Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold

Title: The Man Who Folded Himself
Author: David Gerrold
Copyright: 1972, 2003
Publisher: Ben Bella Books
ISBN: 1932100067

Nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, 1973
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, 1974


A Wonderful Time Travel Journal - A Saga of A Man Against Time (and Himself) - 5 stars - a book review

Brief Synopsis:
The main character (and one of the only characters), Daniel Eakins is presented with a unique belt that was entrusted to him after his Uncle Jim passed away. Daniel discovers the belt has the ability to transport the wearer throughout time, which Daniel quickly learns how to use. After using his time machine for the first significant time, he is greeted by himself, one day later. During his first temporal jump, Daniel goes with himself (referred to as Don) to the racetrack where they quickly win by betting on horses, at which point Daniel begins to understand the immediate gratification allowed by time travel. Of course, after traveling back to his original time period, Don departs and Daniel is left to become Don the next day when he waits to greet the Daniel from his past. Upon returning to the track with Daniel, he starts to wonder about paradoxes and begins to realize the awesome power, and encourages Daniel to double the initial bet, seeing what would happen to make more money. He then encounters a Don to his Daniel, who has come back in time to warn him not to attract too much attention. At the internal dialogue that follows this encounter is any indication of the confusion Daniel (and the reader) is to experience, it is only the beginning, as Daniel proceeds to live life and encounters himself all the time, and many times during his time travel he encounters several versions of himself.

THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF is a journal written by the main character about his adventures, catastrophes, close encounters, hi jinx, and personal reflection through time.

Overall Impressions:
THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF is extremely well written. With multiple permutations of the main character, Daniel, interacting with himself, there are times where there are long portions of internal dialogue and debate about time travel, which is confusing, but written in such a way that it is easy to follow the train of thought.

While a central function of the book, time travel is not the focus of the story. The story is about the time traveling man, and how he lives with himself (both externally as in the case of interacting with himself and internally as in the case of him dealing with his emotions). As one might speculate, being the singular time traveling agent can be a lonely existence. The story revolves around Daniel's isolation and his choices in dealing with that solitude. The author, David Gerrold, creates some interesting, and possibly controversial, situations that are still believable and created in such a way to inspire a sympathetic response from the reader. It is in these moments that literature really pushes the envelope in speculation and emotional responses from the readership. I personally guarantee an emotional response one way or another from reading this book, a quality to which all literature should aspire.

Closing Comments:
The 2003 edition of THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF has a wonderful introduction titled The Author That Folded Me, by Robert J. Sawyer (a Hugo and Nebula Award winner) that discusses the impact this book had on him when he first read it in 1972. It is near inspiring to read these few pages written by someone who has achieved such a high stature in the world of science fiction and then credits his inspiration and success to David Gerrold.

There is also an Afterward by Geoffrey Klempner that should be read by all the science nuts and those looking for further discussion on time travel and philosophy. He also includes several recommended readings for further discussion and learning.

Finally, there is an Author's Note after the conclusion of the book which is equally fascinating and interesting as he discusses the difficulty in writing the gay sexual sequences of the central character and relates it to his having (or not having) a "gay agenda" as a gay man himself. There are many negative reviews out on the internet that condemn this book and claim it is "great stuff if you're looking to push your teen boys towards the broody wasteland of Colombine" and other implications that are simply not true. As Gerrold says himself in the Author's Note:
"The story isn't about being gay or straight, male or female, or any other specific condition. It's about being human, and dealing with the transfinite possibilities of life - all the choices before us when we exist only as an unwritten tale."
If that doesn't sum it up, I don't know what will.

I go out of my way to mention these three unrelated to the main story because they only enhance the overall reading experience. The entire publication is an experience from beginning to end, and is what all literature should attempt to achieve.

Some further commentary (spoiler warning): As mentioned above, there is some negative publicity surrounding this book. I believe it to be frustrating because people latch on to a controversial idea that is presented and somehow this detracts from the true message. For example, this post on a Science Fiction and Fantasy forum I frequent:
"And yeah, it is basically a time travel story about a man who travels back in time to have sex with himself."
Now seriously, this one point that is extrapolated throughout the story can hardly be considered the focal point of the story. To suggest otherwise is simply ignorance or flaming. I would think that this would be obvious to anyone except the casual reader, but apparently, it is not so obvious. One of the fundamental charges (or expectations) of good science fiction is to speculate on possible worlds that do not exist and the reactions of humans (and humanity) given the described circumstances. I'm not suggesting that I would follow the choices Daniel Eakins made, but the speculation behind THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF regards the human spirit and need to matter and we travel through time with Daniel Eakins' solitude that chasing time, constantly correcting mistakes, playing with history, and experiencing other tragedies of time travel creates. It may be uncomfortable; but, it is believable, and David Gerrold paints this one derivation perfectly.

  • REPLAY, by Ken Grimwood - a book I read recently about time travel and also focuses on the isolation of such a gift.
  • ALL YOU ZOMBIES, by Robert Heinlein - I have not read this short story, but it is often associated with the reviewed book in discussions and recommendations. Several people I trust have encouraged me to read this and I have no reasons to doubt their recommendation.
Good reading,

Plants and Books

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