Book Review: ‘Time’s Last Gift’
Plot: In the near future mankind manages to develop time-travel technology and sends a team of four scientist hurtling back to prehistoric times to spent four years studying the early years of the human race. The leader of the crew, John Gribardson, may not be all that he appears.
Review: Having been written in 1972 as part of a much larger series one could assume that this entry into the ‘Wold Newton’ series of sci-fi novels may be a bit baffling for those unfamiliar with the story. Instead this could almost stand alone, featuring characters only tangentially connected to the rest of the books and chronologically predating previous events in the books (as well as pre-dating pretty much everything else).
Although the concepts and philosophies feel just at home in modern sci-fi writing there’s definitely a very funky retro feel to the story and the characters. The team of noble scientists who are also physically strong, attractive, confident and brilliant feels like an archetype from a previous generation of fiction, and having them journey boldly into the unknown carries a certain Fantastic Voyage vibe, complete with the attitude towards women. Although the only female member of the crew is just as qualified a scientist as he male colleagues her story arc in mostly concerned with her as a love interest for the men to compete over. This may have put her into a position of empowerment, but after a few passages of our hero noting how much more attracted she becomes to him after observing him flexing his muscles and hunting bison like a manly man.
None of these issues will prevent a sci-fi minded reader from enjoying Time’s Last Gift, especially if they prefer their sci-fi more like Moon and Prometheus rather than ID4 or Men in Black. The story starts of pretty dry with the adventurers making contact with the local tribes and integrating themselves into the culture – interesting, but not very thrilling. Debates about interfering with the history come up, and opens the door to other discussions concerning causality, ethics, language, culture and the like. This is the most engaging part of the novel, and it never feels like a lecture. Instead the sense of adventure carries the plot with interactions with other tribes and animals keeping tensions high enough to keep the pages turning.
Towards the latter parts of the novel the main thrust of the story turns from a scientific adventure to the true nature of John Gribardsun. Fortunately this doesn’t crash in like an awkward twist but a further investigation into the philosophies of time travel and linking the characters back to the rest of the series, and it proves a fine conclusion that’s filled with plenty of clever nods.
As an introduction to the Wold Newton series this proved to be very much an intriguing read. Given the concept that surrounds the rest of the series (combining a number of literary characters in sci-fi adventures) we could well be seeking out more of Farmer’s books to read.
On a final note, while looking for images I found this old cover and damn if it isn’t the craziest shit I ever done seen.