Partial Recall by Andrew McGill
This book is only available as a self-published e-book and can be downloaded free at:
The premise of the story is that a company has the technology to observe events in the past. According to the company, the ability to view the past is limited to events at least 2 years before the present and not more than 5 years in the past. Using the devices, an observer can only interact with the past in the sense of identifying a particular person or object and then having the device follow that person/object forward or backward through time. The company uses the technology to investigate what happened in the past in exchange for being paid large amounts of money by the people who want the info. (And being paid huge sums not made information available about what governments and companies did in the past.) Their clients are police investigating crimes, insurance companies investigating events associated with insurance claims, companies wanting help in industrial espionage, wealthy people seeking lost relatives, etc.
The story centers around Frank, a third-year student at the college associated with the company. As with other students there, Frank works at viewing the past for the Company.
Frank stumbles upon the fact he can actually view events back further than 5 years ago. He views his birth, Galileo dropping the balls from the Tower of Pisa, the JFK assassination, the battle of Marathon, etc. He decides to go back and see whether modern humans really developed from Cro-mags or Neanderthals. He has it show him time going backwards. When he gets back further than 2000 B.C. things get strange. He sees an ice age that lasts a couple hundred years. Further back he sees a mixture of modern animals and dinosaurs. When he gets back to 4003 B.C., it seems to have trouble going back further - then the computer reboots.
Then Frank views how the top three figures in the Company had actually acquired the technology by killing the true inventor and claiming it for themselves.
The idea of viewing the past as opposed to time travel has interesting aspects. Unfortunately, the book goes off in a different direction in the final section. The fact the system ran into trouble when Frank tried to go back further than 4003 B.C. was clearly a reference to the old calculation that the Bible says the world is only about 6000 years old. That could have been a cute one-time gag. But that's the whole theme of the final part of the book. I didn't find that a lengthy stretch indicating archaic Biblical literalism accurately describes the world (and all scientists are too close-minded to accept the evidence) was so entertaining. It was taken to the extent that I wondered whether the author was actually promoting the idea - which is disturbing. (Some readers will shrug this off saying, "It's only fiction." It is fiction, but it doesn’t mean a reader may not find it distasteful or offensive. For instance, if a book ended with WWII being won by what was portrayed as heroic Nazis.)
Viewing The Past And Science
The underlying concept is interesting. A technology that let's you view the past, but does not let you travel to or alter the past, nor does it let you see or visit the future. Whether or not this is actually possible, it avoids the paradoxes that are often considered in time travel stories or science discussions. Viewing the past does not have the potential of causing changes that would prevent your "present" from occurring. You can't get information from the future, act differently than you would have and cause the future you saw not to occur. And so forth.
The past has already happened. To one degree or another, evidence of what occurred in the past exists and therefore to one degree or another you can "view the past" without a hi-tech device (by accessing written and verbal accounts of what happened, physical evidence of what took place, etc.) Actually, the book's explanation of the past-viewing is a type of hi-tech collection of physical evidence (somewhat like advanced archeology or forensics). The story postulates there is a type of particle which communicates between protons, electrons and such at one moment in time and the corresponding particle at the previous moment in time. Somewhat like the particles that communicate the forces of nature between two different particles at the same moment, these "histrionic" particles connect a particle through time. By following the "histrionic particles" from moment to moment backward until one reaches the time one wishes to view, a picture is pieced together of the desired time. (I could point out some practical issues with this approach, but one can see the general logic if such "histrionics" existed.)