Time’s Last Gift by Philip Jose Farmer
Review by Alex Janaway
Time’s Last Gift (1972).
So, you might have noticed that this book was originally published in 1972. Therefore as up-to-date and ahead of the curve reviews go, this really isn’t Instead I’ll restrict myself to my experience of reading this book, as if I knew nothing of Mr Farmer’s work. Which is actually true – this is the first one of his I have ever read. Being that this book is part of a series (based on something called the Wold Newton series and this is part of the Prehistory cycle) and therefore relies to a degree on the reader being aware of what’s gone before, probably not the best way to approach it. And I’m also very conscious that Farmer is a Science Fiction/Fantasy heavyweight, so I’m feeling incredibly disloyal about what I’m going to say.
The crew of a time travelling vessel arrive in 12000 BC from 2070AD and proceed to investigate and explore their environment, which involves making contact with the local tribes. The crew is made up of four talented scientists, their leader being John Gribardsun, an enigmatic individual to say the least and a man clearly with a hidden plan. As their mission proceeds Gribardsun shows himself to be a more than just an ordinary scientist; he is possessed of skills, knowledge and enhanced physical ability. This puts him into conflict with his fellows and he becomes the catalyst of a marital dispute between two of his colleagues.
The story itself is quite short and is told in a very mannered way, almost as if we are reading an account written by a chronicler/academic. The action was lacklustre, there was little sense of danger and the prose and pacing didn’t allow for the mystery to grip. Whilst we are allowed glimpses into their psyches, I was never in a position to care about any of them. They behaved in ways that the story made predictable and at the end I just felt that I had scanned my way through an episode or addition to some other story. When I read the accompanying timeline and an afterword by Christopher Paul Carey (added into this Titan reprint) I realised that it basically was.
This book is part of a wider series exploring the life of the Tarzan, the immortal Lord of the Jungle and the happening at Wold Newton which imparted powers to certain individuals. It all made a lot more sense and I could understand a little better why the book was written the way it was. I also truly liked the mythology that Farmer has created and was intrigued by some of the other novels linked to this overarching concept.
However, as a story a rip-roaring adventure this is not. I’d say it’s even sub Doug McClure, and depending on what you feel about his movies, that might be considered rather damning. However, at the time it was written, I can see that it was an original piece of work and as such deserves its place as a forebear to what has come after and the influence it has had on later writers.
What did you think about Time’s Last Gift ?
Submit your own reader review and award the book the rating you think it deserves.