My life in outer space

The Time Hoppers – Robert Silverberg (1967)

The Time Hoppers

‘The first sign of invasion from the future came about the year 1979, when several men in strange costumes appeared in the district of Appalachia then known as Manhattan. Records show they appeared with increasing in frequency throughout the decade, and when interrogated all ultimately admitted that they had come from the future. The pressure of repeated evidence eventually forced the people of the Twentieth Century to accept the disturbing conclusion that they were in truth being subjected to a peaceful but annoying invasion by time-travellers’

Blurb from the Belmont Tower Books 1967 paperback edition

We should establish from the outset that this is not one of Silverberg’s best works although it is interesting from a cultural and historical viewpoint.
Quellen is an investigator in a future some four hundred years hence. This is a world plagued by overpopulation, controlled by machines and one in which there is a rigid class system. Quellen is Class 7 and allowed a room of his own. People such as his sister Hedraine and her husband Norm Pomrath have to live in one room with their children. From the start we know that Quellen is involved in illegal activities since he has illicitly set up a getaway home in Africa to which he ‘stats’ whenever he has free time.
People are now disappearing into the past. Historical records show that a large number of people started appearing in 1979, originating from Quellen’s time period.
Quellen has been given the task of tracking down the organisers and seizing the time device. The High Government wish to control it in order to shunt some of the excess billions of humans into the remote past.
Not long after this Quellen is stopped on his way to the food dispensary by a man who gives him a slip of paper that reads ‘Out of work? see Lanoy’
His brother-in-law, Norm Pomrath, has been given a slip also. Hedraine, his wife, has been told by a neighbour that her husband had also been given the slip of paper and had now disappeared, allegedly sent into the past.
There’s something oddly Dickian about this novel; the names of the characters, the absurd nature of the religion where celebrants have to chew and swallow a form of dough before regurgitating it into a bowl for the next person to eat.
Then there’s Lanoy himself. It is never explained where Lanoy got his time machine or where he learned to use it, much like the underground organisations in Dick novels which logistically could not exist or survive, but are there to perform a function within the novel.
There is also a certain level of sexism implicit within the text. The leaders of society are all men. There are only three women in the novel and one of them is a minor character, Pomrath’s neighbour whose husband has ‘hopped’ into the past. The other two are Quellen’s sister and Julia, Quellen’s mistress. The social norm in this odd future society is that men should go out to work and women should stay home and have babies. Norm Pomrath is desperate for work but it doesn’t seem as if the idea of his wife finding a job is something that’s crossed anyone’s mind at all.
Did the author intend this as a surreal mirror of American values and attitudes of the time?
As in other Silverberg novels there is a kind of Shakespearean inevitability to things, although here he has not really worked out the causes and effects elegantly enough or given the characters space to breathe and evolve.


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