The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
Wow, wow and wow!!! This is an absolute “must have” for the time travel enthusiast! Even if I’m wrong, it’s easy reading and only some 130 pages so you may as well give it a go!
Dan inherits a time belt from his Uncle Jim. By setting the controls on the time belt Dan is able to move from one point in time to another. On his temporal travels Dan meets and interacts with himself causing countless time loops and potential for quirky paradoxes. Whilst there is no specific plot, the reader is carried along with the main character in his search for perfection in himself and in his environment.
The time travel element
The mechanics of the how the time belt works is not revealed. This is not an omission, but I think deliberately left out so that we can empathise more with Dan and his own confusion into essentially a black box time machine. How it works, or what the consequences are of its use (or misuse) is not known, and to a large extent is learnt ‘on-the-job’.
The idea of a parallel universe where time lines diverge is played through and often this leads to an alternate version of Dan coming back (or forward) to (re/post)visit himself to warn of possible dangers. This seems to be the only instruction manual.
Time loops and strange realisations of cause and effect are bountiful…but interestingly there are no paradoxes. This is because whilst there are several versions of Dan the book is written from the viewpoint of only one of them. What happens to the others is not completely known to the writing version him and so the paradoxes are not explicitly mentioned.
However, Dan does think about them and we are privy to his thoughts…which are very interesting, though by his own admission may not be correct!
This is yet another first person time travel novel but in this case I don’t think that the book could have been written in any other way. In fact the first person narrative allows for a very clever alternative to description by relating introspective thoughts to the reader which serve as thought experiments playing through scenarios and consequences of time travel.
Naturally this brings about a feeling of loneliness – Dan primarily interacts only with himself and doesn’t seek or ask for help from friends – there are very few other characters in the novel. In a way this is a little like Audrey Niffeneger’s “The Time Traveller’s Wife” where the time traveller also suffered loneliness in that he was the only one ‘afflicted’ with time travel and was disappointed that there wasn’t an army of fellow time travelers.
The copy of the Man who Folded Himself that I read included a foreword by Robert J. Sawyer. I feel compelled to mention that I found this is to be pretty lame and shallow, and to be honest, more self serving than anything else. Of far more interest (and of intelligent thought) is the afterword by Geoffrey Klempner and is well worth a read [caution: After reading the novel – it contains spoilers!]