The power of an "edit" button

I was recently searching the internet (Google scholar search) and came across “Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction” by Don D’Ammassa. It boggles my mind to see science fiction writers such as D’Ammassa who have familiarized themselves with every corner of the speculative fiction literature. However, in this age of the internet I tend to first turn to online resources before consulting printed books.

Wikipedia has a 2,700 word article about Isaac Asimov’s time travel novel The End of Eternity. Wikipedia’s article has been collaboratively written by Asimov fans such as Johnny Pez. I have a certain amount of faith that someone like Johnny Pez has actually read The End of Eternity.

Can a collaboratively and openly written resource such as Wikipedia hope to provide science fiction fans with better encyclopedic information than a professionally authored and print published book such as D’Ammassa’s “Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction”? Can any one writer, no matter how well read, actually keep up with a crowd of collaborators?

Here is what D’Ammassa had room to say about The End of Eternity in his encyclopedia: “The framework is a now familiar one: An organization stands independent of time, sending its agents to prevent alterations of history. Asimov told the story from the viewpoint of a rogue agent who tries to manipulate history for the benefit of the woman he loves.” Eh?

In contrast, the Wikipedia article correctly states that the function of the time travel “organization” (the Eternals) is to make alterations in time, the so-called Reality Changes.

I agree that the protagonist of The End of Eternity, Andrew Harlan, becomes something of a “rogue agent”. He wants to save “the woman he loves” from a Reality Change and when he thinks he has lost her, he strikes out and tries to destroy Eternity.

It turns out that “the woman he loves”, Noÿs Lambent, is a secret agent from the far future who was able to deftly manipulate Harlan and use him as a tool for achieving the destruction of Eternity. Working from within the cultural perspective the early 1950s, Asimov did well to create a character who was a “modern” liberated woman. I’ve spent many years wondering how Noÿs might have shaken up the 20th century after arriving in the 1930s. That was one of my main motivations for making The Start of Eternity, a fan fiction sequel to The End of Eternity.

27 years after publishing The End of Eternity, Asimov gave us a fun new bit of background information in Foundation’s Edge: “it was the robots who established Eternity”. If we run with that idea then we have to ask if Noÿs, while manipulating Harlan, was also being manipulated by unseen robots. According to Don D’Ammassa, Asimov’s novels are short on literary depth, but it is a whole lot of fun when Asimov created so many layers: robots using Noÿs to end Eternity, Noÿs manipulating Harlan, Harlan plotting to blackmail Senior Computer Twissell, Twissell plotting to use Harlan to assure the continued existence of Eternity.

Sadly, Asimov was taken from us before he had a chance to finish his task of merging his many stories into a single fictional universe and showing us the ultimate fate of the Foundation. Perhaps Asimov’s fans, working in the spirit of fan fiction, can use the power of collaborative tools like wiki to tie up the loose ends.

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