The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The first thing which needs to be said about Palma’s Map of Time is that it is a beautifully written piece of literature! This is all the more impressive in that the novel was originally written in Spanish and subsequently translated into English (by Nick Caistor) so perhaps a courteous nod to Nick is in order too!
In short, The Map of Time takes the author H. G. Wells and his novel The Time Machine and spins a romance involving time travel around it.
Distraught to the point of suicide by the murder of his girlfriend, Andrew Harrington is introduced to Gilliam Murray who runs a time travel tourism business. Andrew is informed that only forwards time travel is possible, so going back in time to prevent the murder of his loved one is impossible. A slim possibility of any hope at all in this realm in given in the advice to visit the author H. G. Wells who has published two time travel novels (The Chronic Argonauts and The Time Machine).
The thinking is that by writing such novels, Well’s has mastered time travel and indeed has a working time machine which may be able to help Andrew in revisiting and altering the past.
The theme of romance in this first section is continued in the second which focuses on characters involved in Murray’s time travel tourism business; Claire Haggerty doesn’t fit in with modern day societal conventions falls in love with a man from the future, Captain Derek Shackleton. They meet physically only once, and use letters as a means of communication.
H. G. Wells also has a role here to play in assisting with the letter writing, thus linking this section with the previous.
Wells becomes “the Hero”, i.e. the primary character, in the final section where he is visited, or has communication with, someone from the future. It is through the communication and the visitations that he faces a decision which ultimately decides the fate or future of time travel.
The time travel element.
This is inherently a tricky section to write, given that for the most part there is no actual time travel! In order to avoid spoilers I’ll refer only to the last section of the novel where time travel is more fully realised.
The method of time travel operates through a genetic ability which gets refined through time. Initially time travel occurs involuntarily, though later, as the gene is refined and the ‘user’ becomes more adept at using this skill, time travel is more controlled. These characteristics reminded me of the (non time travel) movie Jumper and Audrey Niffenegger’s time travel novel The Time Traveller’s Wife.
There are lots of time loops, and paradoxes are avoided with parallel universes. In fact, the idea of parallel universes is central to the time travel element in The Map of Time. It is consistent, well thought out and well presented in the in the novel, but personally speaking I find parallel universes an easy escape from time travel paradoxes. And it certainly brought about a very disappointing end to the novel where it served as a mechanism to bring about a happy ending. Or did it?
A lot of the novel isn’t really connected with time travel, but at the same time there is frequent use of vocabulary related to time and time travel, and insights given into the author’s thoughts on the subject.
At times it’s like your Grampa reading you a bed time story; friendly and warm, descriptive with a personal insight to an interpretation of events, and a little bit more of a hint that the writer is an all-knowing omnipresent character. In this way, the author becomes almost a character within the novel he is writing!
The average motion through the plot of the novel is linearly forwards, but there are plenty of digressions which seem at first to take a tangent but actually gently circle back to the main story line. Sometimes these read a little discontinuously (especially between each of the 3 sections of the book) but overall it’s fluent, and probably best described as ‘flowery’!
In keeping with the flowery style of writing and story lines, the main character changes quite frequently. I can see that for some readers this might be cause for irritation, but I think it worked well as the characters who, like the tangential sub plots, had a tendency to come back.
The common thread through all of this is H. G. Wells whose role varies from stage extra to key character. I would argue then that H. G. Wells is the central character, in that he is present to some degree in all of the main story lines. Indeed, he is also present in the sequel (The Map of the Sky) which refers to his book The War of the Worlds.
Sadly I was hugely disappointed by the ending which read largely as an introduction to the next book (The Map of the Sky). As far as I can tell from the reviews, the sequel seems to follow pretty much the same pattern as The Map of Time – using H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds as a base in place of The Time Machine.
The Palma’s self publicising aside, things ended happily ever after thanks to a parallel universe, about which I have already hinted of my frustration!
I suppose that it is inevitable that similar ideas will ripple across literary fiction, but I did find a number of similarities with ideas and events in The Map of Time with other books:
Incidentally, the first time I read The Time Machine I didn’t really enjoy it (actually I’ve tried reading The War of the Worlds (also H.G. Wells) but got so bored with it I gave up), but I am feeling motivated to give it a reread as I feel I’ve got to know [a fictitious version of] the author (and it will prepare me for The Time Ships – the authorised sequel to The Time Machine.)
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma is a beautiful time travel novel with very little time travel! That said, there are plenty of methods of time travel presented, although disappointingly (from the time travel perspective) use parallel universes to explain away paradoxes.
In essence this is a romance novel, but there’s enough science fiction in there to make The Map of Time into something much more special!
I’m giving this 4/5 stars…which isn’t bad for a time travel novel with actually not that much time travel!