No Enemy But Time
by Michael Bishop
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Michael Bishop's 1982 Nebula winner, No Enemy But Time, is out of print from US publishers, but is available for Kindle, and I assume other e-book platforms as well. Taking that link will also let you search for used copies through third-party sellers, or if you type the title in the search window you'll also see editions from the UK. In addition to its Nebula win, it was also a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial, British Science Fiction Association, and Ditmar awards. It continued a tradition Bishop had established early in his career, that of observing societies and individuals (either alien, human, or proto-human) from an anthropological perspective.
Some of the chapters are written in third-person, others in first-person, those being narrated by Joshua Kampa, whom we earlier knew as Johnny 'John-John' Monegal. He began life as the son of a mute prostitute and black market peddler in Seville, Spain, and his first months were spent in relative silence in her small apartment. His father was likely an African-American serviceman from a nearby Air Force base. Before he was one, his mother abandoned him near that base, and the people who first saw him remarked how much he looked like someone they knew, who by that time had rotated back to the States. Another couple, Hugo and Jeannette Monegal, petitioned to be able to adopt him. It was not until he was nearly two, and his new family back in Kansas, that he spoke his first word, "cao," his way of pronouncing cow, after his mother pointed one out in a field near their home. From an early age he had very vivid dreams, which he later interpreted to be of life in the Pleistocene epoch in sub-Saharan Africa. One might think that would have led him to pursue a career in anthropology, and while he did a lot of research and reading of the subject on his own, his unconventional behavior concerning his 'spirit-traveling' kept him isolated and withdrawn from most social activities.
The third-person segments look at John's, later Joshua's, life through early adulthood, but not always in chronological order. It is not until after the chapter when he confronts noted paleo-anthropologist Alistair Patrick Blair during a lecture that we learn why he earlier had a falling out with his mother, and at that time had changed his name. Jeannette had been a part-time newspaper writer while in Cheyenne, Wyoming, expanding that work when Hugo was away on assignment in Guam. She had convinced John to record his dreams on cassettes instead of writing them in a journal, and he became angry when he discovered she intended to write a book, Eden In His Dreams, based on his recordings, which he felt was an invasion of his privacy. The first-person segments might actually be from Jeannette's book published much later, but based on Joshua's recounting his experience in a secret scientific experiment.
Blair, as well as being an anthropologist rival to Richard Leakey, was also a government official in his adopted homeland, Zarakal. That is a fictional country, but supposedly situated in between Kenya and Tanzania, the latter being the location of Leakey's discoveries of Homo erectus. Blair had his own finds, which he had identified as Homo zarakalensis, but had failed to get independent confirmation that his find was uniquely different than others already discovered. Enter Woodrow Kaprow, Polish-American physicist, who had perfected a time-travel device, which requires a subject to be psychically connected to a time and place in the past. Dr. Kaprow himself had taken short trips back to mid-20th Century Germany, because he has had recurring dreams of Dachau. He knows his machine works, has even developed a communication device, a transcordian, which connects two points in time simultaneously. What he doesn't know is how long of a time shift is possible. Blair is convinced Joshua is connected to the African plains of two million years previous, and Joshua agrees to test the theory, and either confirm or deny Blair's conjectures.
I don't want to give too many details of his experience, but if he is to be believed Joshua made contact with a small tribe of habilines (Homo habilis) and lived with them for nearly two years. He is convinced the transcordion malfunctioned, and fearing he would never be retrieved, he decided he had to live off the land, and how better to do that than to partner with those who had been doing that their whole lives. Life in the group is depicted dispassionately, without judgment, and in many ways sympathetically. Joshua acknowledges they are his direct ancestors and deserve his respect. Surprisingly, the group accepts him, even counting their confusion over his clothing and accoutrements. A lot of that could probably be attributed to how he is treated by a young female, whom he names Helen, after the wife of the tribesman who trained him to live in the bush before he was sent back. She appears to him more human-like than the others, he even wonders if she is a mutation, since she is the only adult female who has not borne a child. She also seems to be discouraged by that fact, and on at least two separate occasions she stole an infant from others, one a chimp, another time from a group that may have been Homo erectus. Neither survived very long. Other than that, she acts more like the other males, hunting both with them in groups as well as on her own, which hardly any of the males dare to do.
There are two separate theories about the methods and mechanisms of time-travel. Kaprow originally believes the past encountered is only a simulacrum, that it is just the consciousness of the traveler that is transported, which necessitated the 'spirit-traveler' as participant. Later he changes his mind. Even after Joshua is retrieved and the original project abandoned by the governemnt of Zarakal, Kaprow continues with short stays in 1940s Germany, and begins to feel it is the 'present' he returns to as the simulacrum. Also, while Joshua experienced two years of life in the past, Blair and Kaprow swear he was only gone about a month and a half. Was his experience only in his mind, no more than the dreams he had had all his life? There is only one thing that would dispute that, which I won't reveal, but of course if Kaprow's later belief is the correct one, it is possible Joshua's return was to another reality altogether. Or maybe he stayed in the past, which would probably have pleased him more. That way he could have at least lived out his life with people he considered family. I think the way each reader interprets that will reflect their own priorities.
I was at first confused as to why the entire book wasn't in either first-person or third-person, and why the third-person segments were't in order. That's not really a complaint, just an observation. What's important is the personal story of John/Joshua, why he made the decisions (and mistakes) he made, why his existence seemed to parallel those of early man. He was much like Helen, feeling out of place, and without a purpose, until he met the people who could help him live out the dreams that had haunted him. And Helen met him and found a reason to be something above and beyond what the rest of her tribe would ever experience. Beyond that personal approach, Bishop also gives us a much broader view, almost a God-like view, of the development of the human race, from its humble beginnings as hunter/gatherers, to a species who knows how to shape the future into whatever it desires. We must choose wisely though. Whether we look to the past or to the future, history will judge our decisions. My only complaint about this book is it should have been longer, especially Joshua's experience in the past. It could also use a sequel. Still, highly recommended.
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