Angelica’s Time Machine (Julian Bradbrook)
First an apology
I should start this review with a huge apology to author Julian Bradbrook who sent his review request for Angelica’s Time Machine way back in November and somehow I missed it. I know time to time travel fans is like rising sea levels to climate change deniers (it’s there in all its glory but counted as irrelevant) but in this case 3 months really is ridiculous. My deepest apologies Julian.
Author Julian Bradbrook is an author not only of fiction, but also of several non-fiction books in subjects ranging from card games, farming, sports and economics. Angelica’s Time Machine is Julian’s first journey into the realm of time travel.
Angelica’s Time Machine is a very difficult novel to review because on a personal level I didn’t get on with it, and on an objective level I don’t know who it’s aimed at.
There’s time travel (of course!) with ideas which generate some thought, but it’s wrapped up in a writing style that seems to be geared towards younger readers – certainly younger than “young adults”. But that said, the length of the novel – or indeed the amount of description a certain topic might consume over a few chapters I’d have thought would be too much for pre-teens.
I’d hazard a guess that Angelica’s Time Machine could best be categorised as a novelised bed time story that had been told over several nights.
The key events (for me) that occur within the novel are that Angelica invents a time machine using components from her Dad’s workshop. She uses it to go back in time by a few hours, then 2 years ago to Paris, then to Paris again with her friend Kate. This is followed up with a 20 minute jaunt in second century Rome. There’s a final time travel twist which comes into play at the end.
Other readers may find that what for me were fillers, to be the main interest; the relationship between a couple of best-friend-forever teenage girls, designing clothing to be worn when going to Rome, or even purchasing the fabrics for it.
Let’s get this out of the way.
In the form I received it, Angelica’s Time Machine needs some heavy editing. This would remove the occasional typo, the spelling ‘errors’ (e.g. “Two hindered minutes”) or grammatical errors (e.g. “…which including stopping for a drink…”).
These are small points and they shouldn’t matter, but somehow I found that they distracted me from what was going on.
I’d imagine that an edit would also spot and remove inconsistencies (e.g. a trip back to Paris was both two years ago and one year ago), or smooth things over a bit.
For example, there’s a nice idea that Angelica plans to give her grandfather some coins for his birthday, and we’re lead to believe that this will be quite some time away. But then it’s mentioned in passing that she gave him the coins just a few days after making this plan.
I found it jarring because the plan, the look into the future, the perfect gift which could be waited for, was just freely doled out too soon like a mother-in-law buying affection with sweets.
I had the feeling that an edit would have helped polish off the language a little too. Things “suddenly begin to…”, for example, or people all do things. I’m not a grammatical type, so I had to look this up. Julian uses a lot of “past perfect tense” instead of “simple past”. This means there’s a lot of “had said”, “would have had” etc. and at times it made me feel distanced from what was going on. It would probably sit well with younger readers though.
“Angelica and Kate had been kinda friends.”
I found the writing style to be an easy and comfortable narration. I like the way that it flits from the present to the past and then back to the present again. However, this was only in the introduction. On the whole, Angelica’s Time Machine reads like a grampa talking to his 6 year old grandchild about someone back in their family tree.
Note that I’m wrapping the plot under the “writing style” header – chiefly because there isn’t a strong story line – and I think this is due to the style of writing.
Even halfway through novel I still didn’t know what the story line was. Three chapters are devoted to making clothes. Pages and pages are devoted to inane conversation between Angelica and Kate which for me covered up any real action. Perhaps this was the intention; that the focus of the novel is more on Angelica’s relations and less about what she actually does.
I did have a smile at the teenage logic; after their first trip back in time to Paris, Angelica and Kate couldn’t concentrate at school, so they decide to solve this by going on another journey back in time! And this time, somewhen safe – early second century Rome!
Still, if the novel is about relationships I need to mention the odd relationship that Angelica has with her parents. We’re lead to believe that the relationship between them is strong, but she calls them by their first name. Admittedly this is a personal thing, but it makes me cringe.
One thing which I really liked was how she looked to her Dad (or “Tony”) when it came to current state of the art technology and where it was heading, whereas on the flip side she turned to her grandfather to get a historical perspective.
In a way this is cliché; Dads always like gadgets and elderly folk like to harp on about times past. But I liked how Angelica sat in the middle of it! 🙂
Time travel component
The novel begins by jumping straight into the subject of time travel. Angelica’s school teacher makes the comment that time travel is impossible because:
“…noone has ever offered any evidence it isn’t impossible.”
Usually the opposite is quoted to say that time travel is possible so this already sets up the mental question What is true? as well as providing empathy with Angelica who we quickly learn has already made her time machine.
During the invention of her time machine, Angelica receives messages from herself. I thought that this was going to be the start of an ontological paradox (there’s no creation of information) but it turns out that these messages are mostly warnings about certain actions (“Don’t tell
Dad Tony what you’re doing”) or words of encouragement.
By not sending instructions back in time the paradox was removed, but it also shows us that Angelica was more processed based when it comes to time travel – “How do we get to time travel?”, rather than “I want to time travel”.
At this stage, Angelica also reasons that she shouldn’t send instructions back in time because otherwise she would have already had received them. Indeed, the opposite is also true – she sends words of encouragement back to herself because she knows that she’s read them.
One strange point regarding messages is that she received one informing herself that she should keep the whole time travel enterprise thing secret from her dad. The point was dwelt on a lot and how Angelica found this a difficult but necessary thing to do. We never find out why.
Angelica is careful to make sure that phones, for example, aren’t brought back in time to Rome where locals would notice things that don’t belong to that time period. OK, maybe phones are obvious, but Angelica also thinks of avoiding things which have been created in mass assembly lines, or things which display text from other countries.
John Wyndham calls these things in his novel The Seeds of Time “Chronoclasms”. Other authors call them “anachronisms”.
As in many other time travel novels and short movies, Angelica seems to have developed an innate fear of meeting a future / past version of herself. This has always seemed strange to me, especially because the fear seems to be dependent on whether one or both of the parties are awake and / or in each others’ presence.
I’d like to have seen some more attention spent on the idea that times may pass at different rates at different times (or places). It wasn’t clear whether this actually happened, or whether it was just a teenager’s perception of the passage of time during a moment of excitement.
Angelica’s ripple theory
Angelica develops a “ripple theory” which I’ve read before in Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates”) but I like how it’s been explained here. In effect, it’s the opposite of the butterfly effect where a small event such as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can grow chaotically into a hurricane.
In the ripple theory, a large event (like throwing a stone into water) creates large effects (waves) which are watered down into small final effects (ripples) with the passage of time.
(Tim Powers used turbulence in the river of time to wash away the effects of a large event.)
I’ve never been a fan of additional time lines at decision points, and Angelica thinks her ripple theory gets around it.
Time travel methodology
Time travel mechanism
Whilst Angelica’s time machine is not completely black box, it’s
an infuriatingly very dark shade of grey.
It starts out as an ATM (“Automated Teller Machine”, later “Angelica’s Time Machine”) with a quantum processor which can be programmed. The general time travel mechanism is that the time line can be folded so that one point touches another enabling travel. This is realised through the code for the quantum processor which shows ‘folding’.
To my mind this seems illogical. As I understand it, quantum theory is related to possibilities or multiples of alternative states (or time lines in the world(s) of time travel) (“Principle of superposition“). Folding has nothing to do with it, so “quantum” seems to be used as more of a buzzword than anything else.
Time travel implementation
Implementation is shady:
1. Angelica has an idea (like projecting things not just messages back in time);
2. She decides tonight is going to be the night;
3. She programs it in;
4. It works.
There’s no clarity on whats being done to the time machine, or within the code, other than to say she’s busy “doing the math” to calculate the power needed for a certain size of field or amount of time transported back. Other times she’s simply typing in latitude and longitude coordinates and a year.
My personal feeling is that the description of the time machine falls uncomfortably between “don’t need to know” and “want to know more”.
Time travel features
Aside from the time travel mechanics, the feature I liked best about the time machine is that Angelica built in an auto-return feature. Presumably this was to avoid getting stuck in the past (and thankfully avoiding the associated cheesy plot of trying to get back). It was described as like being attached to an elastic band, or a moving car free-wheeling up a hill until it runs out of energy, stopping and returning to the bottom.
Initially I had a sense that time travellers needed to be at their arrival location in order to be auto-returned; thankfully this wasn’t the case. (Otherwise it would have lead to the cheesy stuck-back-in-time plot.)
I’ve often wondered what it would be like inside a time machine. Certainly, there’s a lot of variation in machines when we travel spatially – in comfort – for example. Travelling in Angelica’s time machine one is subjected to bright lights. Sounds science-y enough for a school child, but this is a minor point – I was interested to read that the duration of the time travel journey itself took longer the further back in history the time travellers went.
By comparison with travelling in a car or train spatially, this makes sense. But I’m not sure if this would hold for either a quantum-based superposition of time, or indeed, a folded time line. In the case of the latter, a longer journey into the past would mean a longer loop within a time line fold, but not necessarily that the now adjacent points on the time line would be any further apart.
Now that I think about it some more, my attention is turned to the flexibility of the time line. The more flexible it is, the closer the adjacent points would lie to each other. Conversely, if time couldn’t be bent, then it would be more of a struggle to get these points to meet – unless they were separated by a large distance (time span) which makes things easier to bend or move (think of a crowbar).
An interesting point, maybe, but not explored in the novel.
This would have been an easy novel to serialise (e.g. by having Angelica take several trips back in time), but instead things come to a close.
Mind you, nothing really gets tied up at the end; I don’t believe the happy ever after (I don’t think that’s a spoiler) because in the melodrama that’s Angelica’s life, I’m sure that Angelica will sneeze and have the worst cold ever, and there’ll be a chapter or two devoted to that then she’ll get better thanks to Kate and change the world.
We never do find out why Angelica needed to keep her time travel adventures secret from her parents, and without a sequel there’s no opportunity for an event (or dialogue) to explain this.
But there is something very interesting at the end, and that’s related to Angelica’s Granddad. This is a spoiler I won’t reveal (and is now a paradox because by not revealing it, it’s no longer a spoiler…).
Effectively though, Gramps blurts out the time travel story which should have been written instead of Angelica’s Time Machine. I think this would make an excellent pre / se-quel!
Aside from the editing, I didn’t get on well with Angelica’s Time Machine, though I wonder if this is because I’m not the intended audience.
That said, I’m stumped as to whom Angelica’s Time Machine would appeal. Older readers would want more meat, younger readers would get distracted with the detail. Scifi fans would like more real science instead of references to it, and non-scifi readers would probably draw blank faces at the mention of “quantum”, “time travel”, or even “computer”.
Perhaps I’m being overly negative here, and that rather than excluding many readers, Angelica’s Time Machine is actually more inclusive to several groups of readers.
On the time travel angle, I can’t help thinking that the wrong novel has been written; Granddad has a much more interesting time travel story to tell than Angelica.
Whilst not really touched on in the novel, reading it did make me think about the possibility of bending time and different rates of the passage of time in different places / times. In the end, a good novel makes the reader think, and Angelica’s Time Machine did that!
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