The Paradox Men Essay - Critical Essays

Charles Harness


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This book is unusual in several respects. First, the principal character, Alar, uses three distinct methods to travel in time. Time travel is common in Charles Harness’ works and usually is used for the same purpose: to introduce a transcendental metamorphosis, usually through death, as a means of overcoming some basic weakness in human nature. In addition, his description of the Meganet Mind’s support is strikingly similar to a computer network, even though it was written decades before such networks came into existence.

The story concerns itself to an unusual extent with Arnold Toynbee’s theory of cyclic civilizations. In Toynbeean terms, Alar’s civilization is Toynbee Number Twenty-one, and the purpose of the spaceship is to force a change that will lead to Toynbee Twenty-two. In fact, Harness’ original choice for the book’s title was Toynbee Twenty-two. The other two titles were editorial choices.

As Alar’s capabilities mature, he develops several unique talents. He is able to project sounds from his ears and images from his eyes, as well as to engage in personal time travel of a very short duration. These abilities mark him as a superman, but one of a type much different from those usually encountered in science fiction. He is also the only protagonist to engage in three entirely separate and distinct forms of time travel, each with its own grounding in expounded theory.

Harness’ first published story, “Time Trap” (1948), appeared in Astounding Science-Fiction. The first published version of this novel appeared only a year later and was his first long work. Since then, he has produced nine other novels and many shorter items. In spite of two long hiatuses, he has managed to produce a creditable body of work. He remains preoccupied with the cyclic nature of time, death, and transfiguration, and the abuse of science. Almost all of his work draws on elements from his own life, including his background in patent law and chemistry as well as a number of personal topics. The Paradox Men and a shorter work, The Rose (1953 as novella; title piece of a 1966 collection), are widely regarded as masterpieces.