…Before You Leap (Les Lynam)
…Before you Leap by Les Lynam is the first book in the Time Will Tell series for young adults.
This is a novel which has a huge array of futuristic ideas enveloped within it!
One of its strongest points is how futuristic technology is put in juxtaposition with that of 1995. At the same time, the importance of history – and knowledge of the future – is brought to the fore. The social interaction between the characters bring these elements into the light, and is presented in a writing style which is both sensitive and light-hearted!
16 year old Sean receives a visit from his great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Alex, who has come back in time to 1995 from the year 2217 for what is effectively a historical research study. To assist him with this, the “5G grandfather” wants to get to know Sean better and has his methods to do it. Alex also has plans to get further back into the past to 1969, specifically to meet Sean’s father. For this he requires a DNA sample to use as a “dimensional beacon”- something which Sean is able to help out with.
The novel centres on the relationship between Sean and Alex – complete with differences in their temporal-based cultures.
Prologue set in the future
The Prologue sets the scene from the view point of KLE1752-NI28-949-LX (or Alex as he becomes to be known in 1995). It’s 2216 and Alex is competing against 126 other applicants for a sponsorship from Chronos University grant to pursue his proposal.
In this future we’re introduced to the realisation of many technological advances.
For example, there’s a direct interface between Alex and a computer which seems to be able to control many things both externally and internally within Alex’s body. There’s a brilliant description of him sitting in a virtual auditorium and awaiting the results for the award of the scholarship; two ‘attendees’ log in from the Moon (so by now human-kind has made it off the planet) and Alex displays frustration that the bad connection means that their images flicker and cause distraction – he wishes they sat at the back.
We’re lead to believe that the society that Alex belongs to frowns upon emotion – certainly the expression of it – which reminded me of the Equilibrium movie (where feelings are suppressed with drugs because emotion can lead to violence and an unstable society). In …Before You Leap we’re not told the reasons why things have become like this, only that Alex’s father would disapprove of such kinds of behaviour.
His mother on the other hand is considered odd because she encourages the expression of emotion, and indeed at the end of the Prologue Alex displays happiness and excitement (in private) that he wins the scholarship. Thankfully in 2217, emotion’s not completely dead!
…Before You Leap adopts a young adult style of writing.
It’s written mostly from Sean’s point of view, though sometimes gives an insight into Alex’s thoughts and feelings too. Sean is 16 so I expect that his feelings, frustrations, hopes and ambitions will be mirrored by the target audience.
I did notice there were frequent descriptions of clothing, specifically of matching colours and cut lines and things. At the risk of sounding sexist (or at least, recalling my own sweet 16 years) – these are issues which boys usually don’t know about. Interest in what lies beneath, yes, but all the rest of it?
Sean’s reaction to some characters is melodramatic at times. He treats his parents badly and his mates are a couple of idiots as well. Sean makes a big deal about breaking off a relationship where he was used as a toy boy, but he goes on to ditch Alexis for her more attractive twin sister, Nicole, who on a conversational and intellectual level is for all intents and purposes identical.
Sean is slow at putting things together, although in his defence I picked this book based on genre, I’ve read the Prologue – and I’m not 16!
I didn’t particularly like Sean, a feeling amplified when he shows little patience with Alex. Certainly for the first few chapters I found it was my interest in Alexis which got the pages turned!
All that said, I can see teenagers lapping up this novel! Actually, despite my misgivings about Sean, so did I!
Getting the girl
If nothing else, …Before You Leap (especially the beginning) is yet another thing which reminds me I’m very lucky to be married to my wife! …Before You Leap is written very well – and I say this because it takes me right back to the prolonged agony in high school in trying to get the girl. Thankfully I don’t need to go through all the angst of getting the girl again!
Slowly does it?
My initial feelings with the initial chapters was that it’s a slow beginning. Having got to the end I think it would be fairer to call it ‘paced for the long haul’, recalling here that this is the first book in a series of three novels (“Saves Nine” and “In One Basket” being the following novels in the series.)
As the novel progresses into the second half the general plot shifts from Sean and the twins to Sean and Alex. The focus changes and things settle down.
Although time travel plays a critical role in …Before You Leap, it’s not the main subject – it’s the relationship between Sean and Alex brought about by their differences in temporal rooting. This didn’t hit me until I’d got to the end of the novel, so like Sean and his attempts to get the girl, it’s fair to say that in this respect I was slow!
Alex’s solution in getting to know Sean is clever but flawed (at first), and he comes up with a solution which had me at times vaguely concerned on behalf of young adults in case there was a following in the footsteps of Heinlein’s All you Zombies or The Man who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.
All that said, I didn’t expect the truth behind Alexis and Nicole which came as a complete surprise. (Nicole’s name, by the way, shows Les’ breadth of knowledge across many disciplines – details revealed in the novel!)
Juxtaposition of 1995 and 2217
One of the strengths of …Before You Leap is how the ideas and values that Sean has in 1995 are so different from Alex’s view with a base line in 2217. They have interesting conversations, each getting frustrated with the other for reasons and principles they either don’t fully understand, or disagree with.
For example, I fully sympathise with Sean’s boredom surrounding history, whereas Alex is much more aware after several good and bad events between 1995 and 2217 of the need to learn from past mistakes. (Although there’s been an equal amount of good and bad mistakes up to 1995 too…)
At times Alex reminded me of a likeable version of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory sitcom comedy. I think this was due to his logical and sometimes emotionless way of thinking and speaking, though to be fair, Sheldon has no social skills whereas Alex is fully integrated into his own societal norm. And crucially, Alex is keen to be on Sean’s good side.
Sean has a lot of difficulty in trying to break through this passionless barrier, and we read further that Sean finds Alex difficult in his misconception of 1995 lifestyles and values. Sometimes he imagines how things would be for him if he were to go back in time and suffer the need to get on with those around him who were less technologically capable than he, so I suppose in fairness he isn’t a completely unsympathetic moron.
On the other hand, despite his training, Alex found it a minefield to navigate through Sean’s thought processes and struggled to understand many of Sean’s irrational actions. Alex displays a much higher level of patience with Sean than I would have done!
Through Alex and his conversations with Sean we gain an insight into the future of 2217 – the year in which he completed his training and went back to 1995 to carry out historical research.
Nanites lead to ticks
One of the pieces of technology I really liked in …Before You Leap was microscopic programmable nanite robots which are inserted into the body during gestation. People could then use them for a multitude number of reasons ranging from body monitoring and drug administration, to accessing a main frame computer for near instant information.
This latter use tended to lead to a facial tick. So here I am, reading at my pleasure in the peace and quiet of a local wood. Totally immersed in the world that Les is painting in …Before You Leap, then come home to find out that I had a completely different kind of tick…one burying his head in my chest 🙁
(Now how many book reviewers would mention that?! 😉
Nanites were also used to disallow memories to be stored into long term memory. That feature might be handy here…
A different outlook
Personally, I find the lack of emotion in the future disturning. But there is a saving grace in the futuristic outlook – at least from Alex; a refusal to over-use technology.
This happens today – people drive 500 meters instead of walking, or splel bdaly thkans ot spl chcek and atuo corect. Similarly, Sean wants to use Alex’s access to holographic technology to reserve him a good spot in a car park. Alex suggests coming in 15 minutes earlier. Spot on!
And then of course there’s the time travel!
Elegant time travel methodology
Alex first describes the time travel methodology as moving or slipping through time as if it were a spatial dimension. This of course is similar to H. G. Wells’ famous description of it – but whereas Wells leaves it there, Alex describes it further in a dumbed down format to Sean; he compares a time machine to flying a jet engine where energy is required to provide enough thrust which can then use aerodynamics to combat gravity. Or if a person is freed from the gravitational constraints of the Earth then remaining stationary in space means a relative motion on Earth (so Coriolis force). (Actually this also applies to spatial relocation too, with the same analogy).
Similarly, given enough energy, a time traveler can be lifted out of the river of time and placed in another temporal location. Quite elegant!
Following the “time is like a river” theme, small changes get washed away whereas other disturbances affect things close by or further downstream if the disturbance is great enough. Whilst it’s not possible to change the flow rate of the river of time, it’s possible to change its direction creating another time line.
An interesting feature of the time travel method is the “DNA dimensional beacon”. Again, we don’t know exactly how this works, but it was developed by one of Sean’s descendants. By using DNA it’s possible to go further back in time than without the DNA. I find this a particularly interesting concept because it starts to cross into the biological time travel arena – an area which I think potentially holds a lot of promise for future time travel!
As the Prologue starts with Alex in 2216 prior to his training and his trip into history, the Epilogue concludes with Alex in 2217, after his trip to 1995.
Alex looks back over his experience and we share in his thoughts, augmented of course with his nanite connection to his home computer who lets up on an observation that it made some time ago. This observation in some ways calls into question the ethos of the futuristic society in which Alex lives.
On a personal level, I’m very pleased that the epilogue isn’t a padded out “buy the next book in the series” statement. Indeed, …Before You Leap is self-contained and concludes – but I should ‘warn’ you that the notes following the epilogue effectively crush some of the tension which has been building up by telling us what happens in Book 2 (“Saves Nine”) 🙁 When you get to the end of the novel, I’d urge you not to read the notes. Just have faith that Saves Nine will be as fantastic as the novel you’ve just read!
(So my only negative comment is actually not about the novel! 😉 )
Rating * * * * *
…Before you Leap by Les Lynam is a superb scifi novel with time travel and futuristic technology. Although aimed at young adults I think this novel has much to offer for us older types too! I’m giving this 5 stars because I really like how ideas and concepts from 2217 are brought and examined from a nineties viewpoint.
Stand by for reviews of the next books in the Time Will Tell series, …Saves Nine and …In One Basket, as well as an interview with Les Lynam. I’ll keep you posted!
Update: Here are the links! 🙂
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Disclaimer: Les kindly sent me a free copy of “…Before you Leap” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!
| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |