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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970)

Written in 1970, this pessimistic time travel novel, a Hugo Award finalist, begins in 1978 when Brain Cheney is more or less drafted into a mysterious government project. Chaney is a Biblical scholar of sorts whose book debunking certain ancient scrolls has irritated many Christians around the country but he is also a professional demographer and has already produced one report for the government predicting how current trends will impact the near future. The government believes him to be perfect for this new project. Who better to send into the future in the new time machine invented by the Bureau of Weights and Measures than a man experienced in predicting that very future?

Interestingly, Brian Cheney and the two military officers drafted into the project with him travel only as far as twenty years into the future, to the turn of the new century, because government officials are so concerned with what they see as a dark future for the United States that they hope to learn enough from the time travel to change that future. Today’s readers, of course, have lived beyond the years visited by these time travelers so their adventurous trip into the future has become our past. As a result, The Year of the Quiet Sun reads as much like an alternate history novel at times as it does as a story of time travel.

Cheney, the only civilian time-traveler of the team, has little regard for politicians and resents the way that the President and his staff order that the first trip into the future be only to 1980 so that the President can determine whether or not he will be re-elected. The three travelers, who can go into the future only one-at-a-time due to the limitations of their vehicle, get that information for him but they also return to 1978 with news of the tremendous unrest and violence that is already impacting the future of America’s major cities, especially Chicago. It is when they are sent forward to 2000, and just beyond, to learn the effectiveness of the President’s attempt to save the country that the novel really takes off.

The second half of the book centers itself around realistic military skirmishes between government troops and the rebels who are intent on overthrowing the government with help from the Chinese, but it also details the evolving relationships of the three time- travelers and the head of their project, the beautiful Katherine with whom two of the men have become particularly smitten. Readers who may have found the pace of the book’s first half to be a bit slow in its set-up of the second half action will find themselves well-rewarded for staying with the book to the end. Tucker’s vision of the horrible future that could have resulted from the radicalism of the 1960s and early 1970s is a horrifying one.

Tucker even saves a nice little surprise for his readers until near the end, one that more astute readers than me may figure out earlier, but one that made me laugh out loud at its cleverness.

Rated at: 4.0

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