Sunday, October 05, 2008
Time's Last Gift
When I was a kid I read a lot of Science Fiction. Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Herbert, the usual suspects. Once I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard I made the jump to reading more fantasy than SF (never never Sci-Fi) but I still enjoy reading the occasional SF novel or story, particularly if it deals with my favorite SF subject, time travel. Among my favorite time travel stories are Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return, L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, and my all time fave, Jack Finney's Time and Again. (Hmmm, I should put a list together for Julie.)
To the upcoming list I'm adding Philip Jose Farmer's 'Time's Last Gift', one of the best time travel yarns I've read in a long time. I'd been aware of the book for some time, having read quite a bit of Farmer's fiction over the years, but I'd never run across a copy in all my wandering through used bookstores. I was reminded of the book again the other day while researching Farmer's Wold Newton family (Something I'll talk about in a later post.) and I promptly jumped over to Amazon and ordered a used copy, as well as an anthology called Mother Was a Lovely Beast, edited by PJF. Time's Last Gift begins with a time traveling craft called the H.G. Wells I arriving in 12000 B.C. from 2070 A.D. Aboard are four scientists, chosen as the best of the best to make the first trip into time. The scientists are in the past to study our ancestors, the 'cave men' living in what will eventually be Europe.
The experiment gets off to a good start with the crew finding a small tribe of aborigines and gradually earning their trust. However things begin to take a strange turn when the leader of the team, a British doctor named John Gribardsun begins to go increasingly native, wearing nothing but a loin cloth and hunting along with the tribe using a spear and flint knife. The other scientists grow more and more dismayed as John proves to be faster, stronger, and a better hunter than any of the tribesmen. At one point he kills a rhinoceros with a spear and also downs a mammoth by attacking the creature's weak points. The doctor seems to be more savage than the savages. That's all the review you need. The next section of this review contains a major spoiler, so stop here if you plan on reading Time's Last Gift and wish to be surprised.
Still with me? Okay. Clues about the mysterious John G begin to mount up. John is six foot three inches tall with dark black hair, sun bronzed skin, and most telling, gray eyes. He is described as having the body of an Adonis and his physical abilities are more than human. Once he goes native he eats his meat raw. In snatches of conversation he reveals that he grew up in Africa and that he wasn't raised by human beings.
In case you're not picking up on this, John G is apparently actually John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the Apes. Farmer never comes out and admits it, but there are other things, such as John's opinion of Hyenas that are drawn directly from the Tarzan novels. This is possible of course because in one of the later Tarzan books, Tarzan ingests an elixir (actually pills if memory serves) that makes him immortal. So he definitely could be hanging around in 2070, waiting to travel through time. At the end of the book, when the other scientists return to the present, John slips out of the H.G. Wells I so that he can remain in the past in a world he is more suited to. This also paves the way for Tarzan's appearances in the two Opar novels that farmer wrote where he is known as the "gray-eyed god". Farmer's fascination with the ape man seems endless and Tarzan or pseudo Tarzan appears in close to a dozen of Farmer's books, including one authorized Tarzan novel, The Dark heart of time. And speaking of time, the final clue to the identity of John Gribardsun may lie in the title of the book itself. The initials of Time's Last Gift are the same as Tarzan Lord Greystoke. A little last gift for the Tarzan fans out there.