The protagonist of The Lord of the Sands of Time is Orville, also known as Messenger O, an AI created by humans in the twenty-sixth century with a group of AIs tasked with protecting humanity from aliens bent on destroying us. It is sixty-two years after Earth’s annihilation, and Messenger O, like the other AI Messengers created with him, have the assignment of going into the past and uniting humanity so that it may defeat the alien invasion and attack before it even begins. Thus begins an epic amount of frog-hopping through Earth’s history, by the Messengers and the invading ETs.
The narrator shifts, in alternate chapters, between Miyo, who in A.D. 248 is the queen of Yamatai, and Messenger O. Because Orville is moving across both time and realities as he fights the ETs, it’s only possible to tell where we are in his personal history by the chapter’s label of “stage” number. At his creation, it is Stage 001. In the chapters where we have Miyo’s point of view, it is Stage 448.
This way to mark Orville’s personal time reminded me of Catch-22, where you only know where you are in the narrative, relative to other events, based on how many missions Yossarin has flown. Thank goodness Ogawa kept his non-linear narrative more clearly sectioned and labeled than Heller did. I liked being able to just glance at the top of the page to check the chapter’s stage and date information.
For Messenger O, it is a hundred thousand years and four hundred timestreams after, and nearly three thousand years before his creation, when the narrative opens. Here we meet Miyo, Queen of Yamatai. Miyo is the only POV we get aside from Orville’s, and it becomes increasingly clear why she is central to a narrative that spans so much time. I’d also like to say that Miya kicks butt. She’s tough as nails and rises to the occasion admirably, and holds her own as the “other” narration to Orville’s story.
I very much enjoyed The Lord of the Sands of Time. Ogawa utilizes every word to create a rich reality and examine the human condition. It is a tightly paced narrative, action-packed. It is also touching, and I was greatly moved by Orville’s experiences as we follow him across this great swath of humanity. Science fiction has a long history of using artificial life, androids, cyborgs, robots, etc., to examine what it means to be human, to belong to the collective we call humanity, and Ogawa is an excellent addition to this tradition.
As an aside: now I’m wishing I’d finished this before I started this month-long meme: I definitely would have listed this as the book I wish more people had read.