The End of Eternity
Cover of the first edition
|Cover artist||Mel Hunter|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
The End of Eternity is a 1955 science fiction novel by American writer Isaac Asimov with mystery and thriller elements on the subjects of time travel and social engineering. Its premise is that of a causal loop – a type of temporal paradox in which events and their causes form a loop.
In The End of Eternity, members of the time-changing organization Eternity seek to ensure that the conditions which led to the founding of Eternity occur as history says they occurred. The protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is placed in a situation where he must decide whether to allow the "circle" to close and Eternity be founded, or to allow the opposite to happen and Eternity never to have existed.
Many years later, Asimov tied this novel into his broader Foundation Series by hinting in Foundation's Edge that it is set in a universe where Eternity had existed but was destroyed by Eternals, leading to an all-human galaxy later.
The novel was shortlisted to the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
In the future, humanity uses time travel to construct Eternity, an organization "outside time" which aimed to improve human happiness by observing human history and, after careful analysis, directly making small actions that cause "reality changes", as well as to help establish trade between the various centuries to help those in most need. Its members, known as "Eternals" and by the roles they hold, prioritize the reduction of human suffering, at the cost of a loss to technology, art, and other endeavors which are prevented from existing when judged to have a detrimental effect. Those enlisted travel "upwhen" and "downwhen" and re-enter time in devices called "kettles". Their rules prevent them from earlier travel to the Primitive times before the 27th century, when the temporal field powering Eternity was established, to prevent accidental damage to pre-temporal history. Also, humanity's fate is unknown – the earth is empty by the 150,000th century, but this is preceded by a period called the Hidden Centuries from the 70,000th–150,000th centuries in which for unknown reasons they cannot access the world outside Eternity to learn more.
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal and an outstanding Technician – a specialist at implementing reality changes – who is fascinated by the Primitive times. Senior Computer Laban Twissell, the Dean of the Allwhen Council, instructs Harlan to teach a newcomer, Brinsley Sheridan Cooper, about the Primitive. During this time, Harlan is also tasked by Assistant Computer Finge to spend a week in the 482nd century. He stays with Noÿs Lambent, a non-Eternal member of the period's aristocracy, and falls in love with her. However, he discovers that a reality change is due to affect the century and, wishing to preserve Noÿs as she is, he breaks Eternal law and removes her from time, hiding her in the empty sections of Eternity that exist in the Hidden Centuries.
Harlan later finds that the kettles will not travel to the time he hid Noÿs due to a mysterious block at the 100,000th century. He confronts Finge with a weapon, accusing him of sabotaging matters out of jealousy; but Finge states he has reported Harlan's conduct and denies placing the block. Harlan is summoned to the Council but is not reprimanded; he deduces that because his transgressions were ignored, he must be there to serve a larger purpose. Harlan confronts Twissell and explains that he has been teaching himself temporal mathematics and believes that its 23rd century inventor, Vikkor Mallansohn, must have been helped in his discovery by someone from his future; he concludes that his current role is training Cooper to do this. Twissell confirms this, adding that unknown to Cooper, Mallansohn's secret memoirs show that Cooper will take over Mallansohn's role and in effect, become Mallansohn. This must be kept from Cooper, so that Eternity will be founded as it historically was. Harlan blackmails Twissell by threatening to destroy Cooper's ignorance unless Noÿs is returned, but is outwitted; Twissell locks him in the control room with all controls deactivated other than the lever to send Cooper back – matching the memoir's statement that this was his role. Harlan, enraged, breaks open the controls and changes the power output, causing Cooper to be sent back to an unknown point estimated to be in the early 20th century.
Twissell is aghast, but as Eternity still exists, he theorizes he can undo Harlan's damage, and send Cooper back correctly for his mission. They think Cooper might try to communicate using an advertisement in one of Harlan's Primitive magazines that would only stand out to an Eternal. Harlan finds a magazine from 1932 has changed, and now shows an advert in the form of a mushroom cloud, something no human could have known of in 1932. However, Harlan refuses to tell Twissell about the advertisement until they bring Noÿs back from the Hidden Centuries, though Twissell insists the block Harlan encountered is theoretically impossible. As the two travel far upwhen to discover what has happened, Twissell speculates that the Hidden Centuries might be a time when humans evolved into something greater, and that they may have blocked off that time – and placed the block at the 100,000th century – to prevent Eternity from interfering with them. Harlan and Twissell pass the 100,000th century unhindered and find Noÿs. Harlan then agrees to travel downwhen and bring back Cooper, so he can be sent to the correct time for his mission – but only if Noÿs comes with him.
On arrival in 1932, Harlan holds Noÿs at gunpoint, revealing that he suspects her of being from the Hidden Centuries, and that he has brought her so that she could not harm Eternity. Noÿs acknowledges she is from that time, and explains that her people had also developed time travel but their method shows many possible futures rather than just one future as seen by Eternity. They learned that humans would have been the first species to spread into the universe, but in each future where Eternity existed, safety was given a priority and by the time humans reached the stars, other species predominated and prevented this. As a result, humanity would become depressed and gradually die out. Noÿs' mission was to make the minimum change to history to remedy this – to prevent Eternity from ever being founded. There were multiple ways of achieving this, and she chose an approach in which she and Harlan were together. Noÿs gives Harlan the choice of killing her and preserving Eternity, or letting her live and allowing a different future to arise. Harlan, remembering the unhealthy interpersonal relationships between the Eternals, and the sociological damage he has seen done to people whose original "homewhen" had ceased to exist, begins to agree with her. Suddenly, a reality change occurs; the kettle disappears, indicating that Eternity now never happened. The book ends by stating that this was "the end of Eternity – and the beginning of Infinity".
- Physio-time: Relative time elapsed as perceived by an Eternal
- Eternity: An organization outside normal time involved in changing history
- Eternal: A member of Eternity. They don't live forever. They are recruited as young men from regular time.
- Homewhen: The original time of an Eternal
- Upwhen: Moving forward in time, or referring to a relative future
- Downwhen: Moving backward in time, or referring to a relative past
- Kettle: Device for moving forward ("upwhen") or backward ("downwhen") in time
- Minimum change: The smallest possible change that will restore/create the desired future. (see also: Butterfly effect)
- Andrew Harlan: An outstanding Technician (a member of Eternity who is responsible for implementing reality changes). He is appointed as Twissell's personal Technician; The real reason for this is later revealed to be that the memoirs of Temporal Field inventor Vikkor Mallansohn describe him as having this role and being responsible for training the Cub[clarification needed] Brinsley Cooper, therefore Harlan is given these tasks so that the "circle is completed" – so that history happens as it has happened, and Eternity is established as it was established.
- Laban Twissell: Senior Computer and dean of the Allwhen Council, responsible for ensuring the events of Mallansohn's memoirs occur as described.
- Hobbe Finge: Assistant Computer, who greatly dislikes and distrusts Harlan.
- Noÿs Lambent: a human from the Hidden Centuries, who is first introduced as a non-Eternal member of the aristocracy from the 482nd century, officially Finge's secretary. Her actual mission, unknown to any Eternals, is to destroy Eternity by preventing it from being founded, for the eventual benefit of humanity
- Vikkor Mallansohn and Brinsley Sheridan Cooper: Mallansohn develops the Temporal Field in the 24th century leading to the founding of Eternity in the 27th Century. He leaves a time-sealed memoir behind which reveals that the person universally known as Vikkor Mallansohn of the 24th century was actually a Cub called Brinsley Sheridan Cooper who, having been mentored by Harlan, was sent back in time to teach Mallansohn the temporal field equations; and who, after Mallansohn dies in an accident prior to the mission's completion, had taken on Mallansohn's name undetected to complete his life's work and ensure Eternity would be founded despite the death. Cooper is unaware that this will happen when he is later found by Twissell living in the 78th century, and trained to be sent back in time.
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In December 1953, Asimov was thumbing through a copy of the 28 March 1932 issue of Time and noticed what looked, at first glance, like a drawing of the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. A closer look showed him that the drawing was actually a geyser, the Old Faithful. However, he began pondering the question of what the implications would be if there had been a drawing of a mushroom cloud in a magazine from 1932, and he eventually came up with the plot of a time travel story. He began the story, The End of Eternity, on 7 December 1953, and he finished it on 6 February 1954, when it was 25,000 words long. Asimov submitted the story to Galaxy Science Fiction, and within days, he received a call from Galaxy editor Horace L. Gold that rejected the story. Asimov decided to turn the story into a novel, and on March 17, he left it with Walter I. Bradbury, the science fiction editor at Doubleday, to get his opinion. Bradbury was receptive, and by April 7, Asimov was informed that a contract for the novel was in the works. Asimov began expanding the story, eventually delivering the novel version to Bradbury on December 13. Doubleday accepted the novel, which was published in August 1955.
The novel reflects the state of scientific knowledge of its time, some of which has been superseded. For instance, the power source for the time travelers is referred to as "Nova Sol", and a link to the far future being taps the energy of the exploding Sun. Scientists now know that the Sun is far too small to explode.
As may be seen below, the novel may also be counted as the prequel to the Empire series of novels, which form part of the Foundation Series. Asimov had already included a kind of time travel in his 1950 novel Pebble in the Sky, but it was a one-way trip.
The original End of Eternity appeared in 1986 in a collection called The Alternate Asimovs.
The book was highly acclaimed by critics. New York Times reviewer Villiers Gerson praised the novel, saying it "has suspense on every page" and "exhibits in every chapter the plot twists for which the author is famous." In a 1972 review, Lester del Rey declared that no one "has wrung so much out of . . . or has developed all the possibilities of paradox."
As noted by critic Susan Young, John Crowley's award-winning 1989 novella "Great Work of Time" has the same basic outline as The End of Eternity – i.e. a secret society of well-meaning time travelers bent on remodeling history, and a young man recruited into the society in order to make a specific change that would bring this society itself into being. The details of what the time travelers do and where in time they operate are much different from those in Asimov's book. However, in both books, the society's operations come to a halt through the influence of people from the future, for reasons that have to do with the existence of that future. Young also notes a similarity with Poul Anderson's The Corridors of Time which also depicts a complex society of time travelers, who find sections of the future inaccessible – and also in Anderson's book, the intervention of the people of that further future plays a pivotal and cataclysmic role in the plot.
There are also similarities to John Brunner's Times Without Number, originally published in 1962 and revised for re-publication in 1969. However, in that story the time-policing organization struggles in vain to prevent its own annihilation; the conclusion is that timelines in which time travel arises are unstable and cannot sustain their existence.
Role in Foundation series
As written, The End of Eternity suggests that the new reality is the one that leads onto the Galactic Empire and Foundation but does not confirm it. The mechanism of time travel is most likely not the one stumbled across in Pebble in the Sky because of Harlan's words about the energy requirement for the Temporal Field. The "neuronic whip" from The Currents of Space and other stories in the "Empire" future is also found in The End of Eternity, again as something that had to be removed from reality. There are also no aliens who could compete with humans: in "Blind Alley", the aliens' predicament is rather like what will overtake humanity if Eternity is not prevented.
The original, unpublished End of Eternity is clearly a different future from that of the Foundation, but Asimov says in his story-postscript that he had some idea of a bridge in the published version.
Asimov placed a hint in Foundation's Edge, many years later, that the Eternals might have been responsible for the all-human galaxy and the development of humanity on Earth of the Foundation Series, but that interpretation is disputed. Asimov himself mentions the disparity. The human-like robots may have been intended to play a part.
According to Alasdair Wilkins, in a discussion posted on Gizmodo, "Asimov absolutely loves weird, elliptical structures. All three of his non-robot/Foundation science fiction novels — The End of Eternity, [The Gods Themselves], and Nemesis — leaned heavily on non-chronological narratives, and he does it with gusto [in The Gods Themselves]."
The End of Eternity has been translated into over 25 languages. The Russian translation, first edition 1966, was heavily censored due to both sexual references and sociological discussions unacceptable to Soviet ideology.
For some time, The End of Eternity was out of print, but this was remedied with Tor Books' 2011 hardcover reissue and a recent move to various e-book formats.
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The book was made into a movie in the Soviet Union in 1987. It mostly follows the novel except for the ending.
The novel ends with Noÿs and Harlan both deciding that the suppression of spaceflight by Eternity is not in the interest of humankind, and the two live "happily ever after".
In the Soviet film the ending takes place in the mid-1980s Germany rather than 1932 Los Angeles. Noÿs never fully describes why she wants Eternity destroyed, but in the middle of the movie, before her true identity is revealed, she gives some idea. Harlan yells at her that he is but a pawn in things and storms off, and there is a strong implication that he and Noÿs have no further contact. Then, a scene shows Harlan observing both Twissell and Finge in 1980s clothing getting out of a Rolls Royce and walking together. The implication is that Twissel and Finge use Harlan as a pawn to further their own materialistic gains.
While out of step with the rest of the film as well as the novel, the ending follows the Soviet concept that the "everyman" (Harlan) is frequently manipulated by the bourgeoisie, as a pawn to its own ends. The movie ends with a long shot of Harlan walking away from the camera, alone, down a highway.
A television film based on the book, entitled A halhatatlanság halála (literally The Death of Immortality) was made in Hungary in 1976. The screenwriter and the director was András Rajnai, and the main character was played by Jácint Juhász.
- "Publication Listing".
- Villiers Gerson (23 October 1955). "In the realm of the spaceman". The New York Times Book Review. p. 30.
- "Reading Room". If. 1 April 1972. pp. 119–120.
- Young, Susan F. "Well-meaning do-gooders and time-travel paradoxes". In Edward Bell (ed.). The Sociology of Science Fiction.
- Stross, Charles (12 April 2011). "Last time I did this, I lied". Stross's official blog. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
If you could re-write one sci-fi (or fantasy) classic, which one would you choose, and why?" "for what it's worth, I've already done it a couple of times, deliberately or accidentally. (I didn't re-read The End of Eternity before writing Palimpsest, for example)
- In the novel ... I wanted to tie it somehow with earlier books of mine dealing with the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire" (The Alternate Asimovs).
- The fable states that there were those who could step out of time and examine the endless strands of potential reality. These people were called the Eternals and when they were out of time they were said to be in Eternity. It was their task to choose a Reality that would be most suitable to humanity. They modified endlessly—and the story goes into great detail. Eventually they found (so it is said) a Universe in which Earth was the only planet in the entire Galaxy on which could be found a complex ecological system, together with the development of an intelligent species capable of working out a high technology" (Foundation's Edge, Chapter 74).
- If you wish an account of the Eternals and the way on which they adjusted human history, you will find it (not entirely consistent with the references in the new book) in The End of Eternity ('Afterword in Foundation's Edge).
- Therefore, it is said, it was the robots who established Eternity somehow and became the Eternals. They located a Reality in which they felt that human beings could be as secure as possible—alone in the Galaxy. Then ... the robots of their own accord ceased to function (Foundation's Edge, Chapter 74).
- "Isaac Asimov, time travel and The End of Eternity". 1 April 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
- A halhatatlanság halála (video). Hungary. 1976.
- "Asimov's The End of Eternity follows Foundation adaptation". Sffmedia.com. Archived from the original on 2009-08-13. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 21. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.