Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Time's Last Gift (Philip Jose Farmer, 1972/1977/2012)
And dig in I have, having finished reading Philip Jose Farmer's 1972 (revised 1977; my copy is the 2012 Titan Books printing with appendices by Christopher Paul Carey, Win Scott Eckert and Dennis E. Power) this afternoon while waiting for Gina to finish her shift, since while we work in the same building, our schedules don't align.
The plot, in short, is as follows: a crew of scientists - trained anthropologists, linguists, botanists, zoologists, etc. - travel back in time from 2070 AD to 12,000 BC to study the Magdalenian culture of paleolithic France. Their leader, the enigmatic John Gribardson, begins to interact with the people they are studying in a way that makes his compatriots - the husband and wife team of Drummond and Rachel Silverstein, and linguist Von Billman - uneasy; along with the mystery of how Gribardson was chosen for the role of team lead and some questionable comments he's made suggesting a greater age then his looks suggest. The team begins to tear itself apart around him, as Rachel falls deeply in love with him and Drummond goes mad with jealousy, all while Gribardson interferes with - or creates - prehistory as they all know it.
Gribardson, of course, is a non-copyright-violating pastiche of a certain Lord of the Jungle popularized by author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Having been rendered immortal by a witch doctor's serum (I'm not familiar with the book in which this event took place - but I also confess that I've only read a very small smattering of the Tarzan novels past Tarzan At The Earth's Core, the 13th novel in the series), Tarzan is of course still alive and virile in 2070.
I thought Farmer's handling of Tarzan's character here was interesting; I liked the consistency I saw with the Tarzan I've known and loved for close to twenty years now, particularly in his interactions with both the "civilized" and "savage" people around him. Tarzan may be the world's one true meritocrat in his dealings with others.
I do find it a little questionable that Tarzan would go through with carrying the ultimate "White Man's Burden" for thousands of years of both recorded and unrecorded history; why is he appearing as a variety of gods and demigods throughout both recorded and unrecorded history? He's Hercules, he's Quetzalcoatl, he was present at the founding of Rome, he's the father of Abraham, and of course he's the god Sahhindar in Farmer's later Khokarsa series of novels (expanded upon by Christopher Paul Carey). Why? Tarzan has no love for civilization, but here he's creating them on a large scale. Is it that the existence of these civilizations is preordained by the nature of Time and he's fulfilling a preexisting destiny that centuries of existence have left him aware of? I'm not sure.
Either way, I found the novel to be a very enjoyable one - clearly so, since I finished it in under 48 hours. And it sets me on my way to enjoy the rest of the Khokarsa/Ancient Opar series, which I'm very much looking forward to -- and also sets me on my way to reading or rereading H. Rider Haggard's novels, which I haven't revisited in many years, since the Ancient Opar series ties in to his novels as well...
Lord, let me never run out of interesting things to read. Amen.