by John Varley
Reviewed date: 2018 Mar 6
Rating: 2
249 pages
Based on the short story "Air Raid"
cover art

It's a time travel story, so that's a strike against Millennium right off the bat. But it has the most wonderful episode that has stuck with me for years: a time traveling extraction team opens a gate onto a doomed airliner, snatches all the passengers and hurls them through the gate into the future. But one of the team loses a stunner, a piece of technology. When they should be returning to the future and closing the gate, instead they're tearing through the cabin trying to find the missing device.

On this re-reading, it's still a great scene. But the rest of the story doesn't hold up. The leader of the Gate project in the 99th century is Louise Baltimore, and her job is to go snatch humans without messing up the timeline too much. Taking the imminently doomed passengers of crashing airliners barely makes a ripple in time.

In contemporary 1980s, Bill Smith is the investigator assigned to the fatal mid-air collision of a DC-10 and a 747. The recovery effort turns up some odd facts. Dozens of watches, but all set 40 minutes off. The contents of the passengers' stomachs don't match the menu of the in-flight meal. And a very strange, very futuristic piece of technology: a missing stunner left behind by the time traveling snatch team.

So we're treated to a dozen chapters of Louise traveling back in time trying to retrieve the stunner without messing up the timeline too much. And we learn way more than we want about the pathetic, downward-trending life of Bill Smith. He's divorced, drinks too much, sleeps with hookers too much, is mean to his employees, and disrespectul toward his bosses.

The writing is just good enough to keep me interested--that and I wanted to know why the future folks were snatching healthy humans from the past. It's to save their world, or something. Louise thinks it's to save mankind by blasting them off into space to find a new, habitable world. (The earth having been ruined by pollution and radiation and such, and the natives of the 99th century are diseased and dying out.) Actually, the Big Computer has other plans: he takes the thousands of snatched humans and sends them farther forward in time--much farther. Far enough for the earth to have recovered and become liveable again.

You see, the Big Computer is God.

The first two tries (evolution, and the Garden of Eden) failed, but he figures he'll get it right this time around.

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