using tachyons, hypothesized particles that move faster than the speed of light. However, even if a message can be sent, will it be received and understood?Benford discusses the science as it comes up in the narrative, handling interesting concepts like the Grandfather Paradox with the deft touch of a scientist (he is in fact a practicing astrophysicist and on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine). However, what makes Benford's writing stand out is the character development and genuinely human relationships between characters. Unlike some other hard SF writers (cough! Larry Niven cough! cough!) Benford finds ways to make me care about his characters, even those who are manifestly unlikeable. There are a few points where the pace of the story lags, but "Timescape" is not a strictly plot-driven novel. The reader finds reward in finishing this book and thinking more about the real-world process of science and the conceptualization of time presented by the author.

  • A. J. McMahon
    2018-12-01 19:11

    Science fiction is a kind of fiction that depends more on its ideas than any other kind of fiction. This often means that if an author simply cannot write at all, or does not write very well, they can get away with their failings if the ideas and the storyline are interesting enough. Benford is one of those authors who can hardly write at all. He seems to think that in order to describe something, it is only necessary to pile up enough descriptive terms about it. This is not so. There is a crucial difference between a heap of stones and a structure made of those same stones cunningly fitted together with care and skill. Benford's writing is like a heap of stones. So now we turn to the ideas. If the ideas of his novel are interesting enough, something can be salvaged from the wreck. But again Benford's novel completely fails on this count as well. He starts off well enough with his initial delineation of the paradoxes involved in time travel, or in this case the communication between different eras. I thought at that stage that the book sounded very promising and that it would be worth reading for the ideas alone. But Benford in the end has nothing at all new to say about the paradoxes of time travel. There came a time when I was simply turning the pages of this book just waiting to get to the end and move on. For me, reading this book was a waste of time.

  • Thom
    2018-11-21 16:23

    Three of the last ten books I read have delved into 1962 and 1963, and of them this was the worst.Gregory Benford has a solid science background, and creates a plausible story of what if. In this novel, a message is sent back through time in an attempt to improve the (then futuristic) world of 1998, which is suffering a massive environmental collapse. The scientists debate paradox, saying it would stop their progress, but ultimately ignore the idea. Unfortunately, the authors ideas on paradox and the many-worlds interpretation come out quite muddled. Chaos theory and the butterfly effect, in vogue as this was written, do not make an appearance.Worse than the time speculations are the characters, who are universally unlikable. These were co-written with Benford's sister-in-law. It is said each covered their own time period, and I can say that the descriptions of Cambridge and La Jolla are well done. Another complaint I have is all the name dropping of 1960s California scientists, who mostly look approvingly on the main character. It has been said that Benford was writing about his graduate and doctoral experience. Finally, women in general are poorly portrayed.This novel won the Nebula and Campbell award, but I think other novels of that year were more deserving. A disappointing read - 1½ stars.

  • Adriane
    2018-12-03 19:18

    I really liked it, as others have said it was a bit heavy handed on the physics, but I really didn't expect anything else from an actual physics professor. Also I found the info fascinating even though it did take me out of the story a little bit. The idea is fully formed and the story well thought out, my main complaint is that I wanted to know more about the actual toxin/virus (it's not super clear) and how it was causing the die-off and how it was moving. But that's because I'm interested in that aspect of scientific research and environmental development. I would say you do have to have at least a precursory interest in the scientific process if not specifically physics. I do so I was kept very interested in this book by the combination of science happening, interpersonal relationships, and speculative future developments. So I would recommend this book to people who like science, and I wouldn't really to people who don't, the details can bog the story down and if you're not interested in it there's no way any interest will spark.

  • Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
    2018-12-06 20:23

    This is a fascinating and gripping novel, full of ideas, expressed lyrically but with precision and peopled with well-rounded characters whose personal and inner lives are not merely dimension-lending addenda to the story. It falls apart a bit because there are maybe too many ideas, too many strands of thought and speculation - time travel, time paradoxes, multiple universes, the nature of time, of reality, of causation, unpredictable outcomes, environmental myopia and so forth. These are all interesting elements, dealt with intelligently, but it's all a bit too much for even this relatively lengthy novel (around 400 pages in trade paperback) and as a result some of the themes seem insufficiently explored or resolved. Still, a good novel, both as science fiction and as fiction, and it gives me more reason to explore Benford's work than the first of his novels that I tried, 'Against Infinity'.

  • Mike (the Paladin)
    2018-11-15 14:06

    This is one of the best time travel novels I've read. This is one of the earliest places where the "time-streams" vs "time paradox" question begins to be dealt with. Can time be changed? What will happen if you change time? If you go back to change time and succeed will you ever go back in the first place and then will time be changed? Does an attempt set up a loop in time? Will it provoke an entirely new universe..or maybe simply move the time traveler into an already existing but different universe? Don't look for detailed answers just look for a good story where these questions stare you in the face.

  • Erich Franz Linner-Guzmann
    2018-11-13 21:27

    Umm, hmm, eh.... I just don't know to say about this book right now. I was really hoping for much better however.

  • Stephen
    2018-11-27 21:06

    I really liked this book. It is one of those texts which managed to strike a chord with how I am thinking at the moment. It is set in two periods of time - 1998 and 1963. The world of 1998 is one in which a combination of climate disaster and an ecological disaster combine to threaten a mass extinction event for humanity. How can the planet be saved?One approach - by a group of scientists in Cambridge - is to send a message back in time to 1963 warning of the impending disaster, and providing a blueprint to solve the disaster. I quite liked the mechanism by which the science worked. The Cambridge scientist made use of the quantum to send a narrowcast message using tachyon beams, to be received at La Jolla in an experiment that they knew would be conducted at that time. I liked this because it rather fits into my speculation about how we could access the multiverse, based on my understanding of the current science of the quantum.The problem in 1998 is how to send the signal. The problem in 1963 is whether or not to believe the veracity of the signal. I thought that this was a nice touch. In 1963, the established scientific community ridiculed the notion of a message from the future. At first it was believed that the message was from outer space, and it was only later understood that it was from 1998. As an interesting twist, at the end of the book, the scientists in 1998 receive a message from 2043 which they can't quite decipher, which leaves in the air all sorts of possibilities.Does the message work? We are led to believe that time has been altered. In the narrative of events, President Kennedy isn't killed in Dallas. He is just severely wounded. That suggests the timeline has been altered, but it by no means follows that it has been successfully changed. As there are at least two timelines - one in which Kennedy is killed and one in which he isn't - how do we know which timeline is sending a message to which. The scrambled message from 2043 just adds a further twist to the story.The book deals with the 'grandfather problem' (if I travel back in time to kill my grandfather before my father is conceived, will I cease to exist?). It doesn't address this question very clearly. I wish that it had. When attempting to discern possible alternative futures, it is helpful to keep them relatively free from each other. If we don't, then we have to question the extent to which they are not simply different manifestations of the same event. This is at the heart of one of the fundamental questions of futures - the extent to which there are multiple futures, or a single future that we can't quite discern.The futures community ('futurologists', as they are known) don't fare well in the story. Two passages come to mind. When talking about extinction events, he says, "This fuzzy issue had not occupied the futurologists. They cluckclucked over butter mountains here versus starvation there, and supplied their own recipes. They loved their theories more than the world." And again, at the onset of the event, "He wondered, idly, how many futurologists had got out. Few, he would guess. Their ethereal scenarios seldom talked about individual responses. ... The personal was, compared with the tides of great nations, a bothersome detail." That seems to hit the nail on the head. An over-reliance on systems airbrushes out the detail - often the important detail, whilst neglecting to detail the scenarios at the human level.The author does establish a scientific method that I quite liked. It consists of three parts. First, a new structure needs to be more elegant than the existing one. Second, once understood, the new structure needs to be simpler than the existing one. Third, from the structure come consequences more complex than before. This argues against taking complexity and hammering it into an existing structure. It argues for observation, reasoning, and then devising a structure to explain the complexity. This is the opposite to how much futures work is currently undertaken.I found the book attractive on a number of levels. The story itself was quite intriguing. It is well written, well paced, and included a number of believable and likeable characters. It dealt with themes that just happen to be on my mind at the moment, and it does so in quite a compelling way. It also gave me an opportunity to think about the structure of what we do, and to appraise whether or not it is the right way to go about things. In that respect, it is also a sobering text.

  • Steve
    2018-12-07 15:32

    A surprisingly good read from Benson, considering the subject matter blurs the line between real and speculative physics in a way that the average reader will be unlikely to determine where the fictional science begins. Read this book if you like physics, or would like a brutally depicted future world where our environmental carelessness comes back to haunt us.The core science of this book details the theoretical tachyon particle and how its faster than light velocity may enable a sort of time travel to happen. There are some pretty fun descriptions of how paradoxes may be avoided, and they're unlike any that I've read before. For all the physics that goes on in the book, a larger part is dedicated to the relationships our intrepid researchers (and program managers) invest themselves in outside of the lab. I suppose this was a necessary component of the larger story that Benford was trying to tell: how research actually happens in academia. Faculty members do not exist solely in their labs (sometimes despite their best efforts), but their personal lives have dramatic positive and negative impacts on their ability to make scientific progress. In the end, I had to view this book as more of a cautionary tale on how we apply scientific advances rather than a celebration of the scientific mind. But that might just be my interpretation.Benford tries (and I believe succeeds) to show how research gets done in a variety of situations. Sometimes it's easy to get funding and time is plentiful, other times it's not. Sometimes a lack of basic theory is an impediment, other times experimental success is all you need. There are a lot of different ways to come at a problem, and a diversity of minds working on any single problem is likely to produce better results than keeping a problem for yourself. I judge Benford's attempts at capturing these dynamics based on my own time spent in grad school and in research labs, everything rang true to me and so for anyone not inclined to spend five bonus years pursuing an advanced degree, this story might be a good way to get a feel for that lifestyle. He also nails down an often overlooked aspect of academia: tying the real-world impact to solving an abstract problem. What does it matter that you solved a fiendishly difficult riddle if it doesn't address problems that humanity is likely to face? Overall, it's a nice, deep read that could've used some trimming down in my opinion, but was more satisfying than any book straddling the factual and false physics boundary has a right to be.

  • Paul
    2018-11-30 20:14

    This is an excellent book for characters and scene-setting. The story told somewhat in parallel (though hard to say exactly what that means with a time travel story) was a good approach. I also liked the interactions of the people in the past with their tiny, morse-code window into the future.(view spoiler)[One place where this starts to break down is that the protocol they develop for communicating with the past is somewhat ridiculous. A third party has to come in and tell them that they should try a small experiment by asking someone in the past to leave them a note? Why not broadcast, "Ecological disaster in 1998. Proof that we are from the future, here are the people who win the World Series in the 1960s, plus some cricket scores and the names of pop hits." No need to enigmatically send coded signals to just 30 years ago when you have tons of cultural and historical information about it.The other problem I have is with the time travel mechanics, since that basically serves to create the drama for the "1998" portion of the book. The main question is basically whether we're in a single static timeline (in which case the fate of the 1998 world is fixed an unavoidable) or whether we're in a multiple-timeline scenario (in which changing the past will have no effect on the original timeline and Malcolm and Renfro's work does not really help their situation). Benford hints that it's a single static timeline when Peterson finds the note in the bank vault, but the way things are going in the 60s it's hard to imagine that the messages had no effect whatsoever. The "once they diverge enough that the message wouldn't be sent back, the two timelines split" universe just feels like a huge cop-out to me, and should have been explained in much greater detail if that's how you're going to resolve it.Of course, it could be that the narrator is unreliable, and the real explanation is that it splits with every message, and the Renfro and Malcolm who act as perspective characters are from the last iteration of the catastrophic 1998 scenario before their intervention actually succeeds. (hide spoiler)]Aside: I listened to the audiobook with Simon Prebble and Pete Bradbury - they did a fine job, but it was a bit distracting that they messed up a few pronunciations. Prebble always pronounced "causal" as "casual", and Bradbury mostly just put the emphasis on scientific acronyms weirdly (for example, he would say "Enn. Em. Arr" instead of "enemar" for NMR, or "Enn. Ess. Eff" instead of "enesef" for NSF).3.5 of 5 stars

  • Benjamin Kahn
    2018-12-09 21:26

    A good, compelling book but it sags a bit in the middle. I probably would have given it more stars had they cut out about a hundred pages.It starts very quickly - earth in trouble, the oceans are dying, but we might be able to send a message back into time to save the planet. The first 250 pages or so just sped along. Then the whole thing grinds to a halt. There's a long period of time where nothing happens - Gordon Bernstein, from 1963, becomes a laughing stock because the messages stop coming. John Renfrew in 1998, can't send messages because of too much noise on the lines. As the plot slows down, we get to know the characters, who really aren't very interesting. I started to get tired of Gordon and his girlfriend Penny in 1963 very quickly. Unfortunately, that's who Benford wants us to spend a lot of time getting to know. Gordon obsesses with his work, intermittently ignores Penny and is jealous of her former boyfriend recently returned from Vietnam. Penny is just there. We don't understand why she stays with Gordon, who basically ignores her. We don't ever get her viewpoint. Every now and then, Benford will throw in a Yiddish word or Gordon will use the term goy to remind us that Bernstein's nominally Jewish. It reminded me a little of Marvel comics "translating" from the Japanese, and then throwing in the occasional 'sayanora' to remind us that the conversation is in another language. Meanwhile, in 1998, the story is equalling frustrating. One of the characters dies for no apparent reason. World Council contact, Peterson, whores his way around the world. John Renfrew mirrors Bernstein's obsessive scientist while neglecting his wife. His wife, whose name escapes me (Marilyn?), is giving some personality, but is not presented very sympathetically. After the message is finally received and acted upon, 1998 is dropped. We never find out what happens to those characters.There is a scene early on where Mrs. Renfrew is confronted by some squatters asking her for milk. She feels threatened by them. I thought that this would be revisited, but it never was. A scene shortly afterwards features the Renfrews hosting a lavish dinner. The food is described in great detail. I wondered if Benford was trying to contrast how rich the Renfrews and their friends were with the squatters of the previous scene - a fiddling while Rome burns kind of thing. I eventually had to conclude that this was not the case.The juxtaposition was mere happenstance. I think a great opportunity was missed there. I think the tension of carrying on while society is falling apart would have been more interesting than having a couple argue about the husband spending too much time at the office. Benford seems to disagree. Instead of increasingly desperate people trying to survive in the midst of great wealth, we have a couple of isolated incidents and then a lot happening offstage. The decline is only witnessed in the abstract, and not up close.One thing that Benford does not miss out on is the science. I always struggle with hard science fiction. Sometimes, as in this story, this science is important and then it's interesting. Sometimes, it just slows the plot down - "they took a floater to get there. Now let me spend two pages describing how a floater would work" Not all of the science here if found equally compelling, and I struggled to maintain my interest in some parts, like for instance during Gregory Markham's plane flight. But I did find most of the tachyon discussion fascinating, and the whole conversation of time paradoxes. Also, the information on pocket universes. The multiverse stuff I've heard before, but considering this was published in 1980, it probably predates most of the other stuff I've read.The denouement. For me, the final chapter set in 1973 (1974?)could have been omitted. It didn't add to the story, except for the mention of the multiverses. I didn't like Bernstein enough to care what happened to him.All in all, a little disappointing, especially after such a great start. I tore through the first half, and then plodded along through the second. I think if some of the roads not taken had been taken, I would have enjoyed the book a whole lot more.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2018-11-15 18:31

    This review first appeared on my blog here in November 2011.Gregory Benford is an author whose writing I like, but I have never got round to reading much of his work. Timescape is a classic science fiction, not quite about time travel but considering how history might be affected by the possibility of sending messages to the past. Half of the novel is set in San Diego in 1963, and half in Cambridge in 1998, with chapters more or less alternating between the two settings. (The dates were clearly chosen to that the novel appeared halfway between the two.)In 1998, the world is experiencing a massive environmental catastrophe caused by mutations in oceanic plankton induced by the indiscriminate use of certain chemicals in agriculture. Physicists in Cambridge are investigating tachyons, sub-atomic particles which travel faster than the speed of light, and it occurs to one of them that it would be possible to send some kind of message to the past by sending a beam of tachyons to the point in space where the Earth once was, and interfering with physics experiments being carried out at the time when the Earth was at that position (direct detection of the tachyons being impossible, as technology wouldn't be in a position to pick them up at that point). The early sixties were chosen as a target because experiments which can be affected by beams of tachyons were beginning to be studied then.Some people divide the science fiction genre into "hard" and "soft" writing. Hard SF is concerned with science: it views the genre almost as a way to carry out an informal discussion of more less speculative ideas, usually in physics, in a fictional setting. Soft SF is more often interested in the social aspects of science and technology, centring on culture. It is perhaps something of an outmoded way to view the genre, which seems to be more simply speculative in nature (i.e. centred around "what if" ideas) than anything else, where science fiction elements (such as space travel) are not simply props to a story which doesn't depend on them except as part of the background.If the distinction has any meaning, then Gregory Benford has usually been regarded as a hard science fiction writer, partly because he is also a physics professor, and partly because he is also concerned to get the science in his stories as compatible with known fact (and interesting fact-based speculation) as possible. Most of the physics in Timescape is based on what was known, or what at least seemed plausible in 1980, including what is quite likely to be the earliest mention of dark matter in a science fiction novel. The exception to this is the tachyons, which physicists still generally doubt could possibly exist. How they could behave if they did exist has been the subject of a certain amount of speculation, and Benford builds in part on this. And of course, tachyons are needed for the central plot device in Timescape of sending the message back in time, even if this violation of causality is one of the main reasons that their existence is considered unlikely. Benford has a rather convoluted but clever and interesting mechanism to get out of this trap, which I will not give away.At the same time, Benford is able to write well enough to avoid the major criticism often levelled at hard SF writers, that they neglect important aspects of the story such as characterisation because of their overwhelming interest in the scientific idea. In Timescape, the reader does care about the characters in both timelines, and the background is believable - possibly in part because the setting is the physics research community which Benford is a member of in real life. It all works well, and the end product is a fascinating novel - at least, I think it would be to anyone interested in the physics.

  • Tommy Carlson
    2018-12-09 16:14

    Read a blog post somewhere about really mind-blowing novels. Timescape was mentioned. I've read a couple other books by Benford, so I took a shot.The bottom line? There's a really awesome novella here, mired in a lot of boring attempts at characterization.The main idea is that the world is in an ecological mess but tachyons have been discovered. (Tachyons are theoretical particles that always travel faster than light. This makes them also go back in time. No, they most likely do not exist, but the math would allow them to exist.) So, some scientists try to send a message back in time to warn folks to avoid the dangers.Let's look at the plus side first. The science is spot-on. Once you accept the reality of tachyons, pretty much everything flows believably from there. (With one wee exception, which I'll detail at the end.) The descriptions are accurate, mainly because the author's also an astrophysicist. The idea is audacious and handled well. A character has a great realization, while in an airplane. It's fairly obvious to a well-informed reader of science today, but viewed with 1980 eyes, it's an opener.All the usual plots turns are there. I mean, the plot really isn't all that different from any other one in which folks receive transmissions from afar. Someone happens onto it. After awhile, she realizes it's a message. No one believes her. Eventually, she perseveres and they believe her and the day is saved. However, the time aspect totally revamps the genre.If that's all this book did, I would have mostly loved it. But, no...Instead, the books is saddled with just horrible characters. It's almost as if the author sat there and asked himself Now, what qualities can I give this character to make the reader not like them in the least? Everybody fares poorly, but the women more so. One male character fucks anything that moves and nearly all the women give into him. The only one who doesn't? Well, the lesbian of course. It's not just that the characters are louts. There are pages and pages detailing their lives. I don't care. None of them are interesting enough for me to want to care. I found myself eventually skimming over much of the interpersonal drama in order to get back to the actual story. It got so bad that there were points at which I contemplated abandoning the book.While the poor characters are the biggest problem, there are others. Half of the story takes place in 1998, but the technology seems old. I don't mean that he's done a poor job of predicting 1998 technology from his actual real timeframe of 1980. No, I mean that the tech in 1998 seems outdated compared to the actual tech available in 1980. Even in 1980, I wouldn't have tapped out Morse code by hand for hours at a time, day after day, after day. Seriously, had he not heard of the Jacquard loom? I dunno. Maybe it was a stylistic choice. If it was, it was a poor one.There are also sections I thought were clunky. I lost count of the number of times one of the main characters had his momentum blunted. It's not a bad turn of phrase, just overused. (Just counted. He only used it four times. Still, that was enough to make it stand out.) It's the character-based writing which was the clunkiest.The ending is also weak. There's no real resolution. After wading through all that characterization, I wanted some resolution. Alas, I didn't get much, which leads to my last complaint.At one point, they conduct a test to see if they can, indeed, change the past. But there's no control. So they don't really know. They know they can contact the past, but still remain clueless as to whether they can change it. Unfortunately, this weakens the already weak resolution further. (It's possible that this is all on purpose. I doubt it, though.)

  • Sean
    2018-12-03 19:07

    Timescape is a terrific display of Gregory Benford's unique style of hard science fiction. Much like his other novels that I've read,Eater and Cosm, Benford weaves a handful of truly believable characters together with a fundamental physical question in such a way that the reader really experiences what it is like to be at the frontiers of science in the modern age. He does not describe only what you might expect, the excitement of discovery and hours in the lab, but what really draws the reader a true to life picture are the interactions between a scientist's work and his/her personal life. Benford is incredibly honest about the academic experiences of work pressure, politics, discrimination, personal rivalry, and sexuality. This all flows together with the discovery of something not understood, something strange and fantastic which threatens the people of earth.When I said "fundamental physical question" I did not mean to frighten you with boredom. The plots of Benford's novels are always exciting and dangerous; Timescape in particular exhibits characteristics of an emerging dystopia along with the time travel quandaries present in 'Back to the Future'. However, these conflicts are grounded in universally accepted physical theory and are the result of very short "what if" statements built on real physics. This allows the believability of the story and the characters to be enhanced and entertains the curious mind with the logical implications of the circumstances. There is one thing I would like to say about the end of the book so --SPOILERS FOLLOW--(view spoiler)[Much of this book deals with the problems of communication through time and the paradoxes that result. Specifically, if you send a message back in time to avoid a catastrophe why would you have sent the message in the first place if you succeeded. Somewhere near the middle of the book one of the characters makes an observation about the nature of time and causality. He supposes that events do not need to make sense in a chronological order but rather the entirety of time and space must be consistent. This led me to believe that the conclusion of this novel would be one of two outcomes: that sending a message back can't change the past and bad stuff happens anyway or that by trying to contact the past you actually caused the bad stuff to happen. I favored the second conclusion because it really highlights the different picture of time that I think Benford was trying to get at, that time is simply a coordinate in space-time and causality might not actually be fundamental. Sure, the catastrophe has to happen for a message back to be necessary so how could the catastrophe have been caused by the message in the first place? That is what would have been great about it, it doesn't make sense but it is entirely self consistent if viewed from one end to the other. However, Benford opted for the multiple universes interpretation of the time paradox which essentially allowed for a happy ending for the past crowd and an apparent dismal demise for the future crowd. While this is a common interpretation, I felt like it was a cop out to sell more novels on the shoulders of a happy ending.(hide spoiler)]