Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Infinite time travels leads to infinite corruption

 Someone recommended Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. While looking for it, I found out Charles Stross wrote a book by the same name. Since I had fun with the Laundry Files and it was short, I decided to try the Stross one first.

Okay. I’m just gong to spoil the book.





The reason why I decided to just spoil away is that the ending of the book subverted my expectations of the work enough to justify reading it.

Stross’s Palimpsest is about a Time Travel Institution that is dedicated to keeping the human race going until the heat death of the universe. A hefty chunk of the book is spent with timelines that pound down the cosmic scale of their work. 

Every time, the human race wipes itself out, the time travelers reseed the Earth with primitive people pulled from earlier in time, resetting the cycle. They end up restarting the sun and moving the entire solar system.

The actual narrative part of the book is about a new recruit named Pierce. As he becomes more experienced, he learns that there’s a lot of abuse and corruption in a basically omniscient organization. However, he learned of an opposition organization that is trying to expand the human race spatially as opposed to temporally. And an alternate future version of him is charge of the opposition. 

And here’s the thing. The book seems to be ready to wrap things up with some kind of clever twist, something that will solve the problem of an all powerful organization … and that doesn’t happen. 

Instead, Pierce points out that the opposition isn’t better than the old bosses, just different. It isn’t going to solve the problems of oppression and control. At the same time, while his own choices are constrained and limited, he does have new choices to make.

What choices he makes, we don’t know for certain.

So, instead of giving me a problem with a clever solution, Stross gives me questions. And that’s why I’m going to remember his Palimpsest.

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