Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Past, Present, and Future: Philip José Farmer's Time's Last Gift

The novel Time's Last Gift by Philip José Farmer has recently been republished, and a copy of it landed on my desk for review. Being more familiar with classic sci-fi, I hadn't heard of Farmer, let alone read anything by him. A little research told me that the Hugo and Nebula award-winner does have a considerable following, though, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.

Time's Last Gift, originally published in 1972, tells the story of four time-traveling scientists from 2070 who go back to 12,000 B.C to study prehistoric human tribes. The scientists associate with a tribe of bear-worshipers in what is nowadays southern France, and convince the tribe to follow them on a trek through what is now Spain, Northern Africa, and Italy. The scientists' leader, an Englishman named John Gribardsun, fits in surprisingly well in with our prehistoric ancestors, arousing the other scientists' amazement and even suspicion. The novel concludes with the end of the expedition, upon which the details of Gribardsun's mysterious identity are revealed.

The novel is an easy read and I found myself at least partially drawn into prehistoric times. The build-up of suspense regarding Gribardsun's identity is for the most part nicely done, although at times a bit predictable. The novel does show its age on two counts, though: the female characters are all portrayed as weak, emotional, and dependent, and the high amount of interaction between the scientists and their subjects would not be tolerated by modern scientific rigor.

The above two deficiencies can be easily forgotten when one considers the original publishing date of the novel, but the problem remains that the story's conclusion left me unsatisfied. The final revelation of Gribardsun's identity seemed bizarre and forced. Parts of the conclusion simply did not make much sense to me without further explanation.

Although Time's Last Gift did not overly impress, I'm certainly willing to give Farmer a second chance. Plot and prose showed potential, but just failed to deliver at the end. Maybe another of his novels will deliver, and hook me as it has so many others.

By Nathan Ilten