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 humanity’s realization that the early space messages actually do mean that the Earth in danger, and that the enemy has unwitting spies among us.
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 he’s 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.
I’ve read somewhere that the scientific basis behind the problem posed by the Beloved Leaders’ 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.