I don’t imagine that most readers would slice–casually–through The Man Who Folded Himself without a little prompting: so yes, the protagonist Daniel Eakins travels through time. Yes he meets himself. Yes, he has sex with himself, orgies with himself even… male versions of himself. And then, finally, yes, he find a female version of himself and has a child with her. What a cut up (okay no more puns for the rest of this review, I promise).
Given the complexity of these several topics smashed into one power-booklet, which I personally feel is exactly the right length, I’m going to break my review into several sections.
1) Time Travel, as the book represents – The idea of non-linear though heavily determinist time travel has always intrigued me. The idea that unlimited time travel can have effects on one person so vast that it literally reconstructs his identity is interesting per Gerrold’s logic, as well as increasingly fatalistic (in a great way) through the haphazard actions of Daniel Eakins: he begins the story young, and plays with causality as a child would, grows into a man who abuses time to do what he wants, and thus changes and shifts sets of history to literally duplicate himself and his own efforts again and again. Upon finally noticing how much damage he is causing, he thrusts himself to isolation, and (as though versions of himself to understand and meet were only made available to him through his actions), he is left alone. When he goes back to the distant past and confronts a female version of himself, the book again sets the stage for his later self-cancellation. Given this…
2) The Character, Daniel Eakins – Gerrold has developed Daniel thoroughly, his likes, dislikes, insecurities and desires. He allows Daniel the leeway to explore himself (in lots of ways, if it isn’t too obvious by now) and ponder the importance of his actions and their consequences free of the restraints of societal bearing. Given this, (AND THIS IS THE BIGGEST SPOILER ANYONE COULD POSSIBLY EVER WRITE ABOUT THIS BOOK) Daniel’s immense sense of loneliness drives every aspect of the book: he meets and enjoys spending time with himself because he’s only ever felt isolated. He has sex with male and female versions of himself because they share a kindred spirit, they are very literally the same person.
3) The Nature of Daniel’s Sexuality… – Shouldn’t exactly matter in the context of reviewing this book, except to explain how and why Daniel would so actively seek another version of himself in the far past, and meeting Diane, his female version. In some ways, I almost found it insulting that I would need Daniel to explain to us, as readers, that he was “not homosexual,” only because the nature of self-love (as a masturbation metaphor) justifies all of Daniel’s behavior. But I get it: Daniel is coming to grips with his own isolation, and in the process engages almost solely (and more deeply) with himself. And so Daniel enjoys his own company and has always felt isolated from others. I could imagine that a story where Daniel were self-loathing from the book’s onset would change the nature of his proclivities: he’d skip around time, possibly seducing men or women for the purposes of desperately proving self-worth to time and space itself. But that’s just not who the character is. Given this, I find nothing weird or perverse or even–really–funny about him having sex with himself. It just felt like what this character would naturally do, given how he was constructed by Gerrold.
4) The Quality of Gerrold’s writing – Gerrold’s writing warms up once you fight through the beginning. I’ve always felt that the mark of a great writer is the ability to paint an image in your head, but Gerrold literally provided me an image of the schematics for the time belt. This is more strange if you consider the book’s ending: we were introduced to the first-person Daniel as though we would not have known anything about him, then shown the belt schematics for to better understand it, bring it into our reality. However, this book was a diary meant to be handed down to his child (who would just as easily or openly discover it on his own, right?). You could argue that it was just something Daniel wrote without fully understanding that–later–he would be giving the diary to someone, and I might say that this was fair, but why would we need to see the full schematic either way? Clearly, I was not convinced: we are not the ones in control of the belt: Gerrold is. Similarly, the quality of writing itself is sometimes miss and often hit. I go back and forth regarding exposition in general, but the ideas presented in The Man Who Folded Himself were so complex (while concrete) that I was completely drawn in. Besides, the logic was smart and the problems inherent to time travel itself were approached from a fun and fresh perspective.
My only super-gripe (which is probably mine only) is that the book was updated, placing Daniel in 2005 and not the original 1973 (where I hoped it would be). But this is just because I have a specific attachment to this book: my father kept chronicles of 1960s and 1970s sci-fi in our home and I remember the above cover very vividly. After downloading the Kindle version and seeing the changes, I was kicked out of my 1980s youth and brought further into the future than I wanted.
But maybe that’s okay. It was still a fun read and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys the process of trying to break the author’s logic (because this book just has so much to discuss, in that respect!)
Besides, the future is never as futuristic as it seems on paper: 1973, 2005… in the context of The Man Who Folded Himself, these random numbers don’t matter at all.