I was really looking forward to reading Journeyman by Mark J. Rose! Journeyman is the first book in the Matt Miller in the Colonies series. Book 2 is Prophet and the third book in the series, Virginian, is officially due for release on May 31.
The Journeyman blurb tells us that the main character, Matt Miller, finds himself in colonial America and wants to use his knowledge of science and technology to help himself. Oh yes – and there’s a girl too!
So when the first line of a novel begins with physicists, a stainless steel spider and a magnetic containment field I was feeling pretty sure that this was going to be some heavy duty science fiction! It should come as no surprise given that author Mark J. Rose is a scientist himself by profession so the supposition is that he’s going to know what he’s talking about! 🙂
Then again…Mark’s specialism is drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, so this talk about stainless steel spiders makes me a bit wary of swallowing any future prescription…
It turns out that my expectations were misplaced.
Scouting for time travel
I think that as readers of time travel novels we encounter “dramatic irony” a lot; we know much earlier on than the characters involved that the ‘obvious’ explanation of why things look so old fashioned is because the character has gone back in time. (We did after all go to the “time travel” section of the book store, right?!) Edit: Disclosure: Mark sent me Journeyman for free to read and review.
Personally I get easily frustrated when an author dwells on the confusion of the time travelling character. Just get on with it! Thankfully Mark J. Rose just tells us things instead of having to read through prolonged confusion of characters trying to work out what happened.
Of course, Miller is confused when he wakes up in a barn (who wouldn’t be?) but it’s not long until he works out what’s happened. And indeed, it’s also not long until we flick back to the modern day scientists who surmise that thanks to a wormhole, Miller’s somewhere else in time (the year 1762) rather than somewhere else in space.
Confusion aside, Miller seemed to spend a long time on the farm. I was impatient to see him move out of there and get on with things but there seemed to be a lot of horsey reasons to make him stay. Dramatic irony again – I suppose it’s in the title!
There were long gaps between his “use of his phone” (I’ll describe it this way to avoid spoilers) which makes less sense given the slower passage of time in 1762 than in the present; one day in 1762 is equivalent to two present day months.
To be honest, it took too long for me to realise that Journeyman clearly is a novel where time travel is a methodology to set the scene, and there’s not that much more when it comes to time travel.
That said, there are occasional links between Miller’s present and the current past. The expressions he uses in his language, for example:
“I feel like I got hit with a freight train!”
My favourite link between the past and present was how Miller considered the traditional view in the present that things were thought to be always be busy now and more relaxed in the past, whereas he was finding out that in 1762 he was so busy that there wasn’t enough time to sleep!
I think though that the bottom line is that the time travel element is very low key; indeed, some of the text messages seemed rather unrealistic. But in the general scheme of the genre of this novel (drama, not science fiction) I don’t think that this is a serious issue.
I would like to make this observation though:
I couldn’t help notice that every time there was a hint of time travel then Scout the dog seemed to be somewhere around!
Whether this was deliberate imagery or otherwise I’m not sure, but I also noticed that in true Pavlovian style, when Scout appeared I started drooling and expecting to read about time travel!
I must admit that after a few chapters I was disappointed in this respect; Scout made more appearances than references to time travel.
Modern science and technology
I was very curious as to how Miller was going to use his knowledge of science and technology to help himself back in history.
In this respect I feel quite let down. Miller has a new edition quantum phone worth half a month’s salary but for the first 100 pages or so he’s only used it for music. The connection between his watch and phone is fine so I guess power is no problem (as it would have been today!). So why no apps or downloaded content? Admittedly there’s no phone signal, but that’s not always necessary.
A little later in he novel he takes a more reactive approach to using his phone but he gets interrupted from this fairly quickly with talk of some dinner.
It’s not until page 169 (out of 372 pages) that Miller starts thinking about what he knows about the future and how it can help him in some way. I didn’t have the impression that Miller really wanted to do well in 1792 and become ‘king’. His approach was more similar to anyone who finds themselves in unfamiliar territory and calls on their existing knowledge and experience.
Like Mark, Miller’s knowledge and experience lies in chemistry; he’s a pharmaceutical chemist, and really it’s his knowledge and use of chemistry rather than technology that he tries to apply in 1762.
I really enjoyed reading not just that Miller was trying to get a business set up in pain killers, but also that I got to learn a bit about them by ‘listening in’ on the conversations that Miller was having with those he was trying to sell his ideas to.
I also appreciated how Miller translates common knowledge into science fact. For example corroborating the every day wisdom of sunshine being good for you by explaining that the UV kills bacteria.
At the same time though, space is still given for wisdom gleaned from more ‘fluffy’ sources; drinking a full glass of water each morning is good for the stomach. This is given pretty much as a fact as it comes from a taekwondo teacher, and Miller accepts it supposedly without question. It shows in some way history coming into the present because often (though not always) there is some truth in old wives tales – at least from the wives who practice martial arts!
Here’s the funny thing. I never really knew what the story line was because there’s very little in the way of action. It’s a very relaxed progression of the plot whatever it was and yet…I was enthralled and carried on reading!
I don’t know how this happened so I can only put this down to Mark’s very easy and fluent writing style!
Mark writes enthusiastically from his own knowledge coming from an equestrian background. There’s a lot of stuff about buying and selling horses, and to be honest I was even feeling a little guilty for not sharing in his enthusiasm for the subject!
In some ways it reminds me of my job where I work with sustainable transport (on roads, not in time 😉 ). My colleagues are more interested in my car than in my family or in my hobbies and interests. Even in their own families at times, I think! So this line made me smile:
“They drove to church in two separate wagons. Matt’s was pulled by two dark brown mares and black stallions pulled the wagon carrying Thomas and the women.”
I don’t care about the brake horsepower of my car, and I don’t care about the horses (brown / black / mare / stallion / whatever) pulling these wagons! 😉
I’ve mentioned already that Mark saves Miller from confusion over time travel, but he also shows us that he has a good command of his readership too and saves us from confusion in other areas. For example, when Miller is offered 40 pounds for a ring he wishes to sell he asks how much it’s really worth and finds out (as do we) that it’s enough to buy a horse. Both he and we learn the value of money in 1762!
I imagine a lot of research went into the historical angle such as this value of money, or of lifting the hands of ladies – but not kissing them. These little details really help to colour in the kind of life that Mark paints here in 1762.
I don’t know how best to describe the relation between Miller and Grace. “Subtle”, “slow” and “difficult” I suppose make it a realistic sort of interaction between them.
At best it seems to be a love-hate relationship between them, though I couldn’t spot the triggers for Grace’s swings of (dis)affection. To be fair though, I’ve never been good at understanding women!
I didn’t see what Miller saw in Grace. Apparently she punched a horse in the face and split his lip (!), but she was also blond and dazzlingly beautiful blah blah. I wasn’t interested in whether Miller was going to be ‘successful’ with her or not. He has a girlfriend in his own time so he’s basically unfaithful by being interested in Grace.
The romantic interest part in 1762 is not much more than blue eyes blond beauty. It’s a cheesy setup, but I blame Miller for it, not the story! He tries to explain it away with an electric field or pheromones, but I found that instead of giving him credibility as a scientist, it makes him a complete arse by trying to find objective justifications for his immoral actions.
As I type this note, the girl behind me on the train is spraying hairspray and causing a stink in this busy train carriage. And whereas I can’t comment on the beauty of the girl behind me (I can’t discretely look behind me) at least Grace can brush a horses hair without needing spray. Actually, we learn a lot about brushing horses to get the natural oils out to make the hair like dark, wet and shiny.
I can’t help wondering who this novel is aimed for. The romance side of things stays in the background so doesn’t feature prominently enough for this to be a romance novel. There are pages devoted to horses, preparing for a dance, clothing, eating; there’s little going on so it’s not action, and it’s certainly not science fiction (despite the opening line of stainless steel spiders 🙁 ).
The time travel component seems to be squashed in for the sake of it; Miller goes to 1762 and that’s about it for time travel.
The point is served with the closing of Journeyman. Personally I’d have found the page or two on time travel near the end of the novel would have been a good end, but the ‘real’ end continues on in 1762 – clearly indicating that this is where and when the main story lies.
Perhaps I should return here to my Pavlovian friend, Scout. Right at the end of Journeyman there is a transition from dog to horse.
“Matt stooped down and gave the dog a hug. “Goodbye, boy,” he said. Matt stood up…and mounted his horse.”
(Some text removed to avoid spoiler).
I think that’s a clear sign for the departure of time travel!
Rating * * *
I’m giving Journeyman 3 stars (“OK”) because the time travel element is fairly non existent, but to be fair I think it’s just a misplaced genre. I’m going to zoom over to Goodreads and Amazon and give 4 stars for a novel which, although didn’t appeal to my non-horsey pleasures, is very well written and kept me engaged all the way through!
The next book in the Matt Miller in the Colonies series is Prophet. Stand by for its review…!
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| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |