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Ah, the pre-eminent question that floats this whole genre.
What if time portals showed up suddenly all over the world and everybody—about 2 billion—came flooding in from 500 years in the future? What if they were being chased by Monsters—I mean really nasty, ugly monstrous Monsters—and they got through to present time as well? What if our future descendants were really polite, middle America pleasant types who just needed a little help building new time tunnels so they could move onto the Miocene Age, 5 million years into our past? What would be the impact of all this on America 's social, political, and environmental systems?
Simak starts this frolicking ride off with a drunken photographer witnessing the first time jumpers. It ends with the same photographer discovering the secret to defeat the Monsters and thereby make everything conclude satisfactorily. Inbetween, most of the characters are political or military officials, and, strangely enough, as the novels continues, everyone becomes more and more non-descript. Is it the President or the Attorney General talking? Does it matter?
No, it doesn't. Characterization is the least of Simak's concerns. He's having too much fun just making up the story. He makes a lame attempt at a love story arc, but his heart's not in it. Outside of the blunt character stick of Bentley Price (the drunken photographer) everybody's blandly interchangeable.
But Simak's too much of a social critic to just have his story be about Monsters and the joys of Time Travel. Through all the light, satirical touches, there's the bleak bomb that mankind will destroy itself one way or the other because, as one character puts it, “you are too top-heavy,” (Berkley Medallion, NY; 425027597, c.1974, P.178). He's not talking about the current craze for breast implants, but that America's government is too obese, big business continues unbridled, big taxes no one can afford widening the gap between the poor and rich, turning workers and bosses into adversaries, and advertising growing all-pervasive and downright arrogant. Remember, these nice but scared people are from the future, so they know what's gonna happen.
Mainly, Simak delights in the reaction to this crisis. Greedy industrialists want to patent Time Tunneling before they agree to build it (“I say, W, let's go game hunting in the Cretaceous this weekend, okay?”). One group of protestors carry placards saying things like “we didn't ask them to come” (Ibid, p.155) while others tout wishes like , “let us leave this lousy world” and “bring on your sabertooths” (ibid, p.137). The Religious Right is advocating a hate crusade because all our future children are apparently “godless people” (ibid, p.107). And even the Russkies try some political maneuvering to get their soldiers on American soil to help with the runaway Monster situation and thoroughly “embarrass us” (ibid, p.153).
But nothing here is too deep or ponderous to get in the way of a rousing, good, well-told yarn. What if we all joined them back in the Miocene? Want some Wooly Mammoth fries along with that Sabertooth Tiger Burger?