City at the End of Time

City at the End of Time

by Greg Bear


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In a time like the present, in a world that may or may not be our own, three young people–Ginny, Jack, and Daniel–dream of a decadent, doomed city of the distant future: the Kalpa. But more than dreams link these three: They are fate-shifters, born with the ability to skip across the surface of the fifth dimension, inhabiting alternate versions of themselves. And each guards an object whose origin and purpose are unknown: gnarled, stony artifacts called sum-runners that persist unchanged through all versions of time.

Hunted by others with similar powers who seek the sum-runners on behalf of a terrifying, goddess-like entity known as the Chalk Princess, Ginny, Jack, and Daniel are drawn into an all but hopeless mission to rescue the future–and complete the greatest achievement in human history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345448408
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/25/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 737,053
Product dimensions: 6.34(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.08(d)

About the Author

Greg Bear is the author of more than twenty-five books, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He has been awarded two Hugos and five Nebulas for his fiction. He is married to Astrid Anderson Bear, and they are the parents of two children, Erik and Alexandra.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The city was young. Unbelievably young.

The moon rose sharp and silver-blue over a deck of soft gray clouds, and if you looked east, above the hills, where the sun would soon rise, you saw a brightness as yellow and real as natural butter.

The city faced the coming day with dew cold and wet on new green grass, streaming down windows, beaded on railings, chill against swiping fingers.

Waking up in the city, no one could know how young it was and fresh; all had activities to plan, living worries to blind them, and what would it take to finally smell the blessed, cool newness, but a whiff of something other?

Everyone went about their business.

The day passed into dusk.

Hardly anyone noticed there was a difference.

A hint of loss.

With a shock that nearly made her cry out, Ginny thought she saw the old gray Mercedes in the wide side mirror of the Metro bus-stopped the next lane over, two car lengths behind, blocking traffic. The smoked rear windows, the crack in its mottled windshield-clearly visible.

It's them-the man with the silver dollar, the woman with flames in her palms.

The bus's front door opened, but Ginny stepped back into the aisle. All thoughts of getting out a stop early, of walking the next few blocks to stretch her legs and think, had vanished.

The Metro driver-a plump black woman with ivory sclera and pale brown eyes, dark red lipstick, and diamonds on her incisors, still, after a day's hard work, lightly perfumed with My Sin-stared up at Ginny. "Someone following you, honey? I can call the cops." She tapped the bus's emergency button with a long pearly fingernail.

Ginny shook her head. "Won't help. It's nothing."

The driver sighed and closed the door, and the bus drove on. Ginny took her seat and rested her backpack in her lap-she missed the weight of her box, but for the moment, it was someplace safe. She glanced over her shoulder through the bus's rear window.

The Mercedes dropped back and turned onto a side street.

With her good hand, she felt in the pack's zippered side pocket for a piece of paper. While unwrapping the filthy bandage from her hand, the doctor at the clinic had spent half an hour gently redressing her burns, injecting a big dose of antibiotics, and asking too many questions.

Ginny turned to the front of the bus and closed her eyes. Felt the passengers brush by, heard the front door and the middle door open and close with rubbery shushes, the air brakes chuffing and sighing.

The doctor had told her about an eccentric but kind old man who lived alone in a warehouse filled with books. The old man needed an assistant. Could be long-term. Room and board, a safe place; all legit. The doctor had not asked Ginny to trust her. That would have been too much.

Then, she had printed out a map.

Because Ginny had no other place to go, she was following the doctor's directions. She unfolded the paper. Just a few more stops. First Avenue South-south of the two huge stadiums. It was getting dark-almost eight o'clock.

Before boarding the bus-before seeing or imagining the gray Mercedes- Ginny had found an open pawnshop a block from the clinic. There, like Queequeg selling his shrunken head, she had hocked her box and the library stone within.

It was Ginny's mother who had called it the library stone. Her father had called it a "sum-runner." Neither of the names had ever come with much of an explanation. The stone-a hooked, burned-looking, come-and- go thing in a lead-lined box about two inches on a side-was supposed to be the only valuable possession left to their nomadic family. Her mother and father hadn't told her where they had taken possession of it, or when. They probably didn't know or couldn't remember.

The box always seemed to weigh the same, but when they slid open the grooved lid-a lid that only opened if you rotated the box in a certain way, then back again-her mother would usually smile and say, "Runner's turned widdershins!" and with great theater they would reveal to their doubting daughter the empty interior.

The next time, the stone might stick up from the padded recess as solid and real and unexplained as anything else in their life.

As a child, Ginny had thought that their whole existence was some sort of magic trick, like the stone in its box.

When the pawnbroker, with her help, had opened the box, the stone was actually visible-her first real luck in weeks. The pawnbroker pulled out the stone and tried to look at it from all directions. The stone- as always-refused to rotate, no matter how hard he twisted and tugged. "Strong sucker. What is it, a gyroscope?" he asked. "Kind of ugly-but clever."

He had written her a ticket and paid her ten dollars.

This was what she carried: a map on a piece of paper, a bus route, and ten dollars she was afraid to spend, because then she might never retrieve her sum-runner, all she had to remember her family by. A special family that had chased fortune in a special way, yet never stayed long in one place-never more than a few months, as if they were being pursued.

The bus pulled to the curb and the doors sighed open. The driver flicked her a sad glance as she stepped down to the curb.

The door closed and the bus hummed on.

In a few minutes the driver would forget the slender, brown-haired girl-the skittish, frightened girl, always looking over her shoulder.

Ginny stood on the curb under the lowering dusk. Airplanes far to the south scraped golden contrails on the deep blue sky. She listened to the city. Buildings breathed, streets grumbled. Traffic noise buzzed from east and west, filtered and muted between the long industrial warehouses. Somewhere, a car alarm went off and was silenced with a disappointed chirp.

Down the block, a single Thai restaurant spilled a warm glow from its windows and open door.

She took a hungry half breath and looked up and down the wide street, deserted except for the bus's dwindling taillights. Shouldering her pack, she crossed and paused in a puddle of sour orange glow cast by a streetlight. Stared up at the green slab wall of the warehouse. She could hide here. Nobody would find her. Nobody would know anything about her.

It felt right.

She knew how to erase trails and blank memories. If the old man turned out to be a greasy pervert-she could handle that. She had dealt with worse-much worse.

On the north end of the warehouse, an enclosure of chain-link fence surrounded a concrete ramp and a small, empty parking lot. At the low end of the ramp, a locked gate barred access from the sidewalk. Ginny looked for security cameras, but none were visible. An old ivory- colored plastic button mounted in green brass was the only way to attract attention. She double-checked the address on the map. Looked up at the high corner of the warehouse. Squeezed her finger through the chain link.

Pushed the button.

A few moments later, as she was about to leave, the gate buzzed open. No voice, no welcome.

Her shoulders slumped in relief-so tired.

But after all she had been through, no hope could go unchallenged. Quickly, she probed with all her strength and talent for a better way through the confused tangles of outcome and effect. None appeared. This was the only good path. Every other led her back to the spinning, blue-white storm in the woods.

For months now she had felt her remaining options pinch down. She had never pictured this warehouse, never known she would end up in Seattle, never clearly foreseen the free clinic and the helpful doctor.

Ginny pulled the gate open and walked up the ramp. The gate swung back with a rasping squeak and locked behind her.

Today was her eighteenth birthday.

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City at the End of Time 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Chrissysc77 More than 1 year ago
First book that i absolutely could not finish reading! I could not figure out what was going on in the 100 pages I read. It might have been from intense boredom that i zoned out while reading it, but I believe it is from the lack of explanation from the author. I hated it!! I feel I wasted my money!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am usually a fan of Greg Bear, but his was disappointing. While there are big scientific ideas at work in this novel, they are buried and difficult to work out. They are so poorly developed that the novel is really a fantasy rather than than hard science fiction. After all, the good guys win by joining, what in any other work, would have been called "magic stones" -- here, they are "summing stones." The characters are poorly developed and most of them are uninteresting. They are merely vehicles for a plot that grinds along until it ends with something very close to "And then a miracle occurs." Now, it's possible that Bear was trying to avoid having a scientist character who would lecture for pages about the science at issue. That is a noble undertaking. But it's not an excuse for putting the science in a Cuisinart, scattering it through the book and among the characters, and never developing it fully.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you wrote a poor review of this book, odds are you didn't read the entire story. If you didn't read the entire story, your opinion cannot be trusted. You missed the boat. This story is great. Without spoiling anything, the "chaotic" structure matches the themes involving time. The visuals portrayed are both abstract and detailed. Same goes for the scope and change of perspectives. If you're ready to think and read, here's your story. Let your eyes glaze while your mind takes it all in and tries to organize and understand what you're reading. If you don't respect this story, you don't understand Greg Bear as a writer.
S-III More than 1 year ago
It leaves you feeling empty. The plot is really good, and the characters are solid, but the way he presented them was weak. The pace was so slow I thought this was a mystery novel. What happened to the Bear that wrote Eon?
SableT More than 1 year ago
This book was incredible. The story of an evil that devours time and the rush of past and future heros to stop it. I really don't want to say too much but this was an awesome read. The way the the characters in the story shift and move through time is dynamic and inventive. I can praise this story forever. Read it! Nothing further.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Seattle, three people (Ginny, Jack, and Max) separately and with no seeming connection see a newspaper ad that stuns them. The advertisement states: ¿Do you dream of a city at the end of time?¿ Each can answer in the affirmative as they have had visions of a dark desolate landscape of a devastated wasteland they also share in common a form of amnesia in which none of them know anything important from their respective pasts. They only have just flashes of urban desolation. ---------- They respond and soon learn they are the Protectors of time. An enigmatic, at one time seemingly omnipotent race has created a million-year sentient species experiment. Now after a hundred trillion years the ancient Kalpa is the last vestige of true knowledge and is rapidly deteriorating as the universe dies. The insanity of chaos fills the vacuum. The trio understands their mission is to save any form of awareness of being to pass on to the rebirth and know the danger they face in attempting this, but consider the alternative nothingness. --------------- THE CITY AT THE END OF TIME is not an easy or fast-paced read but worth the time for those science fiction fans who appreciate a very complex story line that increasingly turns even more complicated as Greg Bear explores an ontological theme. The key characters especially the threesome, the ad taker, and those at the Kalpa discussing the end of times seem real enough to have the audience feel the countdown to the big crunch has begun. The hope is that the trio will save a flicker of light that survives into the universe reincarnation that the Kalpa inhabitants believe will occur. Mr. Bear provides a well written cerebral sci fi tale.------------------- Harriet Klausner
AlanPoulter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a work of 'quantum' fantasy, as cutting edge science on the nature of matter and the linkage between observer and observed blurs into a traditional fantasy quest. A party of beings from the city of Kalpa, at the end of time (in sections dated 14 zeroes) journey out into its surrounding nullity, and, in parallel, a group of quirky individuals (in sections dated 10 zeroes) from our time and before, all bearing potent talismen, end up in a Seattle in a universe shrunk into the environs of a bookshop. Of course, all these creatures/people are the same beings, at different points in time.One of the quaint things about this book is how much books are valued in it. Alongside all the physics meets fantasy extravaganza, books get worshipped for their role in preserving experience. Borges and his idea of the infinite Library of Babel, in which all possible texts are present, get subborned into an important role in the stew of ideas floating around.Yet somehow it all fails to catch fire. The writing is excellent and the ideas are certainly there, but the story just takes too long. There are too many switchbacks in the plot and the science/fantasy setting starts to wear thin as the same old mysteries and truths keep coming around again and again.
dbhutch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting read. Took me a while to get into this book, and for the plot lines to come together for me. I tend to like the ideas of parallel universes, and how time can fold inupon itself, but Bear takes this to a whole new level, and wraps it up well with stories, books, time, and history being interdependent upong one another. I liked one particular instance he mentions in the book - cats can be found wherever there is a good story, they go hand in hand, or rather in lap with good books all over the world.
ragwaine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too confusing. I couldn't understand what was going on. So I gave up on it.
seanvk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is premised on the notion that time is a matter of perspective. At its core, there is one central story about the far future, trillions of years out, where what is remaining of humanity in all its shapes and forms is struggling to survive an onslaught from a presence alien to our universe. There are mixtures of stories and anecdotes thrown in from many themes. Personally, I feel the author himself failed to keep a coherent story going, poorly defined characters, and rushed with an ending that smacked of "let's wrap this up". I was really disappointed in this book, as I have so greatly enjoyed previous works by this author.Sean
jerevo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a complex work, and the writing conveys the strangeness of the setting - a universe hose physical laws are in flux and where history is not constant - reasonably well. The problem is that, while the ideas are interesting, the story - a collection of loosely related characters stumbling toward a foregone conclusion - is not, which makes book unnecessarily dificult to enjoy. Greg Bear is capable of much better than this.
klaidlaw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading Bear is not for the lazy. City at the End of Time is chaotic, complex, and at times almost incomprehensible. That said, it is an example of a author with a sense of imagination that few can match. The book weaves back and forth through time and across galaxies in a tale of dread and despair. The characters take a while to become familiar, and I never found them particularly likable. The entire story comes down to the glory of cats in the last couple of chapters. If you are a cat lover, you will appreciate the part cats play, but they seem to be thrust into the limelight as an afterthought.I enjoyed the scenes around Seattle. I have lived there and recognized places from Green Lake to the SoDo. It was tough to think about the destruction of the city through the unraveling of time/history as it does in the book. I almost wish Bear had chosen another city to crush--like Denver or Miami. This book is not for everyone. In fact, it will leave the vast majority of people who pick it up cold and confused. Unless you are ready to think about what you are reading and spend a 100 pages getting into the story, don't bother starting. You will just end up frustrated and never finish the book. For those who stick with it, it can be a rewarding book, but never an easy read. This is not the type of book best read just before turning the lights off at night. You are more than likely going to have to go back and re-read what you read the night before.
randalhoctor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The City at the End of Time has generally received less than stellar reviews. However, this is one of my favorite books and one of the very few that I could stand to go thru more than once. I¿ve read it and enjoyed the audiobook (good reader). This is a challenging story. There¿s so much detail that I¿ll probably take it in another few years. The story can be summarized as fictional mythology in a hard SF framework. Its rather heavy on the fictional mythology and reminds me a great deal of Neil Gaiman¿s work. The imagery is trippy and very cool. The fictional mythology seems heavily influenced by Hindu and Christian religions. Some obvious character-analogs are Kali, Brahma, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. The story is so replete with allusions and important tid-bits that if you¿re not paying attention you¿ll miss it. This is a rich and demanding story that could be endlessly dissected by a discussion group.On the downside; there was much that was not explained. The book could easily have been 100 pages longer while leaving the story essentially as is. Some of the characters, key concepts, and mythology could have been elaborated on.That being said; the story is still stuck in my head. I still think about the ending. I¿m still wondering about the roles of the characters and how their story will play out the next time around. (4/5 stars)
aquinaught on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tedious. Difficult. Disappointing.This book is a perfect example of a failure of editing. Well over a full third of this material could have been removed and nothing about the story would have been affected. The one character written to have any semblance of a character arc is a minor character at best. The reader instead gets to follow some incredibly bland and passive characters just waiting for the end to arrive. When that end does come around, it is painfully obvious that it has been phoned in; most of the supporting cast has simply been forgotten in Bear's rush to have the protagonists do -- nothing. Congrats on a paycheck, I guess.The story encompasses two time periods of Earth - one set in the present and one set is the extreme distant future. The humans of the future do not resemble us in either form or culture as trillions of years of evolution would leave a mark. Unfortunately, this future is extremely boring. For the first 250 pages, I would strongly suggest skimming or skipping entirely any chapters dealing with this time. They provide nothing aside from tiresome angst from characters that aren't essential to the plot. The characters inhabiting the present are much more interesting. Well, not the protagonists but rather the minor characters that serve to push the incredibly passive boors towards the finish line.At about the halfway point of the book, the future storyline picks up and gets quite interesting. If the reader has skimmed a scant few of the earlier future chapters, it should not be difficult to understand what is going on. Even if confusion sets in, worry not, for the excitement is pretty irrelevant in the end anyway. These characters simply disappear and nothing is mentioned of their relationships again. A wonderful buildup of tension and wonder is squandered at this point as Bear again focuses on those painfully unimpressive protagonists waiting and wandering and waiting some more. A few entertaining scenes are sprinkled around the last quarter of the book but they're certainly not enough to make up for the lack of, well, everything else in this exceptionally shoddy work.Yes, I suppose I am a bit bitter about having stuck through to the end. There was a very nifty premise that appeared to have some potential here but a poor execution and utterly boring story put that to bed. There's a reason this hardcover was found in the $1.99 bin. There's a reason my copy will be back in there in the very near future as well.
DirtPriest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Many of the reviews are fairly negative, both about the flat characters and the seemingly unnecessary complexions of the book's universe. First, the characters are at the end of uncountable jumps through differing threads of reality and no longer have any idea who they are, plus they are fragmented through time in multiple personalities. Second, when the time of the universe has run out and reality is being squished between the wall of the beginning of time and the end of time, in a way that emphasizes the quantum nature of matter, things are bound to be a bit obtuse.I personally found the story challenging and very interesting. It is a fascinating look at how intelligence trillions of years in the future can defend what remains of the universe against the encroaching Chaos (with a capital C). I particularly enjoyed the concept of threads of reality, weaving and merging with other threads in complex braids. It reminds me of the concepts put forth in the writings of Carlos Castaneda. This is the kind of stuff I like in a good scifi story, conceptual physics based on the boundaries of modern science, a human element usually emphasizing the drive for survival both of the self and of humanity in general against incredible odds, and a glimpse of 'alien' societies and civilizations flung throughout the galaxies.
TomVeal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you like far futures and are dissatisfied with looking only a few billion years forward, City at the End of Time may satisfy your craving for temporal immensity. The domain of the Kalpa exists 100,000,000,000,000 years from now, give or take a trillion or two. It is "at the end of time" in a literal sense: Time and space are being steadily obliterated by the forces of blind chaos. The Kalpa may be all that is left of cosmic order, though there are hopes that a second city, cut off from communication long ago, yet endures. Teams of explorers regularly set out for it, traveling into the realm of chaos. None has ever been heard from again.Complementing the adventures of a pair of these explorers is a story set in our own time, involving three youngsters with odd talents for avoiding trouble and a peculiar lack of roots, who are wooed and pursued by combatants in an ancient struggle that is not unrelated to the travails of mankind's vastly distant descendants. The plot threads merge in the final third of the novel, as the destruction of time spreads backward from the end of the universe to its beginning.The underlying scientific rationale appears to be an Ultra-Strong Anthropic Principle: The existence of the universe is dependent upon the existence of observers. In the book's concrete terms, the written word makes the world coherent, and its corruption (you thought typographical errors were mere mistakes?) brings on chaos. It's wonderful to have a new excuse for buying books!City at the End of Time has other virtues, too. Its future is right up to date and suitably bizarre. Virtual reality mingles with "primordial matter" (the stuff you and I are composed of), and there is a sense of the vastness of history, along with the inevitable ignorance that distance brings. When the Kalpa set out to recreate the "primordial" human race, their research leads them quite a bit astray.For those who like such bonbons, the author works in literary and pop-cultural allusions, most of which I probably missed. It was only by the happenstance of having recently seen Les enfants du Paradis that I noticed the homage to that famous French film in an early chapter.On the less admirable side, the mysterious devices that enable the 21st Century characters to jump between timelines have an arbitrary feel. The plot needs them, but it isn't clear why the universe does.This novel is a large, ambitious undertaking, maybe too much so. The scale is so far beyond human comprehension that its effect diminishes, just as staring into the Sun is blinding rather than dazzling. Nonetheless, the structure is impressive, and the tale moves convincingly from modest beginnings through and beyond the last syllable of recorded time.
rondoctor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like Greg Bear's books and had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, the book reads as if Bear wrote it while in the grip of psychedelic fantasies. The story is complex and weaves in and out of time and place. It seems to begin in the middle and I had to read 50 to 100 pages before I grasped the story line and managed to keep the characters straight. The book is a challenging read, but could have been much better. It seems to be excessively repetitive. A good editor would have cut it by a third.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is an intellectual puzzle, driven by the playing out of ideas rather than the coherent or plausible choices of the characters. It's a challenge that has to face any author working at the far end of the future, on the other side of one or more Singularities -- make the characters too human, and the wonder of the setting collapses; it's just now, a whole lot later -- on the other hand, make the characters and setting too culturally different, and the exposition clogs any chance of readers identifying with the protagonists. The City at the End of Time splits the difference, with some unusual characters in the present, and very different beings in the far future. Overall, though, I found it hard to connect with the current characters -- I wished them well, but couldn't feel much for them -- and found the plot, particularly in its second half, overwhelmed with deus ex machinas. I found myself reading to see how all the pieces fit together, but not with a sense that it really mattered. Bear does play with big ideas in this story: the relationship between consciousness and time; whether humans can have fate or free will in a world of almost-godlike post-humans. The book picks up strains from post-modernism and modern physics (can meaning exist in the absence of an observer?; what happens if people simultaneously recall mutually exclusive pasts?), and mashes them up with cosmological images from various world religions. It hasn't exactly been done before, but it read like a hard science amalgam of Tad William's Otherworld and the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. The most interesting idea in the book, revealed relatively late in the plot, is a speculation on the origin of sin - a genuinely creative response to the problem of evil that draws its inspiration from modern physics.
guy-montag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Greg Bear has his moments, but this book isn't one of them. Strange, weird, and interesting, the future in the City at the End of Time is unlike anything else out there, save some touches of Michael Moorcock's Elric the Eternal Champion series. Can't quite hold the readers attention like his novel Blood Music did sadly.
kd9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are many science fiction books that deal with the end of the universe or the end of time. Most of them choose protagonists that the reader can identify with as they witness actions that can hardly be described, much less comprehended. Unfortunately Greg Bear has tried to write a meta-novel; blank characters that stand in for universal archetypes. They move, but hardly think. They act, but have no motivations. They speak, but seem empty. The book ends, but has no conclusion.I have liked many of Greg Bear's earlier works, but I have to admit that I almost didn't bother to finish this one. I read four other mystery novels while struggling to complete this one. There are several scenes that are quite memorable, from description of the City at the End of Time to the deaths of several Collectors who look for people who can shift fate itself, but none of the characters even attempt to carry the story, but let it unfold around them like a mime show. I also dislike books that have no firm ending. At least the author could try to explain what this might mean rather than attempting to have more than one ending and hinting at all possible other endings. in keeping with the mood of the book, all I can say is imagine that you just read a really great story, but don't read this book as there is no story here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm going to start reading this, maybe in a few days. Is this worth my time?
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