In this classic sci-fi adventure from the 1960’s, two warring groups, the Rangers and the Wardens, fight each other in various places and times over the centuries. Time tunnels were built in some distant future that allowed these tribes to travel into the past where they try to kill each other, presumably to affect their prospects for wealth and power in the future. We learn, for example, that the Rangers were responsible for Cromwell’s rise, but the Wardens led the Restoration during the English revolution.
Much of the battling in the past seems to center around Denmark, the North Sea, and Southern England, with much of the action in Neolithic times, the Bronze Age, and the Middle ages. In the later periods, raiding Vikings and marauding pirates were ever a hazard.
A modern-day homeboy from Pennsylvania is attracted by a mysterious woman and follows her back to the Neolithic period where she, a Warden, has to lie low for a while, as she has just narrowly escaped a Ranger attack in the Middle Ages. Or some such nonsense. He becomes sort of her bodyguard and inevitably falls in love with her.
Battles are waged with flint knives and axes, later on with swords, except that the head Ranger and the head Warden have ray guns, so there’s that to watch out for. The implicit hero, our plain ol’ farm boy (who speaks with dropped g’s), comes to doubt the “goodness” of his Warden leader and wonders if he should switch sides to the Rangers, although for the reader, the two sides are indiscriminable and it is never clear what’s at stake anyway.
Our hero rescues a fair maiden from Neolithic times and eventually resettles her in the bronze age as his wife. The maiden adapts well, as nothing much seems to have changed for her, whereas he becomes contemplative. He never returns to modern times.
The writing is remarkably good. Well-wrought descriptions are vivid and I found it interesting to note how English vocabulary and usage have changed in the past half-century. For example, people “smote” each other in the 1960’s, not so much today. In the context of the story, the main characters wear magical hearing aids that let them understand and speak any ambient language. What wouldn’t we give for one of those in today’s world?
As a sci-fi tale, it is fantasy-adventure, with no real scientific component. As an idea piece, which I am increasingly coming to understand is the main point of all sci-fi literature, this one is stimulating. What if interest groups did go back in time to try to influence present-day events? That might seem an attractive, if hazardous option. Assassinate Hitler? Reinforce the armies of Robert E. Lee? Thwart James Earl Ray? Provide counseling to Virgina Woolf?
It’s fun to imagine alternative histories and ideas about determinism and destiny. In this novel, nobody dares travel to the future, ahead of their “natural” time, because, it is said, once you know the future, you become paralyzed by the notion of destiny and are afraid to act. Interesting stuff, and I can see why Anderson was one of the great founders of the genre.
Anderson, Poul (1965/1978). The Corridors of Time. New York: Berkeley/Medallion, 186 pp.