Timescape by Gregory Benford

(discussed April 16, 1998)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read the book gave the following ratings: 7, 8, 8, 8, 8.5, 9, 9
Average: 8.2 (!)

This book was semi-"sponsored" by Dedaimia Whitney, who unfortunately was not present at the meeting.

John Gallman really liked the book, and said it was the best book we'd read in a long time. The other members present gave him a spontaneous round of applause ;-)

Raja Thiagarajan gave the book a 9. He noted that this was the third time he'd read it, and he liked it better each. He said it was excellent, but he was deducting a point for problems with pacing and for Benford's willful obscurity in the final chapters. With regard to pacing, Raja said that the book starts at high speed and ends at high speed, but the middle drags as Benford details (e.g.) Ian Peterson's sex life. The willful obscurity was shown by (e.g.) Bernstein's sudden change of wives in the final chapter. But Raja liked the very ending, with its shift to an "eternal now" (which Raja noted also occurs in Benford's In the Ocean of Night and Benford & Gordon Eklund's If the Stars Are Gods) and loved the cameo on page 273 (in which a character from an earlier SFDG book appears briefly). One final point Raja forgot to make:

My general opinion of Timescape and Benford is like my general opinion of The Forever War and Joe Haldeman. In both cases, the book is their best known, and the one that won awards and made them famous, but I would say both of them have written better books. (My favorite by Haldeman is Worlds, which is on my Top Ten list; my favorite by Benford is Across the Sea of Suns.) But I will say that I enjoyed Timescape more this time around.

While Sue liked the book, she echoed Raja's complaint about the sudden wife-switch in the final chapter, which she said was just bad writing, because it made her stop and carefully scan from the start of the chapter to make sure she hadn't missed anything. Also she thought Benford's treatment of viruses and replicating molecules was a bit off.

Rob Pearson noted that the mixture of science-done-by-scientists and characterization is also a high point of Benford's latest novel Cosm, though he wished Cosm had spent more time with scientists and less time with characterization.