Daniel's Reviews > Great Work of Time

Great Work of Time by John Crowley
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it was amazing

I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

"Great Work of Time" is a story about people who travel through time. The plot centers on the British Empire and its influence throughout its colonies, most specifically its African holdings. Naturally, the actions of these time travelers have consequences that spread throughout the continuum of time and space, altering everything they touch.

This general theory of effect is nothing new to the genre of time-travel, yet in his explication of this phenomenon, and in his execution of the story set forth in "Great Work of Time," Crowley has accomplished something novel and frightening: novel, because the theory that he posits for time travel gives birth to a puzzle-box of plots, each one linked to the other in a myriad ways that a lesser writer would find impossible to describe with mere prose; frightening, because Crowley directs his characters to employ this multifaceted instrument in the continuation and perfection of no less a behemoth than the British Empire.

Once the Big Idea of this novella makes its appearance, its connotations loom like a massive, starlit guillotine, its razored face poised above the great works proposed by Crowley's characters, its fatal fall held back by a few tenuous questions. Yes, these time benders seek to do good and only good for all of humanity--but who are they to say what is good? Yes, they seek to erase the lines of power that tie men and nations together--but are they not themselves the source of a greater power, one that holds dominion over every possible reality?

These questions frightened me as soon as they appeared, and I wondered if Crowley would approach them in this novella of such modest size. And when he not only touched upon these questions, but traced them all the way to their conclusions, I was left stunned by what I read, and what the words made me see.

I am left feeling unsettled. Fiction though this may be, it is itself another world, another reality, and what it has shown me has perturbed my own world and my own reality. Somehow, Crowley steps outside of conventional thinking, turns the reader around, points, and says, "Look at it this way." Having done so, I will not forget what I have seen.

* * * * * *

On a more conventional note: as of this writing, "Great Work of Time" is (most unjustly) out of print. Do not let this prevent you from seeking a copy and digesting it for your own well-being.
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Reading Progress

June 13, 2011 – Started Reading
June 13, 2011 – Shelved
June 13, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Jacob (new)

Jacob "Great Work of Time" is also available in Novelties and Souvenirs, which collects most of Crowley's shorter fiction. Some good stuff, some less so. I personally didn't care much for "Great Work of Time," but that's just me.


Daniel Right on, thank you for pointing that out.

What didn't work for you in "Great Work..?"


message 3: by Jacob (new)

Jacob I honestly can't remember, and the review I wrote doesn't say anything either. Hmm. Maybe I should give it another try.


Daniel I read Crowley's entire "Aegypt" series, and I have to say that I prefer "Greater Work." Some elements of "Aegypt"--notably, the sexual hijinks of the main character--just plain bored me--and for hundreds of pages, no less.


message 5: by Jacob (new)

Jacob I was going to read "Little, Big" after "Novelties and Souvenirs," but it didn't happen. Have you tried that one?


Daniel No, and I want to read it, too. Everyone seems to go gaga over that one. Thanks to this little volume, I'll probably get to it sooner; before reading this, I was still feeling burned by "Aegypt," which was way too long for my tastes.


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