Review: The Grandfather Paradox: A Time Travel Story (Steven Burgauer)

I was heavily impressed – and disappointed – with “The Grandfather Paradox” by Steven Burgauer. It has the makings of an absolutely cracking scifi novel, but somehow loses itself along the way.

The Grandfather Paradox - a time travel story by Steven Burgauer

Remember in one of the Superman movies where Superman grabs a lump of coal and crushes it with his bare hands to form a diamond? Call me fussy, but I can’t help noticing that when he opens his hand and out pops this diamond – metamorphically created by superhuman pressures – it’s perfectly cut. Surely this wouldn’t have happened! It would have been a rough diamond with all the potential of a sparkly engagement ring quality diamond – given a bit more work!

The Grandfather Paradox - a time travel story

The Grandfather Paradox by Steven Burgauer is like that rough diamond. It’s shiny and it’s sparkly and it has all the makings of an absolutely cracking scifi novel, but there’s still a lot of coal which needs some more working.

The novel comes in three parts, so I’ll go through each of them in turn.

Part 1

This is easily the strongest part of the novel! It is immediately apparent that author Steven Burgauer has carried out extensive research to support the myriad of information that’s packed into this novel. I’d dare say that some of it is not particularly necessary or relevant to the plot, but interesting enough to keep in!

However, I couldn’t help noticing that sometimes there seemed to be some misunderstanding of some of the principles. For example, the time it takes for messages to cross space takes time and introduces delays, so for this reason messages are brief and small talk and banter is kept to a minimum. But whilst this makes sense for live conversation, the point is moot for transmissions of complete messages (as they come in the novel).

Other times things didn’t quite add up. There are footprints 2 cm deep made from a human of mass 70 kg, but deeper 10 cm prints from a less massive 50 kg creature. Or there’s an explanation of how triangulation works, but the characters are confused when it doesn’t work for a signal source in deep space. From the way it reads, all 3 points in the triangulation are on Earth – comparatively short distances when compared to deep space distances, so of course this wouldn’t work. Or were the 3 points taken at 4 monthly intervals so that the earth is in 3 different parts of its orbit around the sun over a year? You’d expect so, but it’s not mentioned.

So whilst snippets and explanations of a number of things are interesting and add depth, there’s a level of credibility lost where for those I already understand I see flaws. But for the most part they’re an excellent parallel addition to the novel which really add some extra depth and make this a unique read!

Among these factoids there’s some really good stuff – triple and quad star systems which are too unstable to stay together long enough for higher life forms to evolve. Hyperspace which is curved like coils in a slinky spring – travelling down its axis is faster than along the coils. Durbinium energy sponges (which make appearances in other of Steven’s novels (e.g. The Fornax drive and The Railguns of Luna). “Durbin anomalies”, and “tachys” which have a mathematical imaginary mass. Great stuff!

Whether or not some or all of these things are true or imaginary (I should really find out…) I thought they added some good solid weight into a scifi novel! 🙂

Writing style

The writing style makes for a difficult, even predictable, read – one which reminded me of the Apollo 13 ‘novel’ by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. What makes the Apollo 13 novel a particularly interesting read is that it’s based on fact. And because most of us aren’t familiar with spacecraft technology there’s a lot of explanation. Pretty good, except it follows a formula: this is how something works, then it stopped working, so the astronauts and ground control tried to fix it.

And it’s the same in The Grandfather Paradox. In these conditions, you can find yourself in this situation. Andu finds himself in this situation. In this situation the best thing to do is… – and this is exactly what Andu did.

In this kind of situation the suspense in a novel can evaporate. And this is what happened with me.

Another player in the loss of suspense arena is the formidable number of lucky chances which come into play. Take for example a crew who have spent weeks in space looking for a planet which is emitting a signal – and who can’t find it. They eject Andu from their space craft in a smaller hopper…which just happens to be on course to this elusive planet (which can be reached in time in terms of life support and fuel) and on landing there’s a breathable atmosphere.

I don’t buy it.

But the biggest non-sale of the day though goes to the journey out of the Ancon solar system (a half day under low acceleration) to the event horizon of a black hole (a microsecond after the power button is pushed) and then to the Earth where aerobraking is allegedly the only way to slow down from a near light speed velocity(!) The spacecraft is then in orbit at a height of “some 30,000 km” (which sings geostationary at 36,000 km) – yet the occupants are able to experience a changing view of the oceans (which confirms a (near) equatorial orbit).

Time travel

The time travel component in The Grandfather Paradox is much like the other gems of scifi in the novel – an interesting addition. That said I couldn’t quite see the need for time travel in this novel other than to save Andu’s grandmother – although this is giving the motivation a lot of credit.

As we’d expect, there’s a lot of explanation about the mechanics of the time travel which naturally I welcome! But like previous examples, it needs polishing. It’s presented in a series of slow and repetitive logical steps, and just as we start breaking into the real nitty gritty of it all a huge assumption is made – that time stops at the speed of light so it goes backwards faster than it and if we’re near a large mass. It’s frustrating because after cheesy descriptions of the grandfather and ontological paradoxes, and a gradual gearing up to the nuts and bolts of time travel, the power’s switched off and we’re left coasting.

Later there’s mention of time differential, so I’m guessing that the relative difference between the rates of the passage of time between two objects travelling close to (but not at) the speed of light means that transfer from one object to another results in a form of time travel through time dilation. It’s a nice idea!
There is another nice idea to use a pulsar to measure absolute time (although the travel time of the pulsar’s signal may take a while to reach an object moving away from it at nearly the same rate…)

But I’m not sure. I don’t like to dampen one’s imagination, but I can’t see how sling-shotting around a black hole would get an object to move above light speed, as it is suggested.

Of course, this is science fiction, so in theory anything can happen – though I’d postulate that to keep it in the realm of science fiction theory we should adhere to scientific principles. (Not that I’m an expert in this area…)

Part 2

Reading Part 1 of The Grandfather Paradox is like standing in a dark tunnel where there’s a strong glimpse of the light ahead. Then when Part 2 of the novel comes – WHAM! The oncoming train with full beam headlights smacks you senseless, pages fluttering in the tailwind.

I mentioned earlier than Part 1 is not an easy read. Part 2 is a paradoxical read, being both difficult and easy at the same time.

This part of the novel is where Andu has landed on Earth in 1861 and we’re yanked out of the realm of scifi and into the world of poker games, slavery, smoking and steam boats. I really wasn’t expecting this, and to be brutally honest, I didn’t really want to read this either. So it was a difficult read – which ended up being skim read.

And like Andu’s ship which somehow managed to accelerate to near light speeds, my skim reading ended up being so fast that I hard bounced off the back cover of the book and realised I’d come to the end. This was the easy part of the read.

Even in my limited reading of this section I found inconsistency. For example, Margaret is telepathic and there’s a really nice description of how this may work in a scientific grounding. Margaret is playing poker – and we have 2 pages to explain not only the rules but also some of the techniques involved. Isn’t this then irrelevant when it turns out that Margaret uses her telepathy to her advantage here? And why can’t she connect with Andu?

Part 3

Because I was skimming through Part 2 at high velocity I didn’t even realise there was a Part 3 until I was thumbing back through the novel to double check a few things. So no, it wasn’t read.

I’d hazard that if you’re interested in history, then Parts 2 and 3 are probably OK. The subject matter just wasn’t my cup of tea. I certainly hope that they’d put the time travel element into context!

Concluding remarks

I was heavily impressed – and disappointed – with The Grandfather Paradox!

For the most part, the ‘side’ explanations are interesting, relevant and accurate and add some depth to make Part 1 of the novel a really solid scifi novel; other times one or more of these adjectives are not so applicable.

I know we’re time travel fans here, but I think most people have heard of the grandfather paradox, or at least know that it’s related to time travel. The “a time travel story” qualifier in the title therefore seems to set the tone in the novel – to satisfy a need to explain too much.

As far as Part 1 is concerned, the content shines but reads a little rough around the edges. Where novels like Thanksgiving Eve was so polished it squeaks, some parts of The Grandfather Paradox don’t quite click into place – but I really think that it has the makings of a superb novel!

Rating ? ? ? ? ?

I’ve no idea how to give this a single star rating!

I love the general ethos behind the writing style with the supporting facts (5*) but got annoyed where some were either wrong or inadequately explained (1*). The attention given over to explaining the time travel element is brilliant (5*) but falls short when the progression of logical steps takes wild assumptions (1*). Brilliant scifi ideas are numerous (5*), but there are bad (unworkable) ones too (2*). The plot behind Part 1 is intriguing (4*) but the random events seemed an easy way to get out of difficult situations (1*). Parts 2 and 3 are beyond my personal interest (super subjective rating: 1*).

So I’m not going to give a star rating! (An average would be meaningless (and nonsensical!) so I’m going to leave it blank.)

I should point out though, that if you really need a star rating then head over to Amazon and Goodreads where there are lots of high-ended ratings over there. I can understand why – perhaps I just misunderstood or missed something in the novel (other than Parts 2 and 3… 😉 ).


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The Grandfather Paradox: A Time Travel Story by Steven Burgauer

Author: Paul Wandason

I love astronomy and science fiction, but I love my family more. So I love time travel too!

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