The End of Eternity
by Isaac Asimov
The possibility that we might visit our planet’s history – and maybe influence it – is the most tantalising of all fantasies. Perhaps, instead, we might travel into the future and, as observers, discover whether our descendants are still reading books, or watching films. What new mythologies can we expect to find in the year 4015 – or 6015, assuming the human race has not destroyed itself in the meantime? What new inventions, new discoveries and new wonders will science have brought to the world by then? But what if you could enter any time or place in the past or future, make whatever changes you want, and retire again without being affected by those changes?
Such is the premise of Isaac Asimov’s 1955 time paradox novel The End of Eternity, a light-hearted read for the summer holidays.
What precisely is Eternity? Well, like an event horizon or wave-particle duality, it’s rather tricky to describe. Eternity is a realm of existence outside, and independent of the normal passage of time. It is inhabited by the Eternals. These are a group of human beings who have developed a superior technology and travel ‘upwhen’ and ‘downwhen’, monitoring the temporal world and making adjustments for the benefit of mankind. Each adjustment creates an altered reality.
Andrew Harlan is one such Eternal. He is a Technician responsible for making these reality changes, that is until he meets and falls in love with Noÿs. Noÿs is – or appears to be – just an everyday woman living within Time.
Andrew discovers that his boss, Computer Finge, plans to have her changed or removed from reality altogether. He decides to commit the ultimate crime, to manipulate reality for his own benefit so he can be with her.
As he begins to execute his elaborate plan, Andrew becomes aware that he is not the only one with a personal agenda. Having taken Noÿs to safety in what are known as the Hidden Centuries, he finds himself trapped in a complex temporal paradox apparently contrived by Twissell, his – and Finge’s – superior in the organisation. Readers of the novel must appreciate that Eternity had a beginning. And Twissell’s strategy is to send a young Eternal called Cooper to a past century so that the present Eternity can be made to happen.
Things don’t go as planned; Cooper goes back to the wrong century. Andrew, reunited with Noÿs, goes back to 1932 to rescue him. He discovers it is not Eternity and the Eternals that are manipulating reality but something – or someone – from beyond THEIR realm.
[SPOILER ALERT! Omit next paragraph if you’re worried.]
It turns out that Noÿs is an agent of the Hidden Centuries. Andrew must either kill her to preserve Eternity, or destroy it to bring about a bright Galactic future for humanity.
The End of Eternity is a sci-fi novel with a lot going on. It is highly imaginative and fun to read, with clues as to the outcome scattered around.
Readers of Asimov’s later novels will guess that Andrew chooses to be with Noÿs. But does he? And can we be sure his decision (whatever it is) is the right or the only one?