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Posted March 23, 2012
I first read Barrington J. Bayley's Collision Course/Collision with Chronos more than thirty years ago. I must have given my first copy to the Goodwill. I searched for years before finding my current copy at Haslam's Books in St. Petersburg, Florida. They are the best. Collision Course is the sort of story you want to not lose.
Bailey follows a fairly unique approach to time travel stories. The vast majority deal with an alterable timeline that must either be changed or preserved to save the viewpoint character's way of life, the universe, etc; or with a multiverse where myriads of ways unfold and what ever decision a character might make, other versions of that character are deciding to do the same thing or its opposite. One example of the former is Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories. There are many examples in Star Trek with its time loops and Predestination Paradoxes and Chiefs O'Brien avering their hatred for Temporal Mechanics. Larry Niven's All the Myriad Ways is an example of the latter. Catch that Zeppelin by Fritz Lieber and Joe Haldeman's Manifest Destiny offer alternate time lines within a multiverse. Another approach, my personal favorite, is that you can't change the past. This the premise of By the Time We got to Gaugamela by R Garcia y Robertson. You can go back, but whatever is about to happen has already happened. To paraphrase, all the history books agree that Alexander the Great is going to be alive tomorrow, but no such assurances are available for the time travailer in question. Bailey takes a totally different tack from any of these, one ""so original that it avoids all (most?) time-travel clichés".
According to The Newsletter of the Council for the Literature of the Fantastic, Bailey followed the ideas of J. W. Dunne set forth in An Experiment with Time. Time travels as a wave or a torrent through six dimensional space in a local region of what we perceive as three dimensional space, creating and carrying life and consciousness with it as side effects. The future is dead and decayed, the past dead-- a collection of insensate automatons. You can build a machine to carry a bit of time with you ahead of or behind the time wave, but it won't do you any good. Times finger, having writ, moves on and you cannot change a word, act or dead. The trouble comes when two different time streams are headed along the same planet in opposite directions, like a pair of locomotives rushing along a track on a collision course set to arrive at a fatal destination. Life-consciousness-intelligence, it cannot be over emphasized, are byproducts of the time stream/wave/torrent. . . .