- Varley, John
Original Novel Publication Date
Motion Picture Release Date
- Louise Baltimore, Bill Smith
This book is based on John Varley’s short story Air Raid which was published in 1977. That short story later became this novel. A screenplay was then written based on this novel and became the excellent 1989 movie Millennium, starring Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristopherson.
The basic theme of all three written versions – the short story, the novel and the screenplay – is that far into the future, a civilization utilizes their capability of time travel to go back in time and take people moments before their death, and transport them to the future to help repopulate their dying human race.
The novel involves two main characters – Louise Baltimore and Bill Smith. Louise is from the future and is the head of a “snatch team” – a group of people who go back through the gate of time to the scene of accidents about to happen. They stun the people who are going to die, and also stun people who will live but who also might identify them. They replace the people who will die with what are called wimps – almost exact copies that will “die” in their place so nothing will be missed.
Bill Smith is a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team leader who is sent to investigate the midair crash of a DC-10 and 747 near Oakland California in 1983. While reviewing the crash debris, Bill discovers an object from the future left by one of the snatch team members, and that causes a time paradox which Louise is sent back in time to try and correct.
Interestingly, there are a number of rules of time travel that must be adhered to by these future time travelers. Among these are …
- You cannot time travel back to the same place and time to which a previous or future time travel took place.
- When time travel occurs, it creates a blank spot which can never be time traveled to again.
- You cannot meet yourself
- Everything a time traveler takes with them into the past must be returned to the present with them, or if not, the person cannot return to the future as well.
- If anything (or anyone) is taken forward to the future, a rough equivalent of it, or them, must be left in the past to compensate – hence the creation of the wimps.
- Time capsules, with messages, may be generated and left for the future by travelers into the past. Those time capsules may only be opened and read by the specified recipient, and only at the specific time and date for which they have been left.
- In the novel, Louise leaves messages for herself that she reads in the future and which help her in her journey back to the past to try and correct the time paradox.
In the novel, the story alternates between chapters that are mostly referred to as testimonies – “The testimony of Louise Baltimore” or “The testimony of Bill Smith”.
Louise is a very interesting character. In the future, the average life span is less than 25 years because of a variety of illnesses. Most people even if they reach that age are made up of replaced body parts, some of whom have only their actual brains remaining. Louise wears a skin suit that covers what she really looks like. Her skin suit is one that is described as “the dream of most adolescent boys in the twentieth century”.
Louise also has a robot man servant named Sherman. Sherman is incredibly attuned to the specific intellectual and physical needs of Louise. One of Sherman’s capabilities is the ability to provide sexual fulfillment to Louise. (Editor’s note: the few instances of sexual encounter are very brief and decidedly non-graphic both in the book and in the movie. Varley is definitely no Jacqueline Susann.)
The novel contains a lot more detail about the eccentricity of time travel, and the thought processes that take place in the future when the time paradox occurs, as opposed to the screenplay that focuses much more on the “present” and the interactions between Bill and Louise. The movie also does not contain the time capsule messages which provide Louise help when going back in time.
I strongly recommend both this novel and the accompanying motion picture. Both are very well done. When a novel is later made into a movie, I generally recommend that you read the novel first since it will usually help the movie make more sense when you see it. Also, if pieces of the book are not contained in the movie, you will still have the knowledge of what takes place which you will understand, even if they are not depicted in the movie. In the case of Millennium, I saw the movie first and then read the book many years later and that worked quite well. Millenium is one of my favorite movies about time travel and, when I read the complete novel, it only added to my enjoyment of the story.
Even though Kristopherson is definitely not one of my favorite actors, he does a passable job as Bill Smith. At least he does not seem to detract from the movie. Cheryl Ladd does a decent job as an actress and her beauty is a significant contribution to the role of Louise Baltimore.
Interestingly, the movie only has a 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh well. No accounting for taste in time travel, I suppose.
Millennium official movie trailer