The Day Before Tomorrow
Reviewed date: 2018 Apr 18
Translated from the French by P. J. Sokolowski
French title Le Temps n'a pas d'odeur ("Time Has No Scent")
The Federation considered itself a technological Utopia—and the innumerable planets under its sway were guaranteed stability by virtue of the time-change teams. For whenever a planetary historian located evidence in the past of any newly found world that it might evolve into a possible menace, a team of seven would be sent to tamper with that world's history. But the seven men that went to Ygone encountered a fate no theorist had projected. They met with immediate ambush, they met with a strangely peaceful culture that could not be fathomed, and they finally were confronted with all the contradictions and temporal knots that the whole system of time-change had to imply.
Only Jorgenssen matters
The book starts by introducing the seven members of the time–change team, providing a short bio and showing what they do for recreation before being called for their mission to Ygone. It's boring and meaningless because the only one of the seven who matters is the leader, Jorgenssen. The rest contribute nothing to the story. So that's a point against the author.
Science fiction means no rules, right?
The Federation's time travel door is on the remote planet Altair II. It must be far away from the rest of the Federation because time travel only works across vast distances in space. This is to prevent paradoxes--the idea being that if your trip backwards in time also moves you to another planet many light years away, you can't influence your own past. After unambiguously spelling out the rules of time travel, the author later decides that none of these rules actually apply. You can travel in time without traveling in space, and you can change your own past. So that's another point against the author.
Jorgenssen and the team arrive on Ygone with simple instructions: find the primitive city in the valley below, drop off a psychic device, and leave. The device will infect the Ygone people with dangerous ideas, which will develop and grow and result in a civilization-destroying war before Ygone advances enough to threaten the Federation. The author doesn't explain any of that right away, though. He only reveals the mission bit by bit throughout the book. It's maddening and aggravating.
No time-meddling plan survives contact with the enemy.
The enemy, in this case, being strangers with power weapons equalling the team's own. Jorgenssen and the team fight back, and Mario kills one of the strangers. The dead stranger is another Mario. My first thought was that the team has made another trip through time to stop themselves from completing their mission, and indeed, that turned out to be the case. But Jorgenssen and the others are too thickheaded to consider this, so their first and only thought is that they're fighting a super-advanced alien race whose super-power is perfect mimicry.
Having driven off the strange assailants, the team turns their attention to the Ygone town. It's all wrong. The pre-industrial trading town isn't there. Instead, in its place is a post-industrial forest of giant trees bioengineered to supply all the needs--food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine--for a population of several hundred thousand. Jorgenssen walks into the forest and meets the people, who tell him his mind is sick. He needs to face himself and achieve some sort of psychological epiphany mumbo-jumbo in order to be well.
The author keeps making up stuff that he forgot to mention before
Jorgenssen gets fed up with that nonsense so he and the team leave Ygone through another time door, and end up at the cabin of the fabled Arcimboldo Urzeit. Oh, did I not mention Arcimboldo Urzeit? The author quickly informs us that Urzeit is the mysterious inventor of time travel. Little is known about him, almost as if the Federation is hiding something about the man who invented the tool the Federation uses to ensure its survival.
A Time Storm
The team follows Dr. Arcimboldo Urzeit's trail and run into a time storm. Oh, did I not mention time storms? Those sometimes happen. They're kind of like hurricanes made of time. They even have eyes in the center.
Dr. Arcimboldo Urzeit
The team finds Dr. Arcimboldo Urzeit, who explains that the Federation is bad, time travel doesn't actually have all those rules, and Urzeit himself has been fomenting all these little threats to the Federation that the time teams have been so busy quelling. Urzeit propounds a new theory of time travel (borrrring) that has something to do with probabilities. All events in time exist, but only the most probable are actualized. The rest exist, but only latently. By repeatedly traveling back in time and changing events, the probabilities can be shifted until a different event is actualized. In essence, you can't change history by changing it once--each time you go back, you can only shift the probabilities a little. You have to go back over and over and over to effect meaningful changes in the actualized timeline.
In multitudes of latent possibilities, Urzeit is asking Jorgenssen and his team to stop the Federation by preventing the assault on Ygone. In the actualized possibility that we see, the team accedes to his request. They travel back to meet themselves on Ygone. And because the probabilities have shifted, this time, instead of being defeated and Mario being killed, they ambush and kill themselves immediately.
Jorgenssen returns to the forest city of Ygone and sees a statue of Dr. Arcimboldo Urzeit.