Review: Bridgevine by John Feldman

Bridgevine (John Feldman) is a very easy read with a simple plot involving time travel, but obvious time travel questions are ignored rather than left open. Repetition and over explanation, plus an immature main character lead me to believe this is a novel aimed at young adults or to be taken on holiday. On the positive side there are some nice examples of how and why a time machine can be used.

Bridgevine is a very easy read with a simple plot involving time travel; Mike’s sister is killed in a high school shooting. This motivates him to design and build a time machine with the intention to go back in time to prevent her death, but when push comes to shove Mike is wary about his capabilities in reshaping history, and he’s just received a large financial offer for his time machine…

Bridgevine book cover

General

What immediately strikes me is the first person present tense writing style. It’s active and immersive and I straight away felt very involved in the plot; the equivalent of reading a book in 3D!

The main character is Mike and the plot develops through him and how he deals with the possibilities of going back in time to ultimately save his sister, as well as living a life of luxury from an offer made to buy his time machine. Mike’s thought processes through the novel are really nicely expressed so the reader knows exactly what’s going on and why Mike behaves the way he does.

About half way into the novel though, repetition starts to dominate clarity. I don’t think Mike comes back to rethinking various issues, but perhaps the repetition serves as a reminder for a reader on vacation who reads sections of the book in short sittings? There are also some laboured over-explanations. For example, the time machine is first referred to as “MO2Y” then later, “Molly”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why so I felt a bit patronised when it was quite literally spelled out for me (though admittedly chronologically speaking it was actually called “Molly” before MO2Y).

All in all though, Bridgevine is a gentle read if you can overlook the repetition.

The Time Travel Element

The second chapter has Mike presenting his time machine to a commercial company, so time travel makes an early appearance. Despite me ‘listening in’ on that meeting as a reader, Molly’s workings remain black box – albeit with a spattering of superficial explanation. But that’s not the point; the point is what Molly can be used for, and also what it can represent in terms of financial security for Mike and his girlfriend Rebecca. Actually there are some very nice ideas about how and what a time travel machine can be used for which I must admit I hadn’t even stopped to think about before!

Given that Mike’s motivation to create Molly was to change history with the view to altering the present, there’s a glaring possibility of the Grandfather paradox – the design and creation of the time machine was triggered when Mike’s sister was shot. If Mike goes back to prevent her death then he has no motivation to create the time machine, and no time machine means he wouldn’t be able to go back and prevent her death…

I probably shouldn’t get caught up in detail but a few other time travel issues hit me. Changing the past seems to have no effect on Paul (Mike’s present-bound friend) who to his knowledge didn’t know the outcomes of Mike’s practice missions once he had returned from the past to the present. So how does an altered history permeate through time and into the future – and how quickly do these changes take place?

There’s also an issue of how much time passes in the present whilst Mike is in the past. I’d guess it’s “real time”, i.e. Mike spends 2 hours in the past so he returns to the present 2 hours later, but it wasn’t specified. Perhaps this isn’t an important point, but I gathered from the blurb that Mike’s actions in the past were immediately affecting events in the present – this is not the case. I’m not sure if this is an inaccurate blurb or my own misunderstanding.

On a similar footing, when Mike goes back and changes the past to alter the present no account is given to the people in the ‘original’ present. For example, his mother is an unhappy wretch following the death of her daughter. When the past is changed, she’s now happy. So where is the unhappy mother? Did she ever exist? Has she been shoved off into a parallel universe or alternate time line? (Pause for thought…if it’s the latter, is changing the past really a solution?)

This issue comes to light when Mike meets his sister’s husband who’s met Mike before – but Mike doesn’t remember it. i.e. the Mike we follow hasn’t had that experience, but clearly another version of him has. So there are two versions of him (in total, not concurrently), but who’s who and who’s where?

To be fair, it isn’t bad that these questions don’t have answers – it’s what makes time travel interesting! But I do feel that ignoring the open questions completely in a time travel novel is a missed opportunity.

Something I do particularly like is how multiple versions of the same person at the same time is avoided – Molly won’t allow it; Mike can’t go back to the same time (and place) that he’s already been. Mike checking his coding to see if this is a bug is a brilliant touch! 😉

So the solution to one of nature’s paradoxes wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but it’s there. Perhaps the same holds true for my earlier points but I’m just too dumb to realise!

Mike

I think the designer of a time machine needs a special section! 😉

Mike’s 27, but doesn’t act like it – though maybe this is the dumbing down for an easier holiday read.

Some aspects of Mike seem to be idiotic. He lets things spiral out of control and tends to sit back and wallow and ignore (or not think about) the obvious solution. This is a huge disappointment from someone who’s bright enough to develop and build a time machine!

Actually most of Mike’s concerns have very simple alternative solutions. For example, he plans to go back to the day of his sister’s shooting to save her life. But he’s worried that he’s going to freeze in panic in a dangerous situation so he spends ages preparing and procrastinating. So why not go to any earlier day and speak to his sister and persuade her not to go to school instead of dealing with the shooters?

Admittedly other people’s problems often seem smaller and easier to solve than our own. But how can Mike be so intellectually bright and such a dumbo at the same time?

From this point of view there was no tension to carry me along in the novel and my initial feelings of involvement morphed into gritting my teeth and bearing out his stupidity.

My biggest problem with Mike is that he doesn’t seem that bothered about finding his sister on his return from saving her, and instead pursues getting his blue prints so that he can sell his time machine. This might be his idea of putting Rebecca first from now on, but it’s weak. Actually on this note, I felt that the reader is encouraged to see Mike as a hero, for example, that he saves lives on his practice missions. Indeed, Mike quite often mentions this fact to Paul, but the motivation was always saving his own sister. It’s melodramatic cart-before-the-horse stuff I’d expect from a young teenager, not a 27 year old.

The Ending

As I think was clear from very early on, Bridgevine is destined to have a happy ending, and it’s certainly a long and drawn out chapter which spells out the obvious.

Again, Mike takes an eon to see his sister. Maybe the purpose behind the chapter is to highlight Mike’s solution in dealing with Paul and how he plays the bigger person. I didn’t quite understand how Mike’s solution was going to help, but of most interest is the twist that was generated. This twist had completely escaped my mind and I think could have been a really interesting sub-plot instead of an open-ended concluding twist.

Rating * * *

As a reader who holds a book for at least 30 minutes in a sitting I’m rating this 3 stars – I found the repetition and over-explanation exhausting at times, but maybe those traits would help to make Bridgevine a solid 4 stars for a holiday goer who reads the novel in several short sittings.

There are some nice ideas involving time travel, especially relating to what purposes a time machine can be used, but I’d love to have read some more about the open time travel related questions; I have the feeling that there are answers to them, but they just weren’t presented here.

Paul

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Disclaimer: A copy of “Bridgevine” was sent to me free of charge to read and review. This it!

Star ratings:

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