Brother Assassin

by Fred Saberhagen
Series: Berserker 2
Reviewed date: 2004 Aug 24
Rating: 3
233 pages
cover art

Fred Saberhagen is renowned for his Berserker series. The Berserkers are colossal machines of certain death, created by some long-dead civilization for an unknown reason. These machine abominations roam the galaxy extinguishing all life they encounter, just as they (for some reason lost to antiquity) extinguished the lives of their creators. Berserkers are cold, calculating, inhuman but devilishly clever machines, and they will not rest until the universe is cleansed of life.

Now a Berserker fleet has besieged the planet of Sirgol. Sirgol's planetary defenses fight them to a standstill, but the Berserkers quickly discover the unique properties of space-time around Sirgol. In all the universe, only around Sirgol is time travel possible. The Berserkers launch a series of desperate attacks on the timeline of Sirgol, seeking to wipe out in its infancy the civilization whose weapons hold them at bay.

Derron Odegard of the Time Operations is sent back in time to thwart the Berserker attack. First to prehistoric Sirgol, where he must defend the tribe from which the modern Sirgol language is descended. The next Berserker attack comes in the waning days of the Continental Empire, where King Ay of Queensland is the crucial man who is able to keep the peace and preserve the culture and knowledge of the Empire. And finally, Odegard must prevent the Berserkers from interferring in the life of early brilliant scientist Vincent Vincento. One single misstep or mistake and the Berserkers will successfully wipe out the history of Sirgol.

I generally do not like time travel novels. The inherent paradox of time travel makes it unpalatable. Saberhagen does not attempt to explain away the paradoxes, but he does offer some tidbits that eliminate some of the more readily apparent problems in time travel.

First, changes in the time line propogate through space-time slowly, not instantly. So a change in the past might take 19 or 20 days to propogate to the present, depending on how far back the change occurred. That allows time to go back and undo the damage before it becomes permanent.

Second, time travel to a particular place and time is one-time only. The insertion of something into the timeline creates an effect that repels subsequent insertions. So you can't simply find out where the Berserker was inserted and then insert a bomb back to the same time and place as the Berserker. So the Time Operations' scientists send back field operatives to the past somewhere near the Berserkers. These operatives must take pains not to influence the time line while they track down and neutralize the effects of the Berserkers.

All in all, Brother Assassin is a fun read. I give it a three out of five. It's not good enough that you should go out of your way to read it, but if you see a copy lying around you might as well give it a shot.

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