Stories, fables and novels all give us an escape, a break away from the hum drum of our daily lives. One genre that gives that extra margin to push reality to its limits is Science Fiction. If you are a Science Fiction reader you can agree when I say, it’s a hard thing to do. The story has to be strong enough to carry the reader to the point of believing whatever the author puts out there, whether its flying saucers or computers that can generate alternate universes. If there is a man that can do this it is Philip José Farmer.
Time’s Last Gift (originally released in 1972) is a perfect combination of past and present, relationships and action, morality and physics. Philip José Farmer dives right into the story by introducing us to the characters as they embark on a time travel mission back to 12,000 B.C. in order to study everything that encompasses life during that time period, from rocks, living species, and even dialects. This trip forces four people from different fields of study and different points of life to directly interact with one another on a very personal basis causing relationship troubles right from the start. With relationships and sometimes lives on the line, native tribes are thrown into the mix causing even more chaos. As the characters develop and realize the changes they are making on the lives of the people living in 12,000 B.C. the question of morality comes into play. A question that characters and readers alike will have to examine and come to a conclusion on their own.
One thing that I found so captivating about this book is the fact that the question of morality spills out into actual reality the reader is living in now. Presenting questions such as: Are the decisions that I make now, even as one person, effecting later generations? The characters often get stuck wondering if the changes that they make on their experimental trip are going to influence the lives they have built for themselves in the present. As they find clues to how dialects were changed and languages were developed, it makes you wonder with all the social integration happening in our lives, if languages will one day become extinct and if we will find ourselves in the same situation of trying to find the origins of our ancestry.
Farmers writing is so smart and forward thinking that he brings you back into the lives of Neanderthals yet at the same time has you thinking about the future. Besides a few history lessons and relationship crises, there is a bit of humor Farmer throws in dealing with guns being introduced into the lives of these barbarians and what it means in their hierarchy, if it can be called that. Overall Philip José Farmer’s Times Last Gift is a mind racking novel forcing you to examine your own lives, really making you wonder that if time travel really did exist, which live would you be living….past, current, or future.