Welcome to the end of time, says the amusingly ruthless narrator of One Day All This Will Be Yours, the brilliant 2021 novella by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Of course, if you were hearing this greeting in person, you wouldn’t have long to live because this sole inhabitant of the end of days and choke-point for time travel to the future has dedicated himself to murdering any visitors. And not just the visitors, he also goes back in time to root out the knowledge and sometimes even the Zeitgeist that led to the discovery of time travel.
He’s a veteran of the wars of total destruction, including the last and worst, the Causality War and the weapons that destroyed time and causality, blasting them into fragments. No more of that! He’s created a perfect place of fruitful farm fields, tended by robots, guarded by himself and his pet Allosaurus, and he intends to keep the population to exactly one.
So where can a writer take you from a premise like that? For the umpteenth time, Tchaikovsky proves in One Day All This Will Be Yours how deep his dramatic imagination runs. With a theme resembling Asimov’s End of Eternity and a touch of the ghastly amoral humor of Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory, the nameless narrator joyfully recounts bumping off one visitor after another from earlier times. There is a handle-bar mustachioed steam-punk inventor from 1911 and a trio of ancient Greek philosophers with nothing but a diagram and their intuition. He gets to enjoy his own utopia as reward for his service in the Causality War, which, of course, wiped out all the past, so he stands at that endless moment where old time stops and future time is about to get going again. But to keep the future from being as destructive as the past, he has to stop all time travellers right here. None shall pass:
“I am saving the unseen future from interference. I am time’s gatekeeper, and without me the future would become the same ruin as the past.”(One Day All This Will Be Yours, Kindle edition, Location 310)
Several chapters are discourses on the futility of war, made especially evident when fighting with the ultimate weapon of the time machine. As soon as one side starts using them, after making their “pinkiest” swear not to, so many time soldiers tamper with the past so much that the sides become meaningless as their causes of war, perhaps their very civilizations, cease to exist, as time itself is so mixed and matched by contending forces that nothing really survives. Ultimately:
“We pushed causality to the breaking point — meaning the universe’s basic ability to have one thing sensibly follow another. And we broke it.”(One Day All This Will Be Yours, Kindle edition, Location 320)
But when a too-perfect twee couple arrive from a perfect future, a different utopia, our narrator knows something has gone drastically wrong. He has arranged for all time travellers to pass through his spot of timeless perfection, and he hasn’t let anyone past him. So how could there be a disgustingly perfect future full of people who are just too pleasantly sweet to tolerate?
That sets the story going in a different direction, one that the narrator can’t completely control. And things get very complicated with a lot of wonderfully grim humor. And some stunning visions of the broken world, especially when he’s:
“…sitting on the shores of time, where the big chunks of moments get progressively smaller until it’s like sand. Until it’s just dust. Until, if you pick your vantage point very carefully, you can pop open a cold one and look into forever, where fractions of a murdered second shimmer like a heat haze on the horizon.”(One Day All This Will Be Yours, Kindle edition, Location 1139)
One Day All This Will Be Yours is a tightly written masterpiece of the novella form, and its determined narrator an unforgettable character out there on the far edge of time amid the mixed-up shards of history. Adrian Tchaikovsky has so many new titles coming out soon that I’m running just to catch up with the older ones. Each of his books I’ve read so far has been not just good but extraordinary. His work stretches genre, form and imagination, so I’m hooked for whatever comes next.