Thursday, July 26, 2012
Classic Sci-Fi: The Clock of the Centuries by Albert Robida
Translator: Brian Stableford
Date: 1902 (2008)
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: The Clock of the Centuries, originally published in 1902, is notable as the first full-length literary account of time in reverse. In it, time starts running backwards, the dead come back to life, and society is thrown into chaos.
My review: The most exciting part of The Clock of the Centuries is the prologue, where the earth is undergoing apocalyptic cataclysms and society is on the brink of extinction. With the entire world rearranged, the few survivors eventually realize that time is now running backwards - history is literally repeating itself, this time in reverse.
Maybe because Robida is a science fiction author, I took The Clock of the Centuries too seriously. The concept of the book, though intriguing, came off more as confusing and uninteresting. There were too many plot holes with how this concept would work - the biological clock is running backwards, but there's inconsistencies in society acting in reverse. Some people are returning before their times, so obviously not everything can happen again (only in reverse) the way it did before. I'll concede to Robida that technology regresses because of people's mindsets from previous eras because, well, society being better for returning to the past is kind of his point. Yet it was never clear to me whether or not people actually had choice in repeating their pasts; the author seemed to pick-and-choose some of the events that returned. Perhaps the novel's original humor would have added more spark to the story, but whatever satire there is didn't translate over very well from the French.
A note on the edition: I noticed a lot of typos and punctuation errors in my copy. This edition also includes Robida's 1890 short story "Yesterday Now," a satirical tale in which Louis XIV and his entourage appear in Paris in 1889. I caught more glimpses of humor in this story, though I think a greater familiarity with 17th-century French history would have allowed me to understand more of it. Stableford's occasional footnotes were helpful in understanding some of the subtleties of language that are more difficult to translate.