Timescape fits within two subgenres of science fiction. One has been variously called alternate time-track fiction and alternative history. This type of fiction deals with the question of what might have been. It explores alternative histories in which, for example, the Protestant Reformation did not take place, Adolf Hitler died as a young man, or the Axis Powers won World War II. The reason for the genre’s popularity might lie in its unrestricted ability to imagine historical alternatives; once the reader grants the possibility of alternate histories, almost anything can be presented as plausible. Another explanation for the appeal of alternative histories is that they are not so much concerned with alternative universes as with current society. Alternative history is a means of pointing out the flexibility of history and of denying the existence of an absolute necessity. By imagining alternatives, alternative history novels relativize textbook history and emphasize the possibility for change. Alternative history thus represents a utopian impulse, albeit an ambiguous one, as the way to the alternative universe can often be found only by means of a pseudo-scientific or openly magical device or method. Trans-temporal communication, as used in Timescape, is one such method. The novel thus also fits within the established subgenre of time travel stories, although in this novel only messages, and not physical objects, travel through time.

Benford’s novel stands...

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