The Time Patrol

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Hugo and Nebula winner Poul Anderson has collected his short stories and novelets about the Time Patrol in this omnibus. Each of the stories is complete and separately readable. The collection features “Star of the Sea,” a new Time Patrol novella.

The shared premise of the stories is the existence of time travel. The Danellians, an advanced race of beings from the future, establishes the time patrol to guard their own existence. Once it is possible to travel into the past, it is also possible to alter the past and thus to negate the future. It is the task of the Time Patrol to prevent such changes from occurring. Agents discover anomalies in history, things that are known “not to have happened,” and travel to the past to prevent them from happening. Confusing? “Temporal,” the language of the Time Patrol, has verb tenses to describe these contingencies.

Once the novelty of time travel has been introduced, there is little to hold this collection together. Time travel paradoxes are dealt with adequately: Anderson explains plausibly what would happen if a time traveler killed his or her own ancestors and solves similar puzzles. There is, however, little that is ingenious or particularly engaging. The stories proceed according to formula: Discover that history has been altered, go back into history to prevent the change, and thus preserve the future for the Danellians.

Anderson appears to be more interested in history than in science fiction; most of the action occurs before A.D. 1000. Each story has enough relevant history to hold it together, but just barely. Several of the stories read like Nordic sagas Time travel itself is almost laughable. Agents travel on timecycles, described as looking like motorcycles without wheels. Although time travel has been accomplished, space travel leaves something to be desired. Agents continue to run the risk of falling off their timecycles when they accelerate or turn too rapidly. THE TIME PATROL falls into the pulp category of science fiction, where adventure and action are more important than characterization and novelty.