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THE CORRIDORS OF TIME
1965

Book cover artist not credited.
Review © 1999 by Thomas M. Wagner.

This novel is a terrific time travel adventure that will satisfy Anderson fans (and SF readers in general) looking for that perfect little rainy afternoon light-reading snack. Our hero is Malcolm Lockridge, a young man awaiting trial for the accidental killing of a street punk. Much to his surprise he is met by Storm Darroway, an enigmatic beauty of unknown origin and considerable wealth who manages to get him acquitted. In exchange for his freedom Storm drafts Malcolm's assistance in some business in Denmark that she explains only sketchily.

In no time Malcolm finds himself embroiled in the Time Wars, a conflict being fought literally throughout history between the Rangers and the Wardens (Storm's group), who travel to different eras through the titular corridors, immense artificially constructed passageways located literally all over the world. According to Storm, the Rangers seek to manipulate humanity's evolution in such a way that, ultimately, the world's population becomes subservient to the Rangers' technocracy. The Wardens, on the other hand, believe human beings should be allowed to remain close to nature and evolve down their own paths. Or as Storm puts it, "Life as it is imagined to be against life as it is. Plan against organic development. Control against freedom. Overriding rationalism against animal wholeness. The machine against the living flesh."

If this all sounds a bit odd to you — like false choices — you're right, and its the brightest feather in Anderson's cap that he places this dilemma square at his novel's thematic center. Throughout the story, as Malcolm travels with Storm to Neolithic Denmark and meets the girl Auri and her tribe the Tenil Orugaray, then jumps back and forth through time over a span of 6000 years, the reader shares Malcolm's unease over a simple question: who is really right in this war? Is any one side even right at all? And who are the Rangers and Wardens and where do they come from anyway? This inner conflict compliments the novel's dynamic and thrilling action scenes, and leads to an utterly terrific finale with a smart twist you don't see coming. Here also, Anderson has created some fine characters; Malcolm is a convincingly frustrated and ambivalent Everyman, Auri's radiant innocence is lovingly conveyed, and Storm's occasionally cold aloofness doesn't distance you from her too much. You can understand Malcolm's need for her. Only some seriously dated dialogue stands in the way of excellence.

Anderson's prose is lush, but, by today's standards, at times stilted, the poetic language sounding forced and unnatural. Also, the beginning of the novel is underwhelming, with the story not really kicking into gear until Malcolm meets the Tenil Orugaray and starts on the path of his destiny. But the second half of this short but stirring tale is pure gold, a perfect example of the sort of SF they just don't write any more. (How many times will you hear me say that in these reviews, I wonder?) You would do very well to seek this out in a used book store. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll see a re-release one day. It would be nice to see a story like this last as long in reality as the time it spans in its pages.