The Chronothon by Nathan Van Coops
The Chronothon is an exciting time travel novel brought to us by Nathan Van Coops.
Synopsis: Thrust into a deadly race across the ages, Ben becomes an unwilling pawn in the machinations of forces seeking to destroy parallel universes. Time travelers, a dog, an alien and an organism gun (yes, that’s spelled correctly…) play intelligently thought out roles in a chronothon – a race in which Ben and other time travelers race to different periods in history, in the future and on other worlds to collect “objectives” and go on to the next level.
As the chronothon progresses it becomes clear that winning the race itself is not the ultimate goal.
The Chronothon: a deadly race across time that sets your own heart racing!
The Chronothon is the second novel in a series of three written by Nathan Van Coops.
Each has been written so that it can be read independently from the others. Having not read the first (silly me…) I can safely confirm this claim is valid! (Actually there’s a glossary at the back of The Chronothon to help ‘dive in’ readers such as myself with names of organisations and instrumentation nomenclature that were presumably introduced in the first book (In Times Like These). It’s interesting to read through, but I don’t think it’s necessary).
As you’d expect in any novel which isn’t the first in a series, there are references to important events which I guess were in the previous book. They made me feel as though I had missed out on something; like coming into a conversation half way through and being brought up to date but without actually sharing and experiencing that ‘history’.
Whilst not key to The Chronothon my personal curiosity drives me to want to know more about these events in the past!
The Chronothon gets straight into things though, with no huge long-winded introduction and pages and pages of scene setting. Perhaps this was done in Book 1, but I was pleased to start reading juicy stuff from the outset. Given that we’re talking about a page count of nearly 500 pages, be assured that these pages are full of relevant writing and not tap-happy typing!
The writing style is fluent and Nathan writes with an excellent eye for detail and consistency. Characters have depth and are well developed, and there are many insightful details on societal and cultural aspects. It’s brilliantly written, with a splash of humour.
The plot revolves around Ben who moves from one chronothon level to another, collecting objectives before moving to the next level. It would have been relatively easy to create a new chapter for each level with each chapter being a story more or less in in its own right and connected to others, perhaps like Flight of the Horse by Larry Niven…but it would have been an incredibly tedious read.
Instead I was really pleased that the novel reads fluently with chapter breaks coming at natural points in the novel, and not at each level of the chronothon race; it puts emphasis not on the race itself but on Ben and on what and who he’s dealing with, and why.
The chronothon is of course a key element of the novel, and is ultimately responsible for Ben’s travels through time which take him to geographically different places too. In this way one might confuse the chronothon with a regular race in the spatial dimension, although frequent musings from Ben bring the reader ‘back’ to temporal thinking. For example, Ben notes that he can’t leave litter for 4,000 years, or questions the paradoxes of live streaming through linear time.
Ben’s travels to periods into the past call on Nathan’s extensive research into those eras and events. It adds to the fullness of the plot and inspires a sense of realism. Equally, journeys into the future see Ben and his competitors / companions enter into times, worlds and cultures vastly different from their (our) own…and yet thanks to an incredible imagination Nathan has crafted a credible and full future with both an exciting and an ominous outlook with social and scientific ideas.
Walking (or jumping, or running and screaming…) through one time gate to another reminded me of a British children’s program from the seventies called (funnily enough…) Mr Ben. In each episode Mr Ben frequented a fancy dress shop where he tried on a costume in a dressing room in which he found a door which would lead to a different time and place commensurate with his outfit and where he would have an adventure before coming back to the dressing room, often with an object which reminded him of his travels.
The Chronothon is written in the first person through Ben’s eyes. Unlike many characters in first person novels, I really like Ben! He’s intelligent, dextrous, polite (e.g. he feels he should say “please” to a computer) and full of integrity. Ben injects a level of humour into the novel, but not in a distracting way.
I was impressed with Ben’s inquisitiveness. He stops to learn how a chronometer works, or to study the workings of a Roman aqueduct, for example. But he possess his own intellect too and is able to use time travel ‘tricks’ to help him and others, impressing even his experienced race guide. I’m not sure whether I should ascribe these imaginative uses of time travel to Ben or to Nathan!
Ben’s social skills allow him to bond easily with other competitors and characters within levels. His conversations with them, and what he discovers through his curiosity is a natural way to communicate setting details, background, or information about other characters to the reader.
Supporting characters are of course mostly seen through Ben’s eyes. They’re a well mixed group of people mostly from the future with different cultures and backgrounds, and also an alien with an inborn ability to time travel. Actually the alien had an elegant solution to preserve love between a couple at the right times – it seemed like a sideline whilst reading, but it comes back. And I should say here that I think this is typical of most things in The Chronothon – that Nathan leaves no loose ends!
This could be a romance with heavy complications, an action novel, or a science fiction / time travel novel.
The love component doesn’t dominate the story line is not handled in a cheesy or crassy way. There’s no love at first sight, no predictable arguments and make-ups, and no gratuitous sex scenes. The romance is simple, and gently weaves its way through the other story lines.
I don’t usually read ‘action novels’ so for me The Chronothon might be considered as a gentle introduction to the genre. And it’s good! As I mentioned in my review of Bonnie Rozanski’s The Mindtraveler it’s all very well and good doing a spot of time travel, but once you’re in a different time you may as well do something once you’re there and meet different people – even if they are trying to eat you…
Personally, I see The Chronothon as a science fiction / time travel novel. Whether this is really true, or if it’s because of the brilliance in how the time travel element has been integrated, or the clarity of a future time, I can’t say!
That said, the closing chapters of the novel introduce many new ideas, and bring together other ideas which have circulated in the novel. This brings a satisfying sense of completeness – the novel isn’t simply a race through time, but also something greater and encompassing.
Time travel element
It is the time travel aspect in particular which really strikes me as pure excellence and sets The Chronothon apart from many other time travel novels – it has without doubt one of the best and most self consistent systems of time travel I’ve seen in time travel fiction.
Nathan has masterfully created a universe with scientifically viable time travel and never lets go of his sight of the rules of time travel which he’s developed. There’s a history (and future) behind the development of time travel, with variations and derivations, and of its methodology as well as its use and misuse.
Method of time travel
The method of time travel is beautiful. An object is infused with gravitites – particles which “…displace matter from the flow of time by creating anchor based wormholes.” To travel in time, the traveler touches an anchor in one time and uses a chronometer to activate the gravitites (note that a “chronometer” isn’t a jumped up word for an expensive watch but a time machine!). That person then arrives at the same location of the anchor but in a time as preset on the chronometer.
The use of the anchor means that the time traveler remains fixed to the Earth as it courses through space – an aspect of time travel which is often over-looked. It also means that the time traveler can travel in the spatial dimension if the location of the anchor changes whilst the time traveler is traveling.
Development of the chronometer
The instrumentation behind time travel has developed in time – even time progresses in the timeless world of time travel!
The first chronometers were “analogue” – relatively simple devices as compared to the later digital “temprovibes” which lock into a grid system which tracks time travelers and ensures that they don’t fuse with other time travelers (including themselves) or end up in the “neverwhere” – a space outside time if a time traveler isn’t anchored properly during transit.
Analogue time travelers keep logbooks to mark their times and locations to avoid the above problems.
Time travel ‘trinkets’
The Chronothon has a myriad of wonderful time travel ‘trinkets’ – plays with time travel. Funerals for time travelers, time streams, legal issues (self love – a nod to “The Man Who Folded Himself“), naturally occurring gravitites (“gravitans”) and the moral issue this provokes (if time travel is natural, then is the founder of gravitites responsible for the multiple universes, split time streams and atrocities committed with time travel?).
There are philosophical ideas (how old is a time traveler?), time loops and ontological paradoxes – knowledge of presence in the future provides confidence of survival in the present…and another where this is turned in reverse; Ben sees himself in the future looking confident. When Ben gets there he doesn’t feel confident bit knows he needs to look it to tally with what he saw in the past.
This is a juicy, juicy time travel novel with many fascinating and thoughtfully played out applications of time travel!
The Chronothon by Nathan Van Coops is due to be released on 2 February 2015, and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
I’ve ordered the first in the series (“In Times Like These“) and eagerly await the final installment. Maybe I should set my chronometer so I won’t need to wait…
5* ! 🙂
The Chronothon: An incredible science fiction / time travel novel with a brilliant and consistent system of time travel
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Disclaimer: An Advance Reader Copy of “The Chronothon” was sent to me free of charge so that I could read and write my honest thoughts and opinions. These are they!
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