The End of Eternity Essay - Critical Essays

Isaac Asimov


Classic science fiction seldom doubts that romance is to be found among the stardust of deep space. H. G. Wells set the tone with his tale of the triumph of young love over superstition in The Shape of Things to Come (1933). In the Golden Age of science fiction, rocket science was sexy. This assumption came under increasing attack beginning in the 1960s, as science in general was portrayed more often as a threat to any kind of human feeling. Thereafter, the urge to penetrate the cosmic unknown was more likely to represent an escape from more earthy, erotic relations.

The Eternals in The End of Eternity seem to be a vehicle for a veiled parody of the Catholic church. Women are not ordinarily inducted into the organization, readers are told, because their disappearance tends to create more serious disturbances in the flow of history. In practice then, the Eternals are a brotherhood. They exist outside society and conspire to manipulate history in order to realize prophecy and to perfect the moral behavior of humanity. Eternals are not necessarily celibate, but they do require prior clearance from the hierarchy for sexual liaisons. The protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is a virgin until he meets the only female character in the novel, Noys Lambent. She represents both the temptations of the flesh and free intellectual inquiry into the universe that lies beyond the control of the Eternals.

The End of Eternity shows Isaac Asimov at his very best. He takes the basic science-fiction concept of time travel and turns it upside down and inside out in a tour de force of exhilarating variation. Ironically, even though most of the novel takes place outside the ordinary sequence of history, the action is intensively plotted. The two basic story lines weave in and out of each other with double helical precision. Gradually the love story, involving Harlan and Noys, and the struggle to preserve Eternity attain one dramatic focus. They are resolved together in a breathtaking and satisfying finale.