It’s going to be hard to separate a real review from a personal, autobiographical account of this book. I’ll probably not try.
This is, uniquely since I started 25 books much less 6000 pages, a re-read. I felt I needed something familiar, something I knew I’d enjoy.
There’s a section in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity where he talks about listening to the Beatles because it’s music that he first heard as a child and it isn’t (for him) associated with love, loss and chasing girls, it’s associated with a more innocent, less complicated time and as such it’s comforting.
A World Out of Time is a little like that for me. I didn’t first read it when I was a child. In fact I was 22. Although…
OK. Let’s go back to when I was a child – 11 or 12 – and first discovered book shops. I knew I loved to read but faced with a choice, my own choice, of what to read I was a little stumped. So I went with what I knew. I knew I liked Dr Who so I figured that meant I liked SciFi so I went to the SciFi section. I’d already devoured HG Wells and some other classics so I wanted something a bit more up to date. What I eventually chose was a book of short stories by Larry Niven. I must have enjoyed them because over the next several years I read most of his “Known Space” books including the Ringworld ones.
Anyway one of the stories was called “Rammer” and was the story of a man awakened from frozen sleep to discover he’s being trained to be a spaceship pilot. A World Out of Time’s first chapter is a slightly modified version of this story.
What I like about this book is its ideas. A lot of science (which may well have been superceded since it was written). It has a huge scope – the main character travels to the centre of the galaxy and back and his story spans 3,000,000 years (though his personal timeline doesn’t due to relativistic time effects). There’s discussion of how in this future the solar system was adapted by moving planets around. Red Dwarf played this for laughs but here it’s done seriously with what looks like a plausible stab at the science needed.
It’s also a rolicking good story. The earlier part of the book is about Corbell’s exploration of the galactic hub and his return to what he believes is earth. The later part is almost one long chase scene. Certainly I found (then and now) that the pace keeps you interested.
The characterisation isn’t much to write home about. Emotionally it’s a little cold I guess. Corbell and the other few characters act mostly in ways dictated by logic. And the logic is applied to these huge events such as what will happen if/when the earth is moved again. But I can forgive it that. I’m not looking for insight into the human condition here. What I get is a good story, interesting scenery and big ideas.
Also – maybe this is not entirely irrelevant – the plot of the later part of the book concerns the hunt for immortality. The scientific secret of which has been found but lost.
I can’t necessarily recommend this unless you have the same set of idiosyncratic tastes as me, but it is a guilty pleasure.
7/10 – good old fashioned ‘hard’ scifi. Full of ideas.