First hardcover edition
A 1983 novel by John Varley
In 1989 Bill Smith, an agent of the National Transportation Safety Board, is sent to the scene of an airline accident in Minnesota where a Boeing 747 was bumped by a DC-10, shearing part of the wing off, crashing both aircraft. He and his colleagues find several oddities to the 747 crash - the digital watches are all running backwards, and the flight engineer came running into the cockpit screaming that the passengers he had gone to check on were all burned and dead.
Meanwhile, about eighty thousand years
in the future, mankind is on its last gaspnote
. Pollution is so bad it is not only killing everyone but they can't exist without it, either. Plans were made to use Time Travel
to pluck the living but soon-to-die passengers from aircraft, replace them with duplicate but brain-dead bodies and put the saved passengers in storage so they can eventually be sent somewhere far enough in the future (or elsewhere) that the pollution had broken down and the human race can start anew. This is tricky business, though - anything
out of place can cause a time paradox which results in massive issues in the future they came from.
Unfortunately, someone accidentally left a stunner on the 747. It's up to Louise Baltimore to get the missing stunner back and make sure it doesn't end up in Bill's hands.
The book was made into a movie
This book is not be confused
with the various other works named Millennium
This book provides examples of:
- Adam and Eve Plot: The point of collecting the doomed people. Also, while there are lots of disaster survivors in the end to move the race on, it turns out Louise was not at all a cyborg, that her body skin was keeping her from knowing that truth, and she alone of the future humans was able to reproduce.
- The Blank: Sherman starts the book with no face and adds to it as the plot moves along.
- Brain in a Jar: Some of the council are exactly that.
- Chekhov's Gun: Sherman says he's like Jesus. Louise makes a comment and he changes it to Moses. In the end it turns out he's been the prophet of Big Computer all along.
- Cyborg: Many of the people in the future have aspects of this.
- Derelict Graveyard: When it's easier just to pull the entire doomed craft through the gate they do so and then dump it here. Louise notes the interesting juxtaposition here - the Titanic sits next to a starship.
- Deus Est Machina: turns out Big Computer was actually God on earth.
- The Ending Changes Everything: The Big Computer had been God himself all along, directing humans how to save their race.
- Have We Met Yet?: Louise tries to keep Bill from unknowingly changing the future by meeting, seducing, and sleeping with him. Unfortunately, the next time Bill encounters Louise, its actually the first time she's ever met him, so she rebuffs his affectionate approach. The fact that during their (to Bill, anyway) second meeting she treats him like a complete stranger confuses Bill just enough to cause the disruption in the time stream Louise was trying to prevent in the first place.
- Idiot Ball: Bill - an NTSB agent who should know better about tinkering with evidence - stuns himself by continuing to prod around on the inside of the stunner when he knows he should be calling people about it. He lampshades this in his testimony.
- Lost Forever: Any times already visited.
- Never the Selves Shall Meet: Invoked. You can't go back to any time anyone was already at.
- No Antagonist
- Our Time Travel Is Different: You can only go back to or even watch things from a time period once. Once you've been to or watched events happening at say 5:05am-5:10am on a certain day no one can go back to those five minutes... ever. Also, previous paradoxes are incredibly damaging to the present (future) time
- Physical God: Big Computer
- Polluted Wasteland: The future.
- Population: X, and Counting: Louise asks Sherman the population of earth as most people are committing suicide. He keeps updating his answer to reflect reality.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: Many of the buildings of the city.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Louise gives one to Bill when he asks what the future had done to screw everything up, when it was actually the result of his generation and onwards.
It started with your great-grandfather and the industrial revolution. But it was you, you unspeakable son-of-a-bitch, your fucking generation that really got things going. Did you really think there'd never be a nuclear war? There have been nineteen of them. Did you think nerve gases were going to just sit there, that nobody would ever use them? CBN, you called it. Chemical, Biological, Nuclear. You made plans just as if the world could survive it, just like it was another you could win. Well, goddamn it, we held out a long time, but this is what we came to. The plagues were the really cute part. Add laboratory-bred microbes to a high level of background radiation, and what you get is germs that mutate a hell of a lot faster than we can. We've done our best, we've fought them with everything we have. But your great-grandchildren came up with genetic warfare. So now the plagues are locked up right in our genes. No matter how hard we fight them, they change. Did you think we started the Gate Project for fun? Can't you see what it is? It's a last-ditch, hopeless effort to salvage something from the human race.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: The book is told almost entirely from Bill and Louise's standpoint.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: To get the stunner back that was left behind. Unfortunately, it was found before they could get it meaning they had to go back earlier and try to stop Bill from even being there in the first place...
- Sex Bot: Sherman obliges when the need arises.
- Unreliable Narrator: In the last chapter, Sherman reveals that Louise is actually one of these; she's so intensely delusional that she doesn't know she's pretty much the only ninety-ninth century human who doesn't use a prosthetic skinsuit to support a mutated, crippled body. There's no telling what else is wrong with her. Or if any of her statements have even that much connection to reality.