Project Pendulum – Robert Silverberg (1987)

All good science fiction takes a novel premise, or an existing trope or theme, and builds an interesting story around it. But presenting the idea itself, no matter how novel or cool, does not make a great story.

Robert Silverberg is a master of the craft and has created some of the most memorable SF of all time. Inducted as one of the few Science Fiction Grand Masters. But even Grand Masters have their less memorable works. This is one of them.

In this novel Silverberg administers a twist to the Time Travel trope that one should find extremely interesting. Instead of simply sending someone into the past or future, he conceives a manner in which time travel can only take place with a balancing mechanism in which any past or forward travel must be compensated by an equal trip in the opposite direction. Not only that, but the ‘swing’ in time has a pendulum effect. Someone thrust into one direction in time then swings into the opposite direction for an even great jump, while their counterpart balancing body is equally swung in the opposite direction. Thus two people are thrust into ever-growing and opposite time jumps with ever-growing periodic distances.

The novel central figures are two twin scientist that have been selected to be projected in time thus. They start off going five minutes into the past and future, and after a short period of time, the switch time directions and one goes 50 minutes into the past while the other has swung 50 minutes into the future. The jumps steadily grow by a factor of ten so the jumps grow exponentially bigger.

Now you would think that with such a great premise, a great story would be the result. But the problem in Pendelum _ is that there really is no story at all. Aside from a little background on the characters and a few odd variations to the jumps (there is also an ever growing displacement in location as well as time), there is no real story. We get to read what the two time jumpers see at every jump, and while is kind of interesting, it’s pretty much what you expect. But so what? There is no mystery. No unexpected glitch. No twist.

I’ve got to admit that this novel was a huge let down. I expected more, especially from such a distinguished author.


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