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Tomorrow & Tomorrow
Charles Sheffield
Bantam Spectra, 422 pages

Tomorrow & Tomorrow
Charles Sheffield
The winner of Hugo and Nebula Awards (for the novelette Georgia on my Mind) and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for the novel Brother to Dragons), Charles Sheffield is an established author. He writes science articles and books, as well as novels in the horror and thriller genres. Aftermath, his next novel, is expected in the summer. By training, he is a mathematician and a novelist. He lives in Maryland, MD.

Charles Sheffield Website
ISFDB Bibliography
The Omega Point
Convergence - An online story

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Catherine Asaro

Until the Twelfth of Never
Last summer I presented a paper at a NASA workshop in the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program, which seeks new physics that might make interstellar travel feasible. One of the invited speakers was Frank Tipler, a noted physicist and also the author of popular science works, including the book The Physics of Immortality. I was intrigued by Tipler's ideas, and as a writer as well as a scientist, I thought, "I'll bet someone could create a great story using this science as a basis."

A few months later I received a copy of Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Charles Sheffield. I'm pleased to say that Sheffield, a Cambridge-educated physicist as well as a renown science fiction writer, has indeed made use of Tipler's ideas, along with other intriguing concepts of cutting-edge physics, to write a remarkable novel.

Parts of the book are drawn from Sheffield's novella, "At the Eschaton," which appeared in Far Futures, published by Tor in 1995. The story concerns the attempts of Drake Merlin to find a cure for his wife Ana after she contracts a fatal disease with no known treatment. Drake has her body frozen in a cryowomb, to wait for an era when a cure exists. He then freezes himself as well, so he can join her in the future.

As it turns out, Drake wakes more than once during the story, which covers all of time, from the twenty-first century to the end of the universe. Sheffield weaves a hard science fiction tale that is epic in scope, yet also a sophisticated character study of one man. It provides a showpiece for hard science fiction at its most mature, a work that encompasses both science and the soul, combining a sense of wonder with high literary standards.

Given the scope of this story, one might ask if it fits into the tradition of space opera. It includes many of the elements: interstellar war, a galactic sweep of events, tragic love, and an epic scale. However, Tomorrow and Tomorrow has a more introspective feel than traditional space opera. It is one man's story rather than a saga of empires. At the same time, it does have a Homeric or Wagnerian quality that brings to mind mythic verse, an effect enhanced by the quotations that begin each chapter. Aptly so, Part Two of the book is titled Iliad.

The complex character development of Drake Merlin provides another strong point. Drake's love for Ana is a driving passion, one might even say an obsession. Indeed, a number of characters try to "cure" him of it, an ironic commentary on how romantic love is often portrayed in literature. To make such a driven character appealing, and successful as a literary device, is no small feat, but Sheffield does it and does it well.

To a certain extent the character has a built-in appeal, in that his love for his wife is so great he literally goes to the ends of the universe for her. However, the story might not satisfy readers looking for a romance. Ana appears only briefly, whereas romance focuses more on the interactions of the lovers. But as the tale of how Drake's passion affects his life -- and in the process changes the universe! -- it works well.

The novel is actually a set of smaller stories, in that each time Drake wakes, he must deal with a new situation. One story in particular that stayed with me was the Interlude separating Parts One and Two. When Drake and Ana's bodies begin to decay in the cryowombs, their brains are downloaded to electronic storage and samples of their DNA saved. Their original bodies are left to drift in space, sleeping away the eons. But the original Drake wakes one more time, far outside the galaxy. His final story-within-a-story is a haunting mixture of loss and hope that brings to mind Andre Norton's science fiction classic, Galactic Derelict.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow also invokes crackling good science, including galaxy formation, computer intelligence, and cosmology. Sheffield's smooth prose fits well with the effective dreamlike quality of the tale; because of that, my first read through left an impression that the story had almost no scientific exposition. However, the second time through I realized it does give a good deal of science, but in an effortless manner, without any sense of "And now we exposit." With such a quality, this book will appeal to fans of both hard and soft science fiction.

For readers interested in more about the science, a well-written essay appears at the end of the book. It is an enjoyable read. In fact, I would have liked to know even more about the physics in Tipler's theories.

Sheffield writes: "Tipler argues that certain types of universes allow a physicist to deduce (his own term is prove) the ultimate existence of a being with omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence ... Such a being could reasonably be called God." With Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Sheffield invites the reader to explore ideas of spirituality and poses the question: what defines omniscience?

I need to give a spoiler warning here: readers who don't want to know the end of the book should skip the next four paragraphs.

At the conclusion of the story, the characters face the eschaton, the final state of all things, the end of the universe. We are left with an ambiguity. Is Drake reunited with Ana or is she a construct created by a being who has become so extensive, he has access to all the information ever in existence? In a thought-provoking passage that exemplifies the philosophical explorations suggested by this book, Ana tells Drake:

"As the universe converges toward the eschaton, there's no limit to what you can know about anything. We're getting close to the end now. So it's not beyond question that I am your simulation, a construct of your mind. You think, therefore I am. ... Let's put it another way, with a question: Is self-deception possible, even for an omniscient being?"

Sheffield offers no pat answers, but instead leaves it to the reader to ponder, which makes for an effective finale.

If I had any disappointment with the book, it is that after we wait an entire novel, until the end of time in fact, for Drake and Ana to get back together, the payback of their actual reunion goes by too fast. I wanted to experience more of their joy in being together. But it does give enough to provide closure.

In a sense, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a literary rendering of one of the prettiest love songs ever written, "The Twelfth of Never," by Paul Francis Webster and Jerry Livingston, which ends:

I'll love you till the poets run out of rhyme,
Until the Twelfth of Never
And that's a long, long time.
For Drake Merlin, a long, long time indeed, and one well worth reading about.

Copyright © 1998 by Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro is a physicist at Molecudyne Research. She earned her Phd in chemical physics from Harvard and a BS from UCLA. She also writes science fiction, a blend of hard SF with space adventure. Her debut novel Primary Inversion is in its second printing, Catch the Lightning won the 1997 Sapphire Award, The Last Hawk is on the Nebula Preliminary ballot, and The Radiant Seas (the sequel to Primary Inversion) comes out in November 1998. The books are stand alone novels, but take place in the same universe. Her husband John Cannizzo is the proverbial NASA rocket scientist, an excellent resource for a writer of romantic space adventure!

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