All the Myriad Ways Characters
by Larry Niven

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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"Senseless suicides, senseless crimes. A citywide epidemic. It had hit other cities too. Trimble suspected that it was worldwide, that other nations were simply keeping it quiet." Detective-Lieutenant Gene Trimble has a mystery to solve. "Why would a man like Ambrose Harmon go off a building?" he asks himself. Trimble has already begun questioning numerous other suicides, but Ambrose Harmon's death seemed the most pointless of all.

Harmon had inherited great wealth and had spent it whimsically, without a care in the world. In backing many impractical ventures, he might well have gone bankrupt, but instead he struck gold: a machine that could travel between alternate timelines, retrieving technologies developed in other possible universes. The result was his Crosstime Corporation, and "The Crosstime Corporation already held a score of patents on inventions imported from alternate time tracks." After all, there were "Lasers, oxygen- hydrogen rocket meters, computers, strange plastics—the list was still growing. And Crosstime held all the patents." Trimble speculates that given Harmon's carefree personality, the fact that he had great wealth, and that he had just won $500 at an all-night poker game, Harmon had no reason at all to kill himself.

It is the "no reason" aspect of Harmon's suicide that is at the core of the story's themes. "None of the methods showed previous planning," Trimble observes of the many suicides in his city. As a police officer and a detective, Trimble is trained to look for motives and causes for people's behavior. Thus Bentley's suggestion, "I think one of the Crosstime ships brought back a new bug from some alternate timeline," intrigues him. "A suicide bug?" Trimble asks. The idea has appeal; a disease has to have a cause, and a cause can be found, perhaps even fixed. Perhaps even the murders and other crimes have been caused by the disease.

The ideas presented in "All the Myriad Ways" are more significant than the characters, who are by and large not fleshed out beyond the minimum requirements of the plot. For instance, Bentley offers up his theory but is otherwise a mystery. Trimble is an exception to this rule, however, and his character grows and deepens as the themes of "All the Myriad Ways" unravel. He is, after all, an investigator used to plodding his way through clues, assembling them in different ways until they make sense. For the thematic purpose of the story, he is the cause-and-effect man, a representative of linear, cause-and-effect thinking, and he needs to expand his thinking...

(The entire section is 637 words.)