Monday, April 7, 2014

Review of The Silent Eyes of Time by Algis Budrys

Time travel is one of the most well-known, worn motifs in science fiction.  Ripe with potential for interesting paradoxes, clever entertainment, and impossible scenarios catering to melodrama, numerous works have employed the motif.  It’s fair to say, however, Algis Budrys’ 1975 novella The Silent Eyes of Time is the only to approach the concept from a purely corporate point of view. 

The Silent Eyes of Time is the story of the ageing corporate consultant Clinton Gallard and his assistant, Elizabeth Farrier.  Called off the plane he’s about to board at the start of the story, the reason is more interesting than he could have imagined: a scientist working at his company has discovered time travel.  The future the single option, and four years the maximum, the scientist has brought back coins and a newspaper to prove his travels are real.  But more than just news, Gallard and Farrier have been recalled from their business trip to organize the company’s response.  Desiring nothing more than to protect their assets and intellectual property, it’s up to Gallard to coordinate the cover up.

Though some may describe the story as dated, given Budrys intentionally sets the story in 1971 (i.e. four years prior to when the story was published), the novella takes on a historical aspect.  Though the counter-culture movement was in full-swing, there are still strong traditional values present.  The role of women, limited communication technology, and the style of corporate management all combine to create a scenario difficult to pull off in today’s technological environment, locking the novella in a time capsule of day’s past.  What remains unchanged is the sentiment.

As can be expected given such an introduction, The Silent Eyes of Time is smoldering commentary on corporate interests.  Inhuman to say the least, Budrys’ presentation of the manner in which companies prey upon their employees, not to mention seek to monopolize and isolate the technology brought into existence under their control, has bite.  The parallels drawn between discovering time travel in the story and the discovery of ground breaking technology in the real world is extraordinarily relevant when considering the technology available compared to that which is produced for consumers.  The metals used in today’s cars are actually designed to break down to keep the economic wheels greased rather than using existent yet protected technology of higher quality.  Paranoid and disassociating, the lengths Gallard goes to keep the discovery under wraps becomes even more surprising given a certain condition that is unveiled toward the end of the story. 

In the end, The Silent Eyes of Time is a solid novella that critiques the manner in which corporations handle technology emerging from their research labs, specifically the people involved and the ramifications for society.  Budrys writes in a dense hand heavy on dialogue that smacks of the era, but strikes at a sentiment that has only evolved rather than diminished.  Time travel in fact a background element, those looking for another The Time Machine, The End of Eternity, or The Anubis Gates will be disappointed by Budrys’ novella, but should, perhaps, pay attention.


  1. Sadly, Rogue Moon was not up to par. I guess it's popular for highlighting the shift in SF from concept-based plots to a character-based plot, but long soul-revealing monologues aren't exactly a deft touch at characterizing so-called "real" humans. Aside from that, I still have to mull over some parts.

    1. I tried to find the post on your blog in which you mentioned Budrys' reviews, but I couldn't remember which book it was in regards to... So, I'm replying here.

      I've read that Rogue Moon is his most commercial work, so I'm not surprised that you are disappointed. Popularity does not automatically equal quality. I believe in my comment on your blog I mentioned his novel Who?. Before you dismiss Budrys entirely, try it. It's precisely as you describe in your comment above: a character-based plot that uses its concepts as a platform rather than main premise. But there are no soul-revealing monologues - that I can remember, and I think the plot is structured rather nicely... But I'm sure you have lots of other books on your to-read pile... :)

  2. We were discussing Disch's novel The Genocides and how Budry totally dismissed the book as "unrelieved trash, ineptly written, pretentious, inconsistent and sophomoric"... words I would save for his Rogue Moon. I'm interested in his other work, so I'm far from dismissing him entirely. And yes, there are lots of other books and so many book sales.