I have just finished reading The Time Patrol by Poul Anderson. I first heard of Poul Anderson from this review of There Will Be Time that sounded like something I would enjoy. I was unable to find a copy that book, so I checked out “The Time Patrol” instead. I am feeling a bit lazy this morning so instead of writing my own synopsis I am borrowing this from the book jacket:
“The capacity for time travel has made human history a fragile thing. To protect the continuity of that history and guard humanity’s mysterious destiny, the men and woman of our own future have established the Time patrol, a far-flung organization dedicated to preserving the time lines and foiling the attempts of those who change history to suit their own purposes.”
This book is actually of collection of several shorter Time Patrol Stories combined with “Star of the Sea”, the first full-length novel of Manse Edward and the Time Patrol. These stories are all very rich with a lot of historical details and color, and copious amounts of historical “what-if” speculation. What if that civilization had not rose to power, or if that leader can been killed before that great battle, or if that religion had taken hold and spread instead of the other one? I can not personally evaluate the accuracy of the historical details so generously offered in this book, but they seemed to be reasonable and were presented in a believable way. I would think that someone who was better versed in the historical details of ancient civilizations may be able to enjoy this book on another level. The premise is that the time line is somewhat elastic and will tend to recover or “snap back” from small changes (like one man’s death) but there are key individuals and moments in history that can shape many generations to come. Criminals from the future must be kept from influencing these key moments. The Time Patrol recruits suitable individuals from throughout time to study and maintain the time line.
Unfortunately the first few shorter stories seemed to be a bit repetitive and follow a clear pattern. First the agents travel back to a distant place and time, described with generous historical color and details, then a crisis unfolds which will mean the death of an agent or their loved ones. The only solutions to the crisis would involve breaking the Time Patrols strict rules, the biggest one being: an individual can not go back to change their own past. No jumping back a week to warn yourself not to open that door. Then the long buildup is quickly and neatly wrapped up by finding a way to bend (or break – just this once – wink) the rules. Luckily further in to the book the story lines grow longer and more complicated and involved.
Although a bit laborious at times wading through all the historical “what-ifs” while the characters try to identify the key moments of the time line that led to their own future which they must protect, this book is a good read and may be particularly interesting to students of history, ancient cultures or sociology.