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The Shield of Time

[The Shield of Time] The Shield of Time
by Poul Anderson
Published by Tor Books, 1991
359 pages
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Amazon.com: paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade

Lots of authors have written time-travel stories. Not quite so many have come up with the idea of a "Time Patrol" to keep time-travellers from interfering with history. Fewer still have used time travel stories to examine pivotal points in history with a view to exploring the meaning of history. But Poul Anderson is the only author I know of who has used time travel to discuss the balance of power between Church and State. Two of the altered world scenarios he presents are due to one or the other becoming too dominant in the Middle Ages and stifling progress.

Having said that, I do not mean to hint that this is some sort of dry historical dissertation. If you've read Anderson, you know that he's perfectly capable of producing a ripping good yarn on – it seems – just about any subject. The plot follows the exploits of Manson Everard, a veteran Time Patrol officer recruited from 1957, and Wanda Tamberly, a scientist newly recruited from California in 1987. Together, they foil plots by a gang of time travellers bent on altering history to suit their will, and deal with the effects of chaos in the time stream. The action romps back and forth from the contemporary U.S.A. to ancient Bactria, prehistoric times, mediaeval Italy, and a couple of altered worlds. Even if the plotting and characterisation weren't impressive enough, the sheer breadth of research necessary to write convincingly in each milieu is impressive. (Yes, I did catch Anderson in one anachronism: tomatoes originated in the New World, and wouldn't have been on the menu in Bactria in 209 B.C. But then again, I would never have known that were it not for my Anthropology 120 professor.)

If you are into time travel stories, this one is wider-ranging than most. If you want some meat in your fiction, you will find it here. There is a reason that Anderson has collected so many awards for his work.

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