A journey into the past that can never be repeated, travelling from 2070 AD all the way back to 12000 BC; a chance for the four passengers of the "time ship" to study the primitive man as no-one could ever do before or will be able to since.
None were prepared for what they would discover, or indeed the impact that their adventure would have on the future.
Time's last gift is quite an unusual novel, while the main premise involves scientists travelling back over 14 000 years to a pretty distant time before modern man, at times it seems the focus isn't so much on this period of earth's history but more on the scientists themselves.
For the most part they don't really act very much like scientists at all and have no reservations of distrupting future timelines or even corrupting behavior patterns of those observed by direct interaction, at first this feels a little hard to accept.
Once you begin to realise that this is deliberate by the author the story does become a great deal more compelling and I found his take on causality to be fascinating; different to most peoples perspectives. A lot of time is spent trying to figure out just who John Gribardsun really is and its clear that he is the driver in the manipulation of the scientific expedition - there are a number of clues for those who follow Farmer's writing as to who John really is although to avoid any spoilers I won't mention them here.
Characterisation is handled pretty well for the characters that get the most screen time however the scientist Peter and the indigenous population don't really get sufficiently fleshed out for my liking, Peter only seems to get a very limited role in the story and behaves almost like an "extra", brought out when needed rather than being an integral part of the group.
The interplay between the scientists and the natives is pretty fascinating and for the most part works very well, even accounting for a few major historical inaccuracies like the tribe members being 6 feet in height for example. The big reveal about John wasn't much of a suprise, especially if you've read any previous novels by the author however the way that the details are revealed is very well excecuted and enjoyable despite the lack of surprise. I would however have liked a bit more time given to the actual detail of the ending and it seemed a little rushed.
For all the little niggle's, Time's Last Gift is actually a very enjoyable novel, the journey that the characters take is fascinating and for the most part the plot works well. The pace is set just right and the author manages to avoid going into lengthy exposition of world building and as such the reader can enjoy the story without having any desire or knowledge of anthropology or archaeology. If you can get over the fact that this isn't really a scientific journey to the past then you too should enjoy the book.
Written by Antony, 04 July 2012.