The Eschaton Sequence (A Trilogy)
Reviewed: September 16, 2003
By: Frederik Pohl
Publisher: TOR Books
3 Books, $8.99
The cover blurbs suggest that this trilogy is Frederik Pohl's
version of an alien invasion story. "A thinking man's Independence Day," was
how one reviewer summed it up. That seems like a fair assessment.
Of course once you've got that kind of a reference you know that
you're about to read an alien contact story, that the human race will be
in deadly danger, and that we will somehow come out of it all right. What
is there to tempt you to read more than 1000 pages just to get there?
What intrigued me about this trilogy, which I must admit has
been sitting on my shelves for a few years,† is that Pohl has been very clever
about the way he chose to tell his story.
The Other End of Time (348 pages) begins the tale in a
rather dismal future. Daily episodes of terrorism are rampant, and inflation
is so bad that workers have daily cost of living increases built into their
pay packets, which they collect at the end of each shift and immediately
run out to buy some sort of collectible kitsch that retain more value than
the dollars will.
In this world Dan Dannerman is an agent of the National Bureau
of Investigation. He functions as an undercover operative. His latest case
is the investigation of a company run by his cousin, Pat Adcock. Her company
owns a space station, a former orbiting observatory which has fallen on hard
times. Recently, something arrived from space and attached itself to the
station. Shortly after that, humanity received two very cryptic pictographic
messages from the very first aliens ever encountered.
It turns out that Pat has found the funding to get herself and
a small team of specialists up there in the hope of finding and returning
with enough alien technology to revive her debt ridden company.
Shortly after they arrive they are captured by the alien's servants,
whose transporter technology allows them to make precise copies of anything
they have scanned. The original team is returned to Earth with their memories
altered and broadcasting devices implanted in their skulls. Duplicates are
transmitted to a prison planet run by the Beloved Leaders, or the Scarecrows,
as they they have become known on Earth, and kept there for study.
The rest of this story, related alternately through the viewpoints
of Dan and Pat, deals with how they survive captivity, how two additional
Pats are added to the mix, and how they finally escape when the compound
is attacked by the Beloved Leaders enemies, the Horch.
The Siege of Eternity (341 pages) is presented quite differently
and remains on Earth throughout. It follows quite a few characters, including
the implanted versions of Dan and Pat, Dan's superior officer, and the several
versions of Dan and Pat that arrive on Earth part way through the novel.
In addition, Pohl has spiced up the text with dozens of sidebars: commentaries
on life in this century, analyses of politics and religion, background data
on a lot of subjects. This might seem a clumsy way to tell the tale, but
it all fits in so that you get the data just when you need it, Instead of
being cluttered, it was intriguing. This part of the story brings us up to
date on humanityís realization that the early space messages actually do
mean that the Earth in danger, and that the enemy has unwitting spies among
The Far Shore of Time (317 pages) changes the pace once
again, telling the tale in the voice of yet another Dan Dannerman. This one
was replicated by the Horch from the transporter pattern established when
the original team of copies managed to escape back to the space station at
the end of volume one. Through his eyes we get to see the other side of this
cosmic battle, and understand that it is all about which race will dominate
the universe after the Big Crunch ends the universe which was set in motion
during the Big Bang. In other words, everything these beings are doing is
motivated by their belief in life after death,which they call the Eschaton.
Dan spends a lot of time adjusting to Horch culture, learning
the most anyone ever has about several alien races, all the while scheming
a way to get back to Earth to contribute to the effort against the Beloved
Leaders, the race which seems the worse of the two options. He succeeds in
a number of ways, fulfilling exactly the sort of mission that he used to
do for the NBI, and coming to the realization that he doesn't much like himself
for doing it.
Returning to Earth with a whole clutch of aliens as his companions,
he experiences guilt as their experience begins to resemble his own captivity
on the Horch world. He finds that he cannot simply slip back into his life,
since two other Dans have already occupied that space while heís been trying
to get home. Finally, he turns out to be the most important person in the
world, since he, through his Horch implants, is the only person who can actually
converse with the various aliens whose help humanity needs in order to survive.
Iíve read somewhere that the scientific basis behind the problem
posed by the Beloved Leadersí invasion force is flawed. but it makes a interesting
plot device. The solution to preventing the invasion from working is exactly
the same one implemented by Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence
Day, though the delivery system is a little different.
On the whole, this is an enjoyable set of books. The way they
are structured, they actually could be read alone, but they make more sense
read in order. They are all still available from the various on-line book
stores and S.F. specialty shops.