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Past Times: Rich Imagination and Scattered Brained Storylines Intertwine

Updated on May 25, 2019

Past Times By Poul Anderson


Okay. This book came from a estate sale. And the one person who dies must have been a die hard scifi fan because there were mountains and mountains of these worn out, tattered, yellowed paged science fiction books. They ranged from HG Wells to Phillip K. Dick to Issac Asmov to people I never heard of before. And the people selling the books made me a offer. As many books that you can fit in a bag for a dollar and like a big nerd I got as many as I can. And the book I’m reviewing now came out of that collection. Its called Past Times by Poul Anderson. He is a author I never heard of before but as the bold letters state on the book, he must have been a “Winner of Seven Hugo Awards.” So he must have been somebody at one point.

So what is it about? Well that’s a bit complicated. The back of the books says it is a tale of physician who is trapped in the future. But that is very deceiving because that is a description of one of many short stories. It is an anthology despite what the write up says. The book is a set of short stories centering on even in a world where time travel exists, making up a scattered brained but at the same time somewhat brilliant timeline to this world. And the stories could not be further apart in variety. One is about some company workers drilling for oil in the Jurassic handling day to day life and having the main character reflect on the dangers, and insanity of it all when one of his friends is killed by a dinosaur. Another one was about a man who accidentally go in the past to encounter the first ancestors of the human kind and questions what makes us human. Another is a odd one set in early Cenozoic where people from all walks of life were sent back to work. The people range from knights, to spies, to soliders. But there is chaos as evil men from the future such as Nazis escaped to this time and formed clans to created dominance. This is one of the nuttier stories. But it is extremely fun at the same time. The fourth major one is a man investigating the multiple branching timelines as a result of changing things in the past and learning from them. The last major one is about a man who can not travel in the past because his time machine is broken, so he continues to travel further and further into the future to find someone who knows how to fix it so he can go home. He gets to witness the eternal rise and fall of man kind through the centuries. There’s a couple other shorts too, but really not worth mentioning compared to these other big ones. So yeah. That was a lot. So now to the good and bad.

The good? The overall experimental writing this piece of work, is a very intriguing and amazingly imaginative. The author always moving into something new. It doesn’t drag and the overall idea of allowing the reader to piece together a timeline where time travel exist I thought was very smart. I always like something that makes me think.

The bad? Well the first one I must say is that book tries to be scientific without knowing any science at all. There are scenes where saber tooth tigers and dinosaurs exist at the same time. The reasoning as to why workers are drilling for oil in the Jurassic is ridiculous and doesn’t make much sense. There’s other things as well but you get the point. But being this is written in the late sixties I’ll cut them some slack. Another thing is that detail is weak. It is incredibly weak forcing you to make up bits and pieces to fill in the blanks. I really don’t like that. Then the biggest crime is the bait and switch in the beginning. I’m not talking about the back cover. The first seventy pages are what make up the Jurassic story that has the same theme sof Teranova TV show, was amazing world with rich characters. The book at that point feels like the beginning of a great novel, and with nothing telling anyone otherwise I was very surprised when it quickly and suddenly switched to something else. The moment I found out it was a anthology, I was disappointed.

Overall, the cons do outweigh the great imagination here. So I would be hard to recommend this to many. If you love old school science fiction this is your thing. For the rest of us, it is more of a curiosity than a good book.

1 ½ smoothies out of four.

Overall Rating: Rich Imagination and Scattered Brained Storylines Intertwine

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