[Some spoilers might be found]
Oskar Källners short story Until time do us part (Tills tiden skiljer oss åt) is an ambitious sci-fi-tale about a woman trying to save her dead husband by first travelling forward in time (through cryo-sleep), then back again with a cure for his cancer. Along the way we witness the evolution of mankind and the downfalls of civilizations. We are faced with questions of how to organize our societies, or how to live our lives.
It’s a grand vision where the depiction of the people involved is somewhat pushed into the back-ground by the sheer weight of information that has to be delivered. It would benefit if Källner re-wrote it as a novel. That said, there are experimental aspects in this story that makes it very interesting and I can recommend it to anyone who appreciates well constructed sci-fi worlds and/or literary experiments.
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Oskar Källner is a rising star in Swedish science-fiction and fantasy. I haven’t read his fantasy-novels but his sci-fi-stories are always large in scope and ambitious in their depth. So far I have read four and the latest, Until time do us part (Tills tiden skiljer oss åt), is by far the most ambitious, almost too much so.
I don’t mean to say that it’s not a good idea, because it is. It’s a tale of time-travelling and undying love, revolving around Sofia, a woman who has lost her beloved husband Teo to cancer. In her grief she can see only one solution: she must enter cryo-sleep until mankind has discovered both a cure for cancer and a way to travel through time so she can save Teo. By her side while she sleeps is the artificial intelligence Teo, made to look like her dead husband and soon to become an android with an independent mind. Unfortunately, time-travelling is a tricky business and aeons pass by, witnessed both by Teos increasingly advanced mind and Sofia, who is awakened on a few occasions. There is of course a love-story here, two actually, and whether the ending is happy or not is up to the reader.
Källner delivers his vision of humanitys future quite well. There are a few logical hickups: the super-advanced cryo-center inside a mountain but apparently without an elevator, a human body that can actually walk after 120 years of cryo-sleep, a nanobot-factory that Sofia can handle even though it wasn’t invented until decades after she entered cryo-sleep, a 3D-printer that seems to create stuff out of thin air, and most importantly: the fact that Sofia and Teo speak and refer to things that are relevant today, even when they have lived for thousands of years in very strange environments – this is a fundamental problem in creating other worlds, something every sf- and fantasywriter must wrestle with and there is no obvious solution. Some annoying but easily overlooked flaws in the proof-reading stains the otherwise good rendering.
Personally I always wondered why nothing ever seems to happen outside the narrative mainstream. In this case: Why is it that Sofia has to trigger both the necessary nano-research and the time-travel-dito? Among hundreds of billions of individuals someone else should be around to at least dream about solving the problems. This is also a very common aspect of sf and fantasy, especially of the latter, where one individual’s actions can change the fate of a whole world, as if there are no other relevant players involved. It’s a simplification that frustrates me, but for obvious dramaturgic reasons I suppose we will have to live with it
Källner’s vision is a large one, covering a series of downfalls and rebuildings, alien life-forms and artifical intelligence-takeovers. We face the grand-father paradox, the ever-present intelligent dolphins, potential insanity in the immeasureable depths of time and quite a few comments on how mankind must organize socially and economically in order to ensure it’s survival. I like these political aspects in Källners writing, he isn’t afraid of making a point, something I would like to see more of from other contemporary writers.
The time covered in Until time do us part is so enormous that it becomes mind-boggling, bordering on irrelevant. And that is where the problem lies: there is so much scientific and historical information to digest that the story about Sofia and Teo shrinks back and I’m left with the feeling that the participants mainly function as dress-hangers, an excuse to deliver the vision, a sensation that is strengthened by the occasionally reporting dialogue; ”After a golden age, that lasted several thousand years, humanity collapsed into war and barbarism…” (my translation). That kind of dialogue doesn’t feel plausible even for an android, at least not a super-advanced android with something very much like a soul.
I find it hard to believe or even care about Sofia and Teo, simply because I never really get to know them, just like I never get to experience life in the various civilizations and sub-dimensional states that pass me by. This problem isn’t unique for Källner, giants like Isaac Asimov have faced it before him, for example in the Foundation-series with it’s highly interesting ideas but rather poor character- and story-development (my very personal opinion).
The reason is that this a short story that should have been long, a novel in an overly-tight evening-dress. Hopefully Källner will return to this vision and allow it the space it requires (without careening off the road and landing in a multi-volume series). The themes and the scope are simply too big to fit in this small mold. This doesn’t make it bad, not at all, it remains an interesting and fascinating vision of time, the nature of human existence (a favourite topic with Källner) and even a meta-physical aspect that reminds me of the Nietzschean super-man, transcending morality and existence, becoming his own god and creator.
By far the most rewarding aspect of the story, at least for me as a fellow writer, is therefore not the tale told, but the way it’s told. The language is generally good, with those few glitches here and there, but the composition is where we find the more immediate future. It’s basically a point-of-view story, but Teos ”chapters” are hidden in log-entries that are accessed through hyperlinks, thus creating a gap between the two perspectives, making them parallel with each other, in a sense revealing the gap between two individuals, especially two so different individuals as a human and an android. You can read the story divided – one big chunk of Sofia and then a chunk of Teo – or chronologically by the more traditional character-jumping. This shows how the e-book format can be used, even how it should be used if it is ever to become a narrative entity in it’s own right. For this reason alone I would strongly recommend Until time do us part, even if you don’t care for science fiction. It’s a relevant experiment pointing out the future of literature. That it is also a fascinating vision of humanitys future is a bonus.
A final point: While reading I find myself humming ”Benson Arizona” from John Carpenters Dark Star, and any story that pushes me into such depths of geekness deserves attention:
”Now the years pull us apart
I’m young and now you’re old
But you’re still in my heart
And the memory won’t grow cold.”