Kevin Richey's Reviews > The Man Who Folded Himself

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
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Mar 02, 12

Read in September, 2011

Every now and again I stumble on a book that is highly original that I’ve never heard anyone talk about, but for those that have read it, it’s like being initiated into a cult. Sometimes they’re under-read classics like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther or Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. Sometimes they’re surprisingly good lesser works by great modern authors, like Patrick Süskind’s The Pigeon. But today I came across what was apparently a bestseller upon its release, and still considered one of the best in its genre, but I’ve never heard of it and I don’t think it’s even carried at stores like Barnes and Nobles.

David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself is a 1973 science fiction novel about time travel, and it is the strangest, most fascinating take on the subject I’ve ever encountered. This is what Back to the Future might have been had David Chronenberg directed it. The book starts in 1975 with Daniel Eakins, a college student whose uncle passes away and leaves him with a Timebelt, a belt that allows its wearer to travel through time – backwards, forwards, stopping moments and speeding up action. Of course, being a poor college student, the first thing Daniel does is visit a racetrack with the next day’s newspaper – and the next day’s version of himself.

This is where The Man Who Folded Himself gets interesting. As Daniel slips in and out of time, he’s able to meet future and past versions of himself. This is fun at first – it allows the introverted Daniel to gain more confidence and feel relaxed – but soon disconcerting, especially when a future Daniel comes to warn him against an action that would logically erase the world that future Daniel came from. This is explained through a growing realization that Daniel is not traveling through time, but through different dimensions, and as such, all these versions of himself are not actually him, but rather different Daniels from different dimensions, each slightly removed from his own. This takes care of any Time Travel Paradoxes.

And then it gets stranger. Daniel (who renames his different selves as Don, Danny, and so on), begins a romance – with himself. He’s gone from feeling completely insecure about himself to totally in love with himself, in a narcissistic and sometimes schizophrenic exploration of his own identity.

It’s bizarre, it’s fascinating, and it’s a little bit frightening. If you ever wondered what it would really be like to time travel, and even if you haven’t, I highly recommend you check out The Man Who Folded Himself.

(A note about editions: the original 1973 edition is unfortunately out of print. There was a reprint in 2003, but this was unfortunately retroconned to be set in 2005. All the dates were updated to fit with a start date of 2005… but none of the events or items adjusted. So Daniel is listening to cassette tapes and has never heard of computers – in 2005. Not a good mood. If you can overlook this mild editing blunder, the rest of the book in the new edition is still really good.)
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