Isaac Asimov did more to validate Science Fiction than any other author I can think of. He was seen as a gentle giant by his friends, and is to date the only man to have ever written at least one book in every major subject of the Dewey Decimal system. He wrote hundreds of books, so many that I honestly have no idea where he found the time to sleep, let alone have the life he had. The End of Eternity is just one of dozens of science fiction novels he wrote, all revolving around the belief that Mankind is meant to go to the stars.
The End of Eternity takes place in a Reality where in the 27th century, mankind develops a temporal field that exists outside Time, and extends to the end of eternity, which they call (imagine that) Eternity. This facility is used to monitor the advances of civilization throughout the millenia, to make sure that nothing dangerous occurs (nuclear war, plagues, even high drug addiction counts), and alters world in the past to change the Reality of the future. The main character, Andrew Harlan is a Technician for Eternity, which means that he is the one who determines and enacts the Minimum Necessary Change in order to achieve the desired change in reality.
In the course of his work, Andrew meets a woman of the 482nd Century, whom he falls in love with — a cardinal sin for an Eternal, since that woman exists within Time, and thus is subject to any change in reality that happens. He secrets her away into Eternity, and becomes involved in a critical project necessary to begin Eternity, sending someone back in time to become the “inventor” of the temporal field. He sabotages the project, but not irreparably (they would have ceased to exist if he had), and is sent back in time to collect the inventor, so they can try again. He brings the woman with him.
Piecing together clues throughout the book, he realizes that the woman is not in fact from the 482nd Century, but significantly further “upwhen”, in the 111,000s, which is considered a “hidden century”, where Eternity is blocked from entering or meddling in the time stream. He figures out that she is here to stop Eternity from ever existing, to stop them from meddling with time. Realizing that perhaps Eternity’s meddling brings more harm than good, he chooses not to stop her, ending the existence of Eternity.
The story is good, and works well as a science fiction mystery, filled with intruige. The characters, in particular the protagonist Andrew Harlan, are a bit flat, however, which puts a bit of a hinderance on my enjoyment of the book. I like the underlying message, however: that safety and innovation are unfortunately mutually exclusive, and that the only way we’ll survive is if we stop mothering ourselves to death. The pacing is good. I managed to read it fairly quickly (about a day).
Would I recommend it? Alone, probably not. In conjunction with the read of Asimov’s work, absolutely. Asimov tended to write in one story-universe, even though the books were separate. Even his two most well known series (Robot and Foundation) are actually connected and made of the same world, and The End of Eternity is no exception. Seeing the mosaic as a whole is really remarkable, and where I think the story gives the most enjoyment.
Asimov, Isaac. The End of Eternity. Greenwich: Fawcett Crest Books, 1971.