Study Guide

Timescape Time

By Gregory Benford


Bet you saw this coming. You can't have a time travelling novel without time showing up in the themes section, can you? In Timescape, the theme of time represents human knowledge of the universe and our place within it. As science has deepened our understanding of the universe, it has also opened up many more questions.

In the same way, as characters delve into the mysteries of time, they come back with more questions than when they went in. For example, they used to be able to look at time as a straight line: Things happened in the past, things were happening in the present, and things would happen in the future. But the discovery of tachyons brings cause and effect into question. What if the past exists as a physical place within universes? Can you really say that the past has passed then?

Questions About Time

  1. Both Renfrew and Gordon have an obsession with the past that molds how they view the present. Find some examples of this in the novel. How do these relate to the idea of time in the novel?
  2. Do you think Timescape's concept of symmetrical time allows for free will, or is everything determined from the get go? Why or why not?
  3. Read Robert Heinlein's short, time travel story "All You Zombies." How does the relationship between time and science differ in these stories? What are the similarities? Write a thesis statement on the concept of time in science fiction based on these two stories.

Chew on This

Timescape focuses mostly on time as it pertains to the physics of the universe (i.e. a coordinate in spacetime), but occasionally the book delves into the time of human psychology. In other words, there are two times in this book. Care to dive deeper into the distinction? Neil deGrasse Tyson's got your back.

It is entirely possible that our universe remains a part of the Timescape one. Perhaps some untold event split our world off from the others to prevent a paradox. As a result, instead of getting world-shattering ecological disasters, we got Pokemon. We clearly won that round.