Great Work of Time

Great Work of Time

Illustration By John Coulthart
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All artwork and design by John Coulthart.

Great Work of Time first appeared in John Crowley’s 1989 collection, Novelty. It was immediately recognized as a major addition to the literature of time travel, and went on to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. More than thirty years after its initial publication, it remains as dazzling, dizzying and totally enthralling as ever.

Great Work of Time is a “chronicle” composed of several narrative threads. Among the characters who populate its various worlds and timelines are Caspar Last, an inventor who seeks his fortune in the distant past; Denys Winterset, a young, unformed civil servant willing to do his bit for the British Empire; and Cecil Rhodes, who dreamed of extending that empire into the distant future. Dominating the narrative are the machinations of The Otherhood, a group of British patriots who will use Caspar Last’s discoveries to correct—or at least mitigate—the many mistakes of history. Their story is one of noble intentions and unintended consequences played out on the grandest possible scale.

Overflowing with mind-bending paradoxes and distinguished throughout by its wholly original vision of time and human history, Great Work of Time is one of John Crowley’s most enduring achievements. With this definitive new edition, which features artwork by John Coulthart, two-color printing throughout, and an introduction by the author, Subterranean Press brings a modern classic to a new generation of readers. They will not be disappointed.

Lettered: 15 signed copies, bradel bound, housed in a custom traycase

Limited: 500 signed numbered hardcover copies

From the Introduction

It was a story about time travel, and would later comprise the first chapter of the novel Great Work of Time: the adventure of a man named Caspar Last going into the past to capture what would become the most valuable stamp in the world. That was the extent of it. I have no idea now how it came to be published in a magazine called Gallery, which was not a literary or art journal but what was then called a skin mag—many color pictures of naked women in various circumstances. The magazine’s benign name allowed me to send news of the publication to my mother, who replied with congratulations. By then I had conceived how to dovetail the Empire and that stamp by means of the fake theory I called “orthogonal logic”, whose workings take up a large part of Great Work of Time and accounts for the somewhat recusant plot structure.


From Great Work of Time



If what I am to set down is a chronicle, then it must differ from any other chronicle whatever, for it begins, not in one time or place, but everywhere at once—or perhaps everywhen is the better word. It might be begun at any point along the infinite, infinitely broken coastline of time.

It might even begin within the forest in the sea: huge trees like American redwoods, with their roots in the black benthos, and their leaves moving slowly in the blue currents overhead. There it might end as well.

It might begin in 1893—or in 1983. Yes: it might be as well to begin with Last, in an American sort of voice (for we are all Americans now, aren’t we?). Yes, Last shall be first: pale, fattish Caspar Last, on excursion in the springtime of 1983 to a far, far part of the Empire.


John Crowley
John Coulthart