Published in 1973, “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerrold is an audacious exploration of time travel and personal identity. The novella has been regarded as a hallmark of speculative fiction, one that sidesteps traditional paradoxes associated with time travel to dive into the deeper philosophical and existential issues that such a concept naturally invokes.
The Time Belt: A Device Beyond Measure
The central plot device, the “time belt,” allows the protagonist, Daniel Eakins, an unprecedented ability to travel through time. Unlike many time-travel devices in other narratives, this one allows Daniel not just to revisit past moments but also to encounter alternate versions of himself. This facet enables Gerrold to move beyond simplistic “cause and effect” paradoxes and examine more intricate, self-referential paradoxes.
A Multitude of Selves
What sets “The Man Who Folded Himself” apart is its relentless focus on the self. In most time-travel stories, the protagonist is warned not to interact with their past or future selves; here, that’s virtually the entire plot. Gerrold challenges our notions of individuality and identity by making Daniel confront, converse with, and even form relationships with different versions of himself from various timelines. For instance, at one point, Daniel attends a party exclusively populated by his alternate selves, each one representing a decision made or path taken.
The Fluidity of Identity
The novella is daring in its treatment of sexuality and personal relationships. The various Daniels form intimate relationships with one another, making the story a groundbreaking exploration of sexual fluidity long before such concepts entered mainstream discourse. Gerrold challenges our social constructs, suggesting that identity is not a fixed point but a spectrum, influenced by time, choice, and context.
The book doesn’t shy away from the ethical implications of time travel. When one possesses the ability to reshape history according to their whims, what is the moral compass guiding those choices? The lines between self-interest and altruism blur as Daniel grapples with the enormity of his newfound power.
The Tug of Fate and Choice
One of the fascinating threads in the novella is the tension between fate and free will. Despite having the power to alter events, Daniel comes to recognize certain “fixed points” in his life—moments that appear immutable, which adds a layer of tragedy to his omnipotence.
Gerrold’s Contribution to Science Fiction
David Gerrold, already known for his script for the classic “Star Trek” episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” solidified his place in the science fiction pantheon with this novella. He not only explores the “what-ifs” of time travel but also delves into the existential crises that would inevitably accompany it.
Conclusion: An Ever-Unfolding Enigma
“The Man Who Folded Himself” offers more than just a time-traveling escapade; it provides a mirror reflecting our inner complexities. By disrupting linear time and the singular self, Gerrold questions the very notions that anchor our understanding of reality. The result is a story that, much like its protagonist, perpetually unfolds into new and unexpected shapes.