cover image Time: A Traveler's Guide

Time: A Traveler's Guide

Clifford A. Pickover. Oxford University Press, USA, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-19-512042-4

If you thought time travel was just for science fiction nuts, think again. As Pickover (Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide) demonstrates, time travel is not the stuff of Asimovian dreams, it being theoretically possible. Of course, how to travel through time is no simple matter, nor is explaining it, but Pickover rises to the challenge in many ways. Witty and profound quotations--from Einstein to Woody Allen--about time and our relationship to it are liberally scattered throughout. Pickover's masterstroke, however, is to divide each chapter into two sections. The first is a second-person narration recording the impromptu discussions about time-travel of a Chopin-obsessed curator from a Museum of Music with his assistant, ""a Zetamorph, a member of a race of philosophers from a subterranean air pocket on Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter"" and with a female earthling student. The second section, dutifully labeled ""The Science behind the Science Fiction,"" is a sober essayistic review of topics addressed in the narrative half. Despite the popular tone, Pickover does not shy away from the mathematics of time travel. (He even includes an appendix of programmable algorithms.) A careful reader with some basic science should be able to follow Pickover chapter by chapter (and truthfully, some of the formulas can be skimmed). The imaginative and humorous approach makes a difficult subject palatable--and gives a plug for Chopin at the same time. (May)