Review: The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

“It is in meeting the great tests that mankind can most successfully rise to great heights. Out of danger and restless insecurity comes the force that pushes mankind to newer and loftier conquests. Can you understand that?”
~Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity

Plot summary

“One of Isaac Asimov’s SF masterpieces, this stand-alone novel is a monument of the flowering of SF in the 20th century. It is widely regarded as Asimov’s single best SF novel and one every SF fan should read.

Book cover of Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity. Photo: RA.AZ (CC BY 2.0)
Book cover of Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. Photo: RA.AZ (CC BY 2.0)

Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, a member of the elite of the future. One of the few who live in Eternity, a location outside of place and time, Harlan’s job is to create carefully controlled and enacted Reality Changes. These Changes are small, exactingly calculated shifts in the course of history made for the benefit of humankind. Though each Change has been made for the greater good, there are always costs.” More on Goodreads

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” ~Isaac Asimov

On Isaac Asimov

“Isaac Asimov was a Russian-born, American author, a professor of biochemistry, and a highly successful writer, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.

Professor Asimov is generally considered the most prolific writer of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. He has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (lacking only an entry in the 100s category of Philosophy).

Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, was considered one of the “Big Three” science-fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified “future history” for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as a great amount of nonfiction. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.

Time Capsule. Photo: Ilya Schurov (CC BY 2.0)
Time Capsule. Photo: Ilya Schurov (CC BY 2.0)

Most of Asimov’s popularized science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include his Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, and Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Who gets to set up the rules?
  • Love story gone sci-fi
  • Moral implications of playing with fire
Review

Isaac Asimov is the master of imagination. His visions and written illustrations of the future have no limits. I selected The End of Eternity for this review but there was a big competition over which one of Asimov’s novels I should review. I’ve been a studious pupil in the school of Asimov’s, so I could have review the Robot or the Foundation series and the Galactic Empire trilogy.

Isaac Asimov. Photo: telly gacitua (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Isaac Asimov. Photo: telly gacitua (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The End of Eternity captures concepts such as time travel, the consequences of one’s actions on the history of humankind, morality and love. Asimov always manages to be utterly humane, decent and lovable. As one reviewer on Goodreads states, Asimov writes brilliant science fiction with boring characters, there might be a certain level of truth in it. In the Foundation series, the decades and centuries flow past and characters come and go, but they are rather difficult to associate with. It’s all medieval times meeting tech age with cruel intentions. The problem is that the stories are remarkable and ahead of their times but the characters lack humanity – they don’t have flesh and bones the way they would need in order to come to life.

In The End of Eternity, the paradox around the time travel concept is very nuanced and at the center of the story. I think the visionary concept of what the power is behind one man’s personal interests vs. the future of humankind is eloquently described. It comes down to human communications and the weirdness of anti-social behavior that make the plot twist in interesting ways.

Asimov is a must-read for any science fiction fan. Luckily he’s been a very productive author, so there is plenty of material available. His concepts on psychohistory and especially the Laws of Robotics are unique.

Laws of Robotics

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Later, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, that preceded the others in terms of priority:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” (cited from Dvorsky 2014)

“[a] moving finger having once written could never be lured back to unwrite.” ~Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity

I would also like to recommend The Gods Themselves as well as the Robot series, I think they are among the finest by Asimov. In the Foundation series, the plot is interesting but otherwise the reading left me slightly indifferent and cold.

Have a good weekend!

More information
– Isaac Asimov: Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014, published in the New York Times on 16 August 1964, link retrieved on 6 January 2017
– George Dvorsky: Why Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics Can’t Protect Us, published in io9 on 28 March 2014, link retrieved on 6 January 2017
– Richard Horton: The End of Eternity, published in SF Site in 2000, link retrieved on 3 December 2016
– Glenn McDonald: Isaac Asimov, Time Travel and ‘The End of Eternity’, published at npr.org on 1 April 2011, link retrieved on 3 December 2016
– Ria Misra: 50 years ago, Isaac Asimov predicted what 2014 would look like, published in io9 on 2 January 2014, link retrieved on 6 January 2017

Other novels and stories by Asimov
  • I, Robot (1950)
  • The Galactic Empire Trilogy (1950-1952)
  • Foundation Series (1951-1993)
  • The Martian Way and Other Stories (1951)
  • Youth (1952)
  • The Robot Series (1954-1985)
  • The Last Question (1956)
  • Nightfall (1970)
  • The Gods Themselves (1972)
  • The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976)
  • The Last Answer (1980)
  • The Complete Robot (1982)
  • Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987)
  • The Positronic Man (1992)

“There are some things, however, they must not know. Prime among them, of course, is the manner in which we alter Reality when necessary. The insecurity such knowledge would arouse would be most harmful. It is always necessary to breed out of Reality any factors that might lead to such knowledge and we have never been troubled with it.”
~Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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