There’s a paradox at work here! Usually the first book in a series provides a hook for the reader to progress onto subsequent installations. When the author, Doug Molitor, contacted me about reading Memoirs of a Time Traveler he mentioned that mechanics of time travel as well as its logic is explored in the second book. So I was already hooked on it!
Further, climate change features in Books 2 and 3 enough to make it infuriating for the idiots (my word) who think that climate change is a hoax. Having carried out post-doc research on sea level rise I’m quite certain that climate change is real, so I feel I’m well set up!
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Memoirs of a Time Traveler is the first book in the Time Amazon series by Doug Molitor. Confessions of a Time Traveler (Time Amazon Book 2) and Revelations of a Time Traveler (Time Amazon Book 3) have already been released, and Chronicles of a Time Traveler (Time Amazon Book 4) is a work in progress.
A girl on the front cover makes me think there’s a female lead character. As a father of two daughters who already at the ages of 6 and 8 face a certain level of prejudice at this early age, I was pleased with the prospect!
It turns out that the blond, leggy and busty beauty on the front cover is the second of two main characters – certainly not ‘the’ indefinite time traveler of the book title. A marketing gimmick, maybe. Sex sells.
The main character is David Preston, an archaeologist who describes himself as someone who “crouches in the sand looking for broken dishware”. In some ways this already makes him a time traveler of sorts, traveling through historical epochs as he rummages through soil strata.
It isn’t too long until David meets our busty blond, Ariyl. Ariyl is from the future and is an interesting mix of a source of knowledge from a futuristic view of the past (David’s present) and ignorance which arises because knowledge can be simply looked up thanks to nano technology.
It’s a brilliant extrapolation of today where many of us are guilty of being ignorant because why bother knowing stuff when it can be googled? And do we blindly trust the sat-nav, or do we have a geographical idea of where we are?
David is accutely aware of Ariyl’s physical features, perhaps too much so given that he’s engaged (to someone else). I don’t think it’s a spoiler to suggest that it’s no surprise who the subjects are of the romantic comdey side of this “romantic comedy meets sci-fi” novel.
Memoirs of a Time Traveler is a novel of 3 halves. The first half is how David and Ariyl meet. This develops into why and how they need each other – which morphs into the second half where together they time travel through various parts of history meeting and interacting with key figures at key moments.
I’m usually sceptical of romps through the ages because it is usually evident that these are not much more than a playground for an author to arse about with historical figures / events and / or alternate histories (aka real-life fan-fiction). Take Time’s Eye (Baxter and Clarke) for instance, which geographically meshed different epochs together. Brilliant idea, but it ground down to historical figures meeting futuristic ones and nothing much happening. A huge let down.
Anyway. Memoirs of a Time Traveler does this is a much more elegant way thanks to the largely unseen third character, Ludlo. Spoiler prevention etiquette disallows elaboration, but I’m happy to say that the technique that Doug Molitor uses with Ludlo puts faith back into time travel through the ages!
The last half is the part I didn’t read – from about page 200 of 269.
Just before this part of the novel David and Ariyl find themselves in a Nazi-run alternate time line. Nazis…certainly a well-trodden road in this genre. Then the duo are present around the American Declaration of Independence. My historical knowledge is poor, and my interest in it is even weaker. Perhaps this also feeds into my dislike of alternative history where it is likely that I miss any nuance and literally can’t separate fact from fiction.
David is exasperated at Ariyl’s lack of historical knowledge (and therefore mine) which comes on top of his treating her badly. He shows arrogance by assuming that his present is best (or is it more of a self-preservation thing?). I found it difficult to empathise with David and became really frustrated reading from his viewpoint; I ended up skim reading.
Skim reading is rarely useful – flitting through paragraphs here and there hoping to tease out a story line or thread or character development from text where until now it had been dissipating through personal disinterest. The duo seemed to be going on a wild goose chase through the ages using Ludlo as an excuse, or at least, a historical justification. Of course, this didn’t get any better with my skim reading and naturally at some point I’d completely lost the plot (which to be honest, I get told a lot…)
To clarify here though – although the device was lost on me, I think Ludlo’s role as the underlying motivation for time travel works very well – it was just lost on me!
Another paradox. How can my mere words describe the truly excellent writing style? It would be like trying to use shades of grey to describe colour.
Or gray to describe color, if you prefer.
It’s brilliant! Doug Molitor writes in a conversational easy first person style where I feel that he’s writing to me and not to an unknown reader. It’s got a professional feel, for example, by bringing up character traits first which then come into play later. It feels realistic, rather than “Oh crap, how am I going to get out of this mess I’ve just written myself into? I know, I’ll write in a positive character attribute.”
Some of the good writing is readily obvious, by explaining the strength of a volcanoe foreshock by comparing it with Krakatoa which in turn is compared to a 300 megaton hydrogen bomb, for example. Other times it’s more subtle. Here’s a line I liked:
“Sure, make yourself at home,” said Sven, setting his tea kettle atop my stove burner.”
Actually, talking of Sven, he gets some nice personal details which fill out his realism – he speaks with a Swedish accent only when he’s on the phone. There’s no need for this detail in terms of plot / story line, but it’s realistic – and I say this as an expat! 😉
At least once I was caught out by Americanisms. For example, a date was given as “10-6-13” which I took to be 10th June. Later it turned out to be 6th October. A small point, but this happens in Hollywood too where extra terrestrials and animals speak English – and with an American accent! 😉
I should say that the novel doesn’t read as a “memoir” as perhaps might be expected given the title, but it is clearly written from David’s perspective. Humourous thoughts are injected into the writing which provide an insight into his character, and I really enjoyed reading how he gave adjective nick names to otherwise un-named characters. It was a disappointment that Ariyl started doing this later too – I think this was less of her development and emulation of David that it was of a general writing technique.
I did note that at times the focus seemed to swap with a little disjointedness. One moment there are hands on breasts and bums and thoughts of absent fiancees, then suddenly we’re talking about why the time crystal zooms back home if it’s separated from the wearer (which incidentally I thought was a strange idea, then I changed my mind and thought it was a good safety net against it getting stolen or sold into wrong hands!).
There’s (physical) romance and time travel, and there’s more!
Specifically, Ariyl tells David about how things are in the future where she comes from. He digests this information, and narrates it back to us. The picture of the future Ariyl paints sounds fascinating and I’d love to read more; I’m not sure if it features in the following novels in the series.
As for David himself, he’s irritating! In some some ways he’s similar to the arsey
Time Traveler main character in Baxter’s The Time Ships – both characters are arrogant, treat others with disrespect and hold the blinkered view that things in their own time and place are better than other places at other times.
As a marine scientist I noted Davids first reaction to hearing that in the future energy is derived from the sea. He immediately assumes hydrogen fusion – where the sea is a source of fuel rather than a store of solar energy (in wind waves / ocean thermal energy conversion) or tidal, which is where our modern (though as yet under developed and non-converged) technologies currently stand.
“N-tec” plays such a key role that I’m giving it it’s own sub-heading!
N-tec is nanotechnology, and it does and solves everything. It’s integration into every aspect of life (and body) is so deep that in some ways the separation of reality and augmented is difficult to differentiate. I found it a fascinating view of the future, and reminded me of Nathan Van Coops’ augmented reality in The Chronothon.
I’m deliberately keeping the description of N-tec vague because it’s better if you hear it direct from Ariyl; Ariyl’s description of N-tec is from the point of view of a user without real understanding. If I can quote:
“Yeah, like I listened to the lecture!” she snorted….. “Who cares, it gets me around.”
Thankfully David is educated, has talked (or listened) to people with understanding so it’s an interesting and semi interactive read about the future-society and its dependence on N-tec.
We also get a glimpse into the negative sides of the future through Ariyl’s friend Ludlo. He refers to N-tec not as “Big Brother” but as a “digital nanny”. Class!
Time travel mechanics
Admittedly I’m a bit embarrassed about this. The time travel mechanics are only briefly mentioned – something about creating and spinning through wormholes, time crystals and probability waves. Or something. This is important – my vagueness is not out of disinterest, but I’m acutely aware that my description of it here is probably startlingly close to Ariyl’s description of it – and she was disinterested in it! However, in my case I admit that I was wrapped up in the writing and read on without stopping to take notes. And being a pesky ebook it’s not exactly easy to go back and find out where it was that I read it!
So having acted like Ariyl, I share David’s frustration. Maybe yours too – so we’ll all need to be reading books 2 and 3 to find out more!
As with many time travel novels, the reader suffers from foreknowledge. We know that time travel has occurred, but the main character may take a while to figure it out. It’s painfully true here – David is particularly slow at understanding what’s going on – although through his thought process he does craft some interestingly justifiable alternatives.
But even after time travelling and having it explained to him (by Ariyl) he’s still slow; slower even than his elderly and forgetful neighbour (Sven) without “full-blown alzheimers” symptoms.
N-tec solves a lot of time travel conundrums. For example, it helps to avoid paradoxes; if an action will cause a problem then N-tec will yank the traveler back. The corollary is that if you’re not being pulled back to your original time then what you’re doing must be OK.
N-tec also provides other built in safeguards. Saying “Previous trip” into the time crystal immediately takes the traveler back (or forward) to the same previous location – but with a few hours difference so that you can’t visit yourself. The dangers arising from a self visitation aren’t explored, but they’re avoided!
Sometimes I wondered whether the N-tec solution to everything was too easy. So did David. At one point Ariyl’s time line is destroyed but she still exists. One might expect the Grandfather Paradox to kick in here; with no history – let alone a family tree – how can she exist now in the present? Ariyl’s response – “I don’t know!”
Sometimes, honesty is the best policy!
I had the feeling that the time travel component is well thought out. Why doesn’t N-tec yank back a traveler who’s making changes just by breathing air? Because time has inertia. Schrodingers cat having a double existence of being both alive and dead is used to explain the creation of alternate universes. (I didn’t really agree, but parallel universes is my own personal gripe!)
Some other things seemed under-explained or a little stretched. For example, the time crystal itself seemed powerless at one stage then suddenly it worked again. I assumed it gained its energy from solar radiation because it was lying in the sun, but whether I was supposed to infer this or whether I was just filling in my own holes I’m not sure. Perhaps it will be clearer in following books.
And in an alternate existence Sven has no wife, kids or grand children, but he’s living in the same flat. I don’t think this is very likely, but still, this kind of thing makes its way into several novels (and even more movies) so Memoirs of a Time Traveler is not exactly on its own here!
Final thoughts and rating * * * *
Memoirs of a Time Traveler by Doug Molitor is a refreshing read; extremely well written and punctuated with humour as well as a few philosophical points.
I’m giving Memoirs of a Time Traveler a tentative 4 stars. I really enjoyed reading Memoirs of a Time Traveler, in particular its take on the future and how Ariyl describes it. Time travel is well thought out and deployed, and I’d expect that the details regarding its methodology in subsequent novels will be brilliant!
I’m sure that the latter part of the novel will hold much enjoyment for those interested in (alternate) history but I can’t comment further as I don’t fall into this category!
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