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Up The Line by Robert Silverberg

1/12/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Up The Line in the USA - or Buy Up The Line in the UK

author pic

pub: Sphere Science Fiction, 1978. 207 page paperback. Price: well, a couple quid if you look around for a decent price these days. ISBN: 0-7221-7826-3.

The reason this book, ‘Up The Line’ by Robert Silverberg, is being reviewed is because I’m killing two birds with one stone. The novel comes up in an article we’re going to be printing shortly and as I’ve never read it and it’s about time travel, I thought it about time (sic) to read it. That and there’s a dearth of SF books out there at the moment but that’s not going to stop the review process. If you can’t read new books, look for some old ones you missed. I should point out that I discovered this week that Subterranean Press are doing a reprint of this story in a three novel anthology called ‘Times Three’ in April 2011.

Looking for a copy of this book was an interesting experience, more so because so many have been given over-inflated prices. However, persist in looking cos it isn’t that difficult to get a cheap reading copy. With so many of Silverberg’s books getting re-issued at the moment, I hope this book gets another printing.




In many respects, this is Silverberg meets Heinlein in terms of sexual content and the amours of time traveller couriers who in their time off from tourist guides often end up bedding their many times removed ancestors. Behind all of this, Silverberg cleverly lays down the problems of time travel and how to get around them or rather how to get them undone if you know what you’re doing. I’m a bit puzzled why they have to be in the vicinity of where they want to go because in an expanding universe and all things being relative, the Earth wouldn’t be where they appear but that’s a minor quibble. The solution to sorting out the ‘kill your grandfather before your father is born so why are you here’ is neatly sorted out and shown repeatedly why even then, it’s still not a good idea. The Time Police come back and grab you by knowing the deed is going to happen, kill you and stop the deed ever happening and are forever (sic) patching up discrepancies. Even this doesn’t explain whether replacement off-spring are born to fill the gap. I doubt if Silverberg would have thought of this some forty years ago, let alone bump into someone like me who would see some odd problems like this today. Then again, I’m confused why going into the past is called ‘up the line’ when from my perspective, you’re going ‘down the line’. Relatively speaking, the future from wherever you are temporally is always up and the past down.

A lot of the time, the couriers have to be careful of not bumping into themselves considering the number of times they visit the same time period. Jed Elliott’s speciality is the Byzantium era, so a note to all you potential time travellers out there, make sure you’re good at history cos you’re going to need it. Even with knowing the rules of what you can and can’t do, things would always go wrong and you would have thought there would have been a ban on time travel or at least better scrutiny of who would be allowed to do it. Given the circumstances, I would have at least had a better way to monitor and keep track of the travellers.

Then again, because they didn’t, Silverberg draws out a brilliant climax where one of the tourists fiddles with his time travel device and can move in time independently of the courier control and Jed Elliott gets in a real jam which you can’t stop reading until the end.

The attention to detail of the past that Silverberg uses shows a lot of homework. Although I’ve quibbled over some of the flaws, this book still holds together really well and at least the characters behave in a realistic way so it’s worth you giving it some attention before the time police catch...

GF Willmetts

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