Review: Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon

Thanksgiving Eve fails as a time travel novel but other aspects of this novel make it a compelling tale of how a father tries to improve relations with his family.

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The Premise

A lot of time travel novels ask the question how would you relive part of your life again? Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon recounts the story of Ray who dies on Christmas Eve and gets to relive the 5 days leading up to his death. At first – and then earlier portions of his life.

Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon

During these relived periods Ray tries to improve relationships with his family members. This is clearly reminiscent of some aspects of A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) around Christmas eve.

So I’ll call this out now: Thanksgiving Eve? What’s wrong with Christmas?

Writing style

Jay’s writing is extremely polished which is hardly surprising when we see how much training he’s had! Right from the outset, for example, Jay hones right in on the dark mood and thoughts of the unfairness of life; thoughts which I’m sure many people have but don’t outwardly express because of social norm.

On a similar footing there are astute observations in many aspects of life which range from parenting to how we answer a phone. In some ways this is a pitfall of Thanksgiving Eve because a quarter of the way through the novel there was no clear story line and I was still reading about mundane events in life like going shopping or eating round the table.

Indeed, some might argue that there is no story line; even by the end of the novel I’m not sure what the thread is – and I’m not convinced that the main character would know either.

On the flip side, this highlights the strength of Thanksgiving Eve in that it complelled me to read on despite the lack of a clear story line!

Time travel

One of my pet peeves in time travel novels is the length of time that it takes a character to realise that he’s travelled in time. It seems that in Thanksgiving Eve we have the complete opposite where Ray barely bats an eyelid when he finds himself back 5 days in time as if time travel is an every day experience. Or is that Groundhog day?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Actually Ray’s transition into the past was so smooth that I wondered whether there was any time travel at all and that Ray was seeing portions of his life flash before his eyes prior to death; perhaps something similar to The I Inside movie.

That said Ray doesn’t know why he’s gone back in time, but after a couple of trips he seems to see the benefit in having a better relationship with his family and somehow decides that this is why he’s being offered a second chance to make amends.

There’s a clear similarity with other novels such as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, or (the much better) Buckyball by Fabien Roy. In these two novels the time travel element is not necessarily well understood by the characters, but it is fully utilised and incorporated within the plots of the respective novels. I didn’t get the same feeling with Thanksgiving Eve.

In fact I can almost see a reworking in the manuscript where the idea of time travel has been added as an after-thought. Was this a ‘regular’ drama novel where nothing much happens, so sliced into segments and rearranged under the name of time travel to make it more interesting? I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s clear to any time travel enthusiast that Thanksgiving Eve has only a very weak sniff of time travel. When my wife makes juice from concentrate she makes it so weak that the resulting beverage is terrible. It would be better to simply have water. And I think it’s the same here – it would have much better to leave out the weak time travel instead of adding a couple of drops of it into a watery novel.

This is especially true because there is potential for much more than what’s included. For example, Ray goes further back in time for each of his successive revisits to his own life. This means that we never find out whether his actions hold any consequences for the future. So what’s the point? The obvious twist to the Grandfather paradox (i.e. will any of his (re)actions in the past affect his own existence to the point that his death won’t occur and hence he won’t be able to go back in time and make those changes…) was totally side-stepped.

It was never completely clear regarding the amount of free will that Ray had when he went back in time. His appearance was commensurate with the period he was in (friends and family didn’t realise he was a time traveller); he seemed able to instantly recall events leading up to where he was, but he was able to do things differently. Could he though? When he really wanted to do something different he was drunk so couldn’t control his body. Another side-step.

Just as Buckyball introduces some time travel vocabulary, Ray’s relived days are vaguely referred to as “Dayovers”. But surely if Ray (or the author) is naming these experiences then it should be more prominent?

Other aspects of the Dayovers had some interesting aspects – Ray’s neighbour, Kevin, gets pulled back in time each time Ray goes back. Again, this reminded me of Buckyball which involved a group of inter-related time travellers. The first time that it was mentioned that Kevin was going back in time too it seemed out of place and I took it whimsically. Then later it became clearer when Kevin confronts Ray about it directly. But nothing came of it. Similarly there’s the beggar. Corny and cheesy to have such a character play a potentially important / revealing role, but again, nothing comes of it.

It’s hugely frustrating that the time travel seems to be part of something bigger than something which just affects Ray but pretty much gets ignored.

Closing thoughts, open questions

Undoubtedly there are open questions. One argument is that Ray doesn’t understand what happened, so why should we? At the same time we’re a curious species – we ask questions and we want answers. But none came. And the fish taco at the end? Definitely a ball was dropped here ๐Ÿ™

Rating * *

This is a time travel blog, and as a time travel novel Thanksgiving Eve falls short, hence 2 stars. But where the time travel side of things is lacking, the other side of the novel – Ray’s life and his relationships – is very well written; a compelling tale of how a father tries to improve relations with his family which I found to be a very enjoyable read!

Paul

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Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett is a fun and fast-paced read which has a time travel component that involves a biological and technological component.

Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

My Our Approach

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

I was very interested when I received a request to read and review The Guttersnipes. It’s aimed at children so I had big plans to read this to my 7 year old daughter. I’m sick to death of Roald Dahl with his “Charlie and the Chocolate factory” and the “BFG”. Read: Big Freakin’ Grammar problems, more like – made up words and disordered sentences. In a galaxy far far away, maybe Yoda learnt his English from reading a few Roald Dahl novels.

I wasn’t up for reading this nonsense to my daughter in Holland, where English is a second language for her. So a happy cue to The Guttersnipes where Scott uses English words with the right spelling and in the right order. What a relief!

To balance first impressions up a bit, I should mention that at first I didn’t like the title – though this is out of my own ignorance because I was afraid it was a made up word. Not something nonsensical like Dahl’s snozcumbers etc., but more along the lines of Stephen Kings “Langoliers” (a novella in “Four Past Midnight” – which incidentally has a time related theme).

By the time page 70 came around I learned that a “guttersnipe” is actually a noun and means something! OK, so I learn something, and where younger readers learn this word early in their life, I’m learning it now at the ripe old age of 45. This old dog is learning new tricks! (Well,words!)

Our My Approach

Two things happened when we started reading this. The first is that time dilated to the point that the further we progressed, the slower it took. Mass increases as we approach the speed of light; estimation of time required to complete this novel increases exponentially with the time we spent reading together. Two pages took two weeks. No, don’t ask how, because I don’t know.

So with this in mind the “we” became “I” and I read the remaining pages on my own – but admittedly still from from the perspective of a (slightly over-) protective father (albeit with the caveat that if you’ve seen the movie “Finding Nemo”, Nemo’s neurotic father actually had a good point.)

Children or teenager?
“Children’s / Teenage” on back cover

I think the “Children’s / Teenage” ‘rating’ here is confusing. I’d come in at the children angle. I don’t think it would be fair to call a teenager a child in this sense, but I do think it would be unfair to let a child (here I’m talking about my 7 year old – though this is subjective to any child) near this novel. There are some pretty gruesome parts – plucking eyes out, pulling teeth out (not in a dentist – as a means of roughing a child up), boys being paralysed from being kicked by horses…

I’m glad I stopped with my daughter when I did – this is an education that think she can wait with. But yeah, every child (and parent) is different, so ultimately this decision will be up to you.

On the educational note, The Guttersnipes does have a few snippets of relevant and contextual information. It’s not as full on as Making it Home and Stumbling on a Tale by Suzanne Roche, though at times I wondered whether the background research had got a little over enthusiastic!

The characters

The main character is Charlie. Thankfully Charlie has no chocolate factory, but what he does have is a pet dinosaur. Specifically, Trike – a dwarf triceratops. The story behind how Charlie finds Trike is “…really long” and I wonder if there’s a novel in the making here!

Triceratops toothbrush
My youngest daughter’s toothbrush – with a triceratops!

Trike is a silent but important part of The Guttersnipes because essentially he’s the trigger for Charlie and his friend Arty to go back in time. But Trike doesn’t really get much of a mention, and certainly the relationship that Charlie has with him is barely touched so personally I didn’t empathise with the mission to rescue the poor dwarf triceratops.

The beginning of the the novel shows Charlie to be a crap friend to Arty who seems to bend over backwards to help Charlie. I think Arty is the unsung hero of this novel. He suffers the most, receives minimal support but does what he can to help Charlie and Trike.

I don’t really know who Charlie is. Indeed, at times he almost becomes a minor character in comparison to many other stronger characters which Scott has written into the novel. The blurb states that Charlie is “…more than six feet tall” and “…allergic to almost everything” though neither of these ‘attributes’ come into play. Conversely it’s Arty who seems to have a history behind him. He’s the guy who I’m rooting to get back home!

Writing style

The Guttersnipes is most definitely a very fun read! It’s fast paced with interesting characters and cross links between them and it’s easy to see how this will appeal to the YA audience. That said, whether it was the writing style or the historical setting, I was reminded at times of the more adult level The Anubis Gates (Tim Powers) and The Map of Time (Felix J. Palma), two novels which I also thought were very good!

There’s only one thing which wound me up about The Guttersnipes, and that was the overuse of a couple of phrases – Charlie repeatedly “Chomped down on his bottom lip”, and other characters “gimped off”. Perhaps it’s not that bad, but you know how it is once you notice something…

The time travel element

The time travel mechanism is black box – albeit with a purple beam which takes Charlie and Arty back to New York city in 1865.

I was interested to note that the trip back in time also involved a change in location – Charlie and Arty were no longer in the same location as the house in which they’d left. Because there’s no repeated time travel I wasn’t able to see whether this was a specific feature of this method.

Towards the end of the novel Charlie and Arty meet another time traveller who reveals something more about the time travel ‘process’ – the body of the time traveller reconstitutes itself to adapt to the new time to which it’s transported. This can only be done once – so after 7 days the time traveller is stuck in his new temporal destination (because presumably that’s how long reconstitution takes).

I think there’s something missing here, because if a return time travel trip is possible within 7 days then it’s possible with a partially reconstituted body. On day 7 the body reconstruction reaches 100% and time travel at that point becomes impossible. I struggle to accept that a biological mechanism / limitation would have such a clear threshold.

Still. I welcome biological aspects of time travel (I suspect that this is how it’s going to be done if time travel ever becomes a reality) so I was very happy to read this, especially as it worked in combination with a more traditional technological transportation mechanism –
though painted black with purple light! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Rating * * * *

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett is a fun and fast-paced read! Whilst the main character (and his pet triceratops) is weak, a raft of other well developed characters and multiple plot lines more than compensate.

I’d caution parents of younger and / or sensitive children as there are some gruesome sections which may be unsuitable.

Paul

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Review: Beyond the Elastic Limit (Howard Loring)

Beyond the Elastic Limit (Howard Loring) is fantastic time travel nuts and bolts stuff with a time travel methodology built around an interesting model of time!

โ€‹Beyond the Elastic Limit had me confused and impressed at the same time. I suppose this is suitably paradoxical given the nature of time travel!

Beyond the Elastic Limit (Howard Loring)

The novel is centred around a solid model of time; something happens to disrupt it and characters scuttle about to make amends.

The details of this latter aspect are largely given in conversation and need a lot of attention – by the time I got to page 200 I realised that I had a good handle on the time travel element but not the plot or the character stuff around it!

Writing style

I found it difficult to keep track of the plot – though I hastily add that I don’t think this is due to bad writing. (And at the risk of sounding conceited I’m going to point the blame away from myself as a dumbo reader too). It seemed that during the week that I was reading Beyond the Elastic Limit all external factors contributing to a displeasurable reading experience came into play.

My commuter train, home of my reading pleasure, was plagued by noisy school kids. Dodgy formatting from PDF to ePub format meant that my ereader had a nasty time, and a nosey cold (probably caught from one of those pesky school kids) had me reaching for my tissue every 20 seconds to avoid dripping on said ereader and creating an electrical shortcut ๐Ÿ™ .

About three quarters of the way through I thought to be fair I should go back and start again in a more healthy and child free environment. But I ended up skim reading out of familiarity, so I jumped back forwards (I think I’m allowed to say that…) to where I was before.

So to reiterate here: the writing is good quality!

One aspect I particularly like is Howard’s eye to detail when it comes to body language. I think many of us have probably heard of the idea where body language accounts for 55% of all communication. It turns out that this is slightly misleading but the point remains that it’s hugely important – not just in communication, but also in providing insights into thoughts, feelings, mood and atmosphere. It’s done superbly!

Time travel

Beyond the Elastic Limit is in some ways an elegant version of Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. In this latter novel there are segments of non-sequential time which for some reason are now adjacent to each other. It’s pretty much a writer’s playground where they ask “wouldn’t it be fun if we could write about astronauts meeting Genghis Khan”, and other such scenarios. It’s a transparent set up which goes nowhere. Slowly.

Howard’s offering is much better! There’s brilliant imagery of throwing rocks into the river of time to create splashes and drops which explains how time blows up (and comes back together). And there’s a reason why different segments of time have come apart in the first place, and why they are now stitched together in the way that they are with all its ramifications – including cultural – that go with it.

There’s also time travel technology that’s been built on the model of time as a function of the harmonic frequency that a particle resonates or vibrates. The “Fistula” is a hole in time through which the past can be seen, and is held in check by the “Containment”. Basically, there’s a two part time machine, of sorts.

It’s fantastic time travel nuts and bolts stuff!

Rating * * * *

I wish could keep the time travel element and throw out the complex character development and relationships etc. from the novel. Come to think of it, I wish I could throw out those school kids from the train.

Perhaps it’s a sign in itself that it only took a bunch of school kids to set me off my reading rails, though that said, the time travel component was easily uptaken! If anything, I’d like to leave a highly negative review for the school teachers and parents of the little s**ts hopes of our future on my train.

Howard Loring’s next novel in the series is Piercing the Elastic Limit, and there’s also Tales of the Elastic Limit which “…can be read backwards as well as forwards”. Stand by for an interview with Howard – I’ll keep you posted!

Paul

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Review: Trespass by Mikey Campling

Mikey Campling’s “Trespass” has a “Darkeningstone” which affects people across the ages. The novel is very well written and builds layers of intrigue regarding the stone and its properties, but ultimately I couldn’t tell where the novel was heading.

It turns out that Trespass by Mikey Campling isn’t a time travel novel in itself, but rather operates across times thanks to the “Darkeningstone”.

By the end of the 260 pages we still know pretty much next to nothing about this stone and its powers, but there are a few hints through the novel that it may in some way transport characters or spirits across the ages. Trespass is the first in “The Darkeningstone” series, the second is “Outcast” and released only last summer. Book 3 is “Scaderstone Pit”, not yet released.

Trespass (Mikey Campling)

Trespass is set across three times; 3500 BC, 1939 and 2010. Each time has its unique set of characters, and I was very impressed with how the writing style remained unique in each period.

It kicks off in 2010 with Jake, a teenager who discovers the Darkeningstone in a disused quarry. It’s written in the first person and a very YA style complete with melodrama and Jake’s illogical way of thinking and drawing conclusions.

A chapter later we’re zoomed back to 3500 BC where the Darkeningstone is ‘created’ and where there’s mysticism with Burlic and Tellan. Trespass flits back and forth between these two times (actually, between each chapter) until about half way through when we visit quarry workers Vincent and Bob in 1939 who also stumble on the Darkeningstone in the quarry. Again, the writing relating to this time period is very different from the first two.

At first I was quite irritated with the flitting between the times. There are 74 chapters and between each of them we change time. Each chapter isn’t long enough to get really stuck in; the imagery hasn’t had time to come to life and empathy with characters hasn’t set in yet and then – SWOOSH! we’re whisked away to somewhere else.

After a while though I seemed to do a complete 180 on this! After all, it’s equally annoying to be stuck into a section and feel with characters and then – SWOOSH! get whisked away! Perhaps it’s that it took me a few chapter / character / time period changes before I grew accustomed to the rapid changes!

The downside though, was that I found each chapter ended with a strong prod to continue reading to see what happens. What did happen was another chapter in another time period to another group of characters before going full circle and picking things up where it left off. But because the chapter endings weren’t quite of cliff hanger material, new chapters started with a bit of a let down in comparison to what we may have been looking forward to reading.

However, I think the writing itself is very well done. Often, for example, a YA style of writing grates on my nerves because characters like Jake (or Sean in the Time Will Tell Series by Les Lynam) really rile me up. But that said, Mikey Campling writes with power in this arena. (This is especially impressive when you consider than within Trespass he writes in three very different styles…).

For example. The house I grew up in backed onto a thin strip of forest. It could have been nice but it wasn’t because behind it was a council estate. 1980’s Gorse Ride, I spit on you with contempt. It was rife with chavs and miscreants who dumped all kinds of crap into the woods. Later, the woods were knocked down so that old people’s houses were built on it. I remember feeling sorry for these old folks as they had no buffer between them and the gates of hell…until one crazy old man squirted water over the fence and at my mother who was gardening. I stopped feeling sorry for them then. But I remember my feelings of dread about those woods, but at the same time they had a certain enchanting mystery – a glimpse into how life was on the other side of humanity.

Mikey brought these feeling from 40 years ago right back with Jake’s feelings about being the the quarry and the “Brewer Boys” – presumably descendants from the Mr Brewer, the bullish quarry foreman from 1939.

Similarly, Mikey’s writing in the other two ages was just as powerful for me.

Despite excellent writing I thought the pacing was slow. There’s a build up of suspense where certain layers are added, but looking back…what actually did happen? When I look at the events, not much other than some scrabbling around in a quarry actually happened. And when things did start to happen, – SWOOSH! Stop, break, and another chapter.

Coupled with this is the direction of the plot. Everything leads to the Darkeningstone, but we never really find out anything about it. It affects people’s lives (mentioned in passing) but what more? In this sense it reminded me of The Mirror (Marlys Millhiser) which similarly had a lot of mystery surrounding it but we never find out anything concrete.

(Talking of comparisons to other works, I don’t think anyone will miss the similarity between a mysterious dark slab of stone in Trespass and the obelisk / conclusion in Arthur C. Clarke’s “Space Odyssey 2001”.)

The ending

The termination of Trespass is the downfall of this novel. After investing my time with 260 odd pages I wanted more more of a conclusion than Trespass offers. What it does, is just stops. *Growl*. At best, it stops in a similar semi-cliffhanger type of way that all of the previous chapters have concluded, but nothing deeper. A huge disappointment given the excellent writing beforehand.

Actually, the surprise in the ending is what happens after the ending; an Afterword with explanatory notes. I made a point not to read this until I’d drafted out this review, but when I did I was surprised.

I’m guessing that other readers have had similar thoughts about how Trespass ends because there’s a section in the Afterword explaining it, that it’s neither a cliff hanger nor (as I had suspected), a marketing technique – a lure to get us to read Book 2 to find out what happened next.

I think Mikey is right on both counts. I agree that this is no cliff hanger because it’s no more cliff like than the endings of previous chapters. And as a marketing technique it fails (for me) because I’m not tempted to read subsequent books for fear of a similar ending.

Mikey is also right in his third point which is that if there’s any disappointment it’s because we want to know what happens next. Yes, I’m bitterly disappointed, and yes I want to know what happens next! It’s what kept me turning the 260 pages. But the finish won’t make me turn any more.

The argument is given that the conclusion makes us think about what happens next. (Personally, I was caught somewhere between thinking Space Odyssey and “What the Hell?”). I appreciate books which make me think, but in this case I’m pretty much being left to think up an entire novel in order to close it.

Summary

All in all I enjoyed reading Trespass! It has a good writing style and I was really drawn in, but for me the end is its downfall. It really frustrates me because it makes me feel that I’ve wasted my time with a novel which doesn’t take me anywhere.

Paul

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Review: The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops)

Reading The Day After Never (by Nathan Van Coops) is like folding raspberry jam through ice cream. Parts seem immiscible at first, but by the end of the novel you realise that it comes together to make it a really cool novel!

The Series

The Day After Never is Nathan Van Coops’ third novel, following In Times Like These and The Chronothon.

The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops) book cover
The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops) book cover

I read these novels in all the wrong order (Book 2, Book 1 then Book 3) and I’m happy to confirm Nathan’s statements at the start of each novel that whilst they’re connected they can be read independently from each other.

When I read The Chronothon I was able to pick up easily the brilliantly thought out time travel methodology. Coming to The Day After Never with over 2 years between reads was a little more difficult for the first few chapters, and I’m going to blame that on my ageing and failing memory, but indeed, the gravitite particles, chronometers, anchor points, etc…ah yes, it’s all coming back now like an old friend! ๐Ÿ™‚

What about the rest of it?

Writing style

The story telling style, like with Books 1 and 2 is first person (so like The Time Machine) but the elegant twist is that it’s done in the present tense. I like this – it makes me feel that I’m right by Ben (the main protagonist) and seeing events through his eyes ‘live’.

Well, I say “first person” and I say “live”, but these are debatable terms…

The Day After Never is effectively told from 2 points of view but from the same person (Ben) who’s in two differing states of ‘being’. There’s the Ben in the “Neverwhere” (where time doesn’t exist) and the Ben in real life. The lines cross at times with varying amounts of interaction (actually reference is made to this in The Chronothon) but they’re not quite interlaced and woven together as a single fine fabric as much as an itchy woolly jumper covers a T-shirt.

Many novels drop into the time travel genre simply because certain aspects of it are told from the point of view from a character from another time period. We get this In Times Like These, The Chronothon and here in The Day After Never because they’re told in first person through Ben’s eyes, but the series sits more firmly within the time travel genre because we have a good solid dose of time travel with methodology and paradoxes. Where The Chronothon gives us a good set of time travel nuts and bots and different time periods, The Day After Never gives us an additional insight into differing times through Tucket.

Tucket’s from the future and finds it exciting to be in the present. He displays high levels of enthusiasm and exuberance and coupled with his taste in clothing it’s a joy to read about him! The icing on the Tucket cake is his thoughts and opinions about modern day culture which give us a nice glimpse into the future. In my humble opinion, Tucket is the star of the show, and in a sense, the unsung hero. Keep an eye on Tucket, everyone!

And of course there’s Benjamin Travers. Ben to his friends. Sometimes even “Dip Shit Ben” to those same friends…

Ben

I’ll come right out with it. Despite being a real fan of Ben in The Chronothon, my feelings about him have completely changed in in The Day After Never. He’s turned into a complete @rse; he certainly seems to be different from how I remember him.

As far as I can tell, The Day After Never picks up 2 weeks since the end of The Chronothon so I don’t really expect him to change in this time. But he has. He’s less of a nice guy and more selfish and less patient with others. Oddly I was reminded of my teenage years. When my mates got girlfriends they became @rses. (You know that song “When a man loves a woman // turn his back on his best friend”) and then be best buddies again when things went tits up. Is Ben like this, turning into a jerk now that he’s got the girl?

This might be the clue. The Ben who’s with Mym now is not the Ben who did stuff in the chronothon. Is this why he’s different? Is he miserable, or feeling undeserving to get the girl?

As it is, Ben’s friends don’t seem to notice the change in him. You know the popular guy in the bar with all the friends and who has it all? He wins competitions and has an intelligent and beautiful girlfriend. The one who gets on with everyone – except you? Meet Ben.

He’s not the positive and optimistic Ben of The Chronothon. He moans about cat videos on the internet; when he’s asked about new technology we read:

“I just stare back at him. “Has it got googly-moogly what now?” ”

He’s incredibly impatient with Tucket and he barely opens up to Mym. I’m very hard pressed to accept that this is the same Ben. This character mutilation is made all the worse when we find out that there are many versions of him; we’ve even got a “Dip Shit Ben” and a “Crazy Benny” (though admittedly these are Bens from alternate time lines).

Thankfully, by the time the plot gets going and Ben is thrust into action, he reverts back to his usual good natured self. Maybe he’s just the kind of guy who does best under pressure.

The Neverwhere

Along-side the Ben in real life, we have the Ben in the Neverwhere. The Neverwhere is a place outside of time and where at best there’s a tenuous connection with the real world.

In a sense it’s some sort of Matrix analogue – it’s too difficult for the mind to see so the mind hangs onto its memories. Once the mind has a better perspective then the Neverwhere can be seen for what it really is. Nathan has clearly spent a tremendous amount of time in constructing the Neverwhere and the physics / philosophies that lie within it. Indeed, Ben needs time to learn how it works (for example how to move from time to time or moving through memories) as well as coming to terms with being there in the first place.

It’s this learning curve which is the making and downfall of the Neverwhere. At first the Neverwhere was interesting in comparison to a slow start with ‘real’ Ben because we’re also learning how things work. When things with real Ben pick up, the Neverwhere continues slow and steady. Ben’s actions are primarily driven by his questions, but essentially there’s so much introspection that at times it got monotonous. In comparison with the real version of events this made the Neverwhere a dull hiatus to plough through.

Then again, I suppose that’s the thing with Neverwhere.

The plot

I was well over 100 pages in and the plot still wasn’t clear to me. (It reminded me of In Times Like These which for the first 7 chapters were so incredibly slow I gave up. Luckily I was persuaded to push through, and indeed things picked up to make a pretty decent novel out of the remaining chapters.) Ben in Neverwhere was there but didn’t know why, how, or what to do, and irritating Ben in reality was squawking about after an attack at one of Dr Quickly’s labs and they’re off to see what happened. Perhaps as in real life, once something happened to Ben’s girlfriend then things started moving.

And this is when the groundwork laid out in the early chapters pays off. Ben is back to being Ben, we see more time travel jumps, and there’s tension in the plot which keeps us turning those pages. I’ve already mentioned Tucket through whom we get some ideas about the future, but written within the story are some more brilliant sci fi ideas.

My favourite is metaspace – a virtual reality overlay accessed in real time which opens up a whole new world. Nathan doesn’t leave it there – he incorporates technology required to support and be supported by metaspace and training programs. Space elevators, underwater complexes, synths (synthetic humans), the novel is rife with juicy ideas! I really enjoyed a section of the novel set in Nyongo in 2165 where we see a social structure working around and against the cultural and technological norms of the time.

Where The Chronothon had Ben playing some clever time travel tricks, The Day After Never doesn’t lend itself easily to Ben’s aptitude in this arena. But we do see some clever time loops being integrated into the plot where I think many other authors would have been more cautious and shied away.
โ€‹
Nathan clearly has an army of movies and novels in his arsenal, and we see references and influences of these in his writing. Subjectively I didn’t care for some of them, but for many I did. There’s a brilliant quote about a place which was “…more Star Wars than Star Trek”! ๐Ÿ™‚

Every Rose has its Thorn

Despite my earlier comments about a slow start in reality and Ben being a pillock, I have no general overall problem – these points are more than made up with subsequent pacing, other characters (and change of character). But I do have a couple of negative thoughts about The Day After Never.

The first is the rock bottom basic story line which is basically a Harry Potter-ish rehash. And like many of J. K. Rowling’s ideas, this one can be found in countless other novels and movies as well. It’s just not very original, and given the volume and depth of Nathan’s sci fi ideas it’s a huge disappointment.

The saving grace is that it’s buried deep within a multitude of sub plots and secondary story lines so in practical terms it doesn’t really matter.

My second point is similarly small, though perhaps with greater ramifications. There’s an attempt to explain a Biblical occurrence using time travellers. To be clear, I’m not getting all grumpy because I’m a Christian and don’t like this sort of thing (actually the opposite – I like questioning stuff!) My gripe is again the lack of originality. Wiggling in religious reminded me of The Accidental Time Machine (Joe Haldeman) who also crow-barred in an unnecessary religious angle.

I suppose I should just be thankful that there wasn’t a crass attempt at solving the JFK assassination. And anyway, to be fair, a page or so later and the incident was gone.

In closing

This is best summed up as H O L L Y W O O D. It’s got more cheese than a Dutch street market, and is as predictable as the knowledge that the vendor is going to do his best to overcharge you – and make you feel good about it. And as a father of two little girls I was dismayed beyond belief with how things stood between Mym and her father at the end. But I suppose it works.

Thankfully there are two saving graces. The first is something that we should expect from the moderator of the Goodreads time travel group – the closing of multiple loose ends and avoidance of paradoxes. In some cases I didn’t even realise that there were any loose ends! I think this is simple author downright honesty. Seemingly meaningless actions in Book 1 are revisited, and it’s expertly done! I’m sure some other authors would simply let these things fly.

And finally, the closing scene between Ben and Mym. Sheer beauty! Ben is back to being the Ben from the chronothon times, and the way that these characters interact is crafted masterfully. For me, this is almost the crux of a blimming good time travel novel – hints of methodology, possibility, destiny and mystery. It’s all there in the last few pages, and brings the novel to a beautiful conclusion.

Rating * * * * *

On a time travel footing, The Day After Never gets the full 5 stars. It continues with a solid and consistent time travel methodology and pays great attention to paradoxes. I really like the time loops, and the fantastic feast of futuristic features more than makes up for the slow start and an irritating (at first) main character.

More please Nathan!

Paul

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Star ratings:
| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: Saves Nine and In One Basket by Les Lynam

These second and third instalments in the Time Will Tell series are a pretty decent novel version of the situation played out in the Back to the Future movie where a teenager battles for his own existence. Some parts are slow, but prepare yourself for some fantastic time travel features!

Review: Saves Nine and In One Basket by Les Lynam

This review is for …Saves Nine and …In One Basket by Les Lynam, Books 2 and 3 respectively in the Time Will Tell series for young adults.

Saves Nine by Les Lynam
…Saves Nine

The first book, “…Before You Leap” introduces us to Sean Kelly and his five times great grandson, Alex. These latter additions to the series are effectively a single story in 2 novel-length parts.

I should mention that I read these latter books back-to-back, though after a four book break from the first.

In One Basket by Les Lynam
…In One Basket

What strikes me with these latter novels is that although they are separate from Book 1, they are integrated well. Additional books in a series often start with a clear link to later sections of earlier books to remind readers that they’re reading something in a series. …Saves Nine refers to events in …Before You Leap which happen well within the novel. It gives me the impression that Les has things mapped out over the series from the outset rather than trying to cash in or extend on a successful first novel.

(I’m assuming it’s successful – it should be!)

Storm in a Teacup

Storm in a teacup
Image credit: www.wantafunfair.com

Plots or novels are often referred to as taking a reader on a roller coaster. I’d describe my journey with …Saves Nine and …In One Basket as more of an eccentric spin in the tea cups; stationary for one instant, and then flung in high velocity in the next, to come screeching back to a halt again a split second later.

In short – the pacing is all over the place, made worse with long chapters with divisions and breaks in strange places. Sometimes it’s a feature of the writing style – time outs with diary entries, conversations with Steffi etc., and other times it’s more integral to the plot.

To be fair, many of the slow parts are necessary. For example, a long dragged out conversation over breakfast lasts for several pages, but it is during this conversation that we learn about the trust that one character has with another. Other events bring realism into the novel or show us more of the time and culture.

But other parts I’m not sure. Sean buys some soap in a local shop. Yes, soap is necessary, but I don’t think the pages of details were. In this way I was reminded of some Stephen King novels (I know I’m going to get slated here…) which are cumbersome and slow because they’re written for the screen; these things last only a moment on set, but cost several minutes to read through.

So that’s the slow parts. Now the other bits are really exciting! And of course I’m talking about time travel – though take note: The Time Will Tell series isn’t just about time travel; the time travel element is one of the many science fiction ideas which comes with Alex from the future and which is exposed through Sean’s curiosity.

As you’d expect, these follow on novels bring in new and additional ideas – refilling water canisters, or new features of the “STE” such as the preservation of internal inertia (cf one of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey sequels) for example. I can’t remember what “STE” stands for, proving Sean’s point made in …Before You Leap that it should be given a more catchy name (“Steffi”) to make it more memorable. In fact this latter point is important – …Saves Nine and …In One Basket maintain consistency throughout.

I particularly like how Steffi undergoes a change, showing that things change for Alex as well as those in the past who he’s visited. There’s an interesting ‘relationship’ between Alex and Steffi where at times it seems that the role of (wo)man and machine have reversed!

Time travel component

Naturally I’d like to focus in a bit more on the time travel component, especially as this is a key area of strength within the novels.

“Steffi” is the time machine – actually, much more than that. Time travel is just one of its features (and I use the term “it” with caution ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). The mechanics were essentially given in Book 1 and aren’t revisited here, but we do see much more application of time travel. Drying shoes by leaving them out in the sun for 2 days but picking them up moments later, or returning after a long stint on a time travel journey to moments afterwards in a conversation, etc. It reminded me of Ben in The Chronothon (Nathan Van Coops) and how he was able to have a flexible approach when it came to time travel.

I’d suggest that dexterity is a prerequisite for time travel – not just knowing how to do it, or even being able to do it, but being able to ‘play’ with it!

The idiom that a tool is only as good as its user carries on when we see how Sean and Alex not only react differently when time travelling, but how they experience time within Steffi. The result is a strange cross between horrific and amazing – another stark caution when we play around with nature’s laws of time!

(You might be interested in this post: Watch the time machine which discusses what may go on inside a time machine! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Things really step up a notch in the second half of …Saves Nine when some of the deeper realms of time travel paradoxes are explored. The explanation of a change in time being like a stone getting chucked into the River of Time and causing ripples into the future comes back here, this time commenting that the ripples, whilst having having insignificant effect on most people, have a huge significance for Sean.

The predicament that he finds himself in is somewhat predictable, but he gets to observe some brilliant family dynamics. Alex has a good solution to find a method in finding out what happened (again, obvious) and the plot takes off!

Sean, as in …Before You Leap continues to be incredibly annoying, but he does pose a few thoughts regarding the nature of time, time travel and multiple versions of self; if a character dies but is brought back to life during a revisit to the past, did that character really die, or is there a new time line?

It’s fascinating stuff, and I really have the feeling that …Saves Nine and …In One Basket address the issues associated with time travel in a much more mature manner than in the first book.

General points

I was expecting more from …Saves Nine when it came to Sean and his younger version of Dad meeting and interacting. After all, it was the purpose of the visit. How did Sean feel about it? Did he see himself in his father? In hindsight, my expectations were probably more from Sean than from the novel, and maybe it was my own adult view to find this aspect interesting (how would my daughters react to seeing me in my youth?). Of course Sean disappoints, and Alex notes the same; Sean is more interested in chasing girls than finding out more about his dad.

Despite my own desires regarding content not matching the target audience’s, I do feel that I ‘won’ in other areas. I really liked it how some plots of some movies are referred to, but without spelling out which movie. This credits the reader with some intelligence (this is where I feel a little smug!) – and lets the ignorant off the hook. To be honest, the chances are that I’ve missed other references but I don’t realise it!

Talking of education…with parts of the novel being rooted in the past there’s some educational merit; Alex’s explanations to an ignorant Sean provide a nice way for 1969 to be put into historical perspective. The section which stood out most to me was Alex’s description of why people stood against the hippy movement (and why it existed) pointing out that people now (so 1995) were more tolerant of differing views than back in 1969. He also pointed out the cyclical nature of fashion. I couldn’t help but bring my mind back to thecurrent stupidity in the UK in the racist aftermath of Brexit.

To be fair to Sean – he gets his chance to educate Alex too, for example, on the idioms on the English language, or on living life with feelings and less logic. In my review of …Before You Leap I commented on Alex’s similarity with The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon. In these later books, especially recalling the Alex-Steffi paradigm, I’m reminded this time of the ‘good terminator’ when the kid in Terminator 2 is teaching him how to say “Hasta la vista, Baby” etc..

Rating * * * *

Ultimately, these second and third novels in the Time Will Tell series are a pretty decent novel version of the situation played out in the Back to the Future movie where a teenager battles for his own existence.

However, giving this a star rating is inaccurate because …Saves Nine and …In One Basket highlight particularly well how insane it is to sum up a whole novel with a rating system which uses only a single value; it’s the same principle when you stick your feet in the freezer and your head in the oven and on average your body is at a comfortable temperature: the 4 stars is a cross between a mediocre 3* and a sizzling 5*

Don’t throw out the wheat with the chaff!

It’s the slow sections which for me bring the novels into the mediocre realm in places – ploughing through the word count until the scene setting, character building, historical background or whatever has been laid out. But then comes the juicy stuff, and it mustn’t be missed! Glowing and sparkling with a host of time travel (and other scifi) ideas, all served up as a riveting 5 star gourmet menu for our reading pleasure! ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ll shortly be interviewing Les and quizzing him about some aspects of his Time Will Tell series – stand by!

Update: As promised, here’s the link! ๐Ÿ™‚

Author interview with Les

Paul

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Disclaimer: Les kindly sent me a free copy of “…Before you Leap” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: The Clock that went Backward by Edward Page Mitchell

The more I think about “The Clock that Went Backward” and the more times I reread it, the more frustrated I become with it. And yet at the same time – more impressed!

There’s something wrong with The Clock that Went Backward. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Clock That Went Backward
Image used with kind permission from Natalie Kay-Thatcher (2015).

Turn the clock back 135 years to 18 September 1881, and you’ll find the publication of one of the first time travel stories – The Clock that Went Backward by Edward Page Mitchell.

Wikipedia informs us that it has the first instance of a temporal paradox (reference: wikipedia) as well as reminding us of the fact that it was published before H. G. Well’s more famous The Time Machine (1895) and even before Well’s (some consider, prequel ) The Chronic Argonauts (1888).

Curious?

Synopsis

It seems bizarre to give a synposis of a short story, but here it is. And prepare yourself for a whanger of a spoiler: There’s a clock which goes backwards.

Two cousins are puzzled over a grandfather clock which belongs to their Dutch great Aunt Gertrude. It hasn’t worked since it was struck by lightning, and they are met with refusals when they offer to help with getting the clock fixed. One night they find Aunt Gertrude winding up the clock and note that it ran backwards. When it stops moving she falls to the floor and dies.

Later, when college professor Prof. van Stopp winds up the clock, time flows backwards until a ball of fire strikes the clock. The professor and the cousins find themselves in a critical period during Holland’s history in 1574; the siege of Leyden.

At this time, a breach has been made in the wall of Leyden and needs defending whilst most of the inhabitants count on good weather the following day to bring in ships with military help.

One of the cousins, Harry, saves the life of the mayor’s daughter; the other cousin returns back to his own time with Prof. van Stopp where the latter gives a lecture where he considers how the future affects the past.

Let down

On first reading I was so disappointed with The Clock that Went Backward that I had to read it again to see if I had missed anything.

I’m still not sure that I haven’t.

The title of course gives it away, so even before reading we know what’s going to happen. A clock is going to go backwards. There’s no sharing in the brothers’ mystery surrounding the clock.

And the clock’s strange behaviour causes something strange to happen – but what exactly?

No flow

The Clock that Went Backward is a short story so it needs to get the point across fairly quickly. But it doesn’t, and I blame this on the terrible way in which differing themes seem to have been crudely patched together like a dodgy cut and paste job. There’s no flow.

Each of the 5 chapters are almost stand-alone, and where one finishes on a building climax, the next drops us like sloppy jelly. For example, at the end of Chapter 3 the clock hands are spinning backwards, the house is shaking, there’s a ball of fire, dazzling light and…Chapter 4 goes straight on to describe the people of Leyden. It’s not a secondary plot line, there’s no continuity – just a jaw dropping hiatus.

So when the cousins find themselves back in 1574 we’re given a huge explanation over the siege of Leyden. Now, it’s true that I don’t like prolonged confusion of characters when they (unknowingly) travel in time, but here they just carry on and immediately start interacting with locals. It’s as if either they’re different people entirely, or that they’re the same people as in the previous chapter but are too thick to realise that things around them are different. Or that there’s a chapter missing. (Actually I checked: there isn’t).

At this stage then, there seems to be a loss of focus. What happened to the clock? Are we talking about time travel, or being in a new era with new problems?

Burgomaster van der Werf offers sword
Burgomaster van der Werf offers his sword to the people of Leiden, by Mattheus Ignatius van Bree. Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org.

Reasoning aside, we’re now in 1574 during a siege. Two events happen of note – the mayor who offers to sacrifice himself, and the battle / victory itself which hinges on a single person (as cousin Henry notes). There’s a lot of detail written in here; is this the author showcasing his research into real events during this time?

Perhaps I should be more lenient in my judgement of The Clock that Went Backward because after all, it is one of the early advocates of the time travel genre. And the time travel aspects which it incorporates are intriguing!

Time travel philosophy

As is fitting with the general writing style and theme flow of this story, time travel for the most part gets tacked on almost as an afterthought with random paragraphs wedged into the main text. But – they’re very interesting and open up the world of time travel philosophy!

This is made easier seeing as one of the characters, Professor van Stopp, is a professor of philosophy who poses many questions to the brothers.

For example, he asks why shouldn’t a clock go backwards, and goes on to ask why time itself shouldn’t also go backwards. My own question concerns that of the clock itself – is its backward movement symptomatic of time flowing backwards, or does time was flow backwards because of it?

The professor then goes on to suggest that the Earth’s rotation powers time because this is how the day is made (perhaps a precursor to Superman’s apparent ability to turn back time by causing the Earth to spin in the opposite direction?)

One of my favourite lines he gives is:

“Past, present, and future and future are woven together in one inextricable mesh.”

There are many more too, and really shouldn’t be missed!

A connection through time

The idea of bringing the past (or future) into experience as the present is brought here in its simplest form by linking the characters from one era to another. But there’s something not quite right.

It seems that – or we’re lead to believe that – some of the characters in 1574 are the same as some of those in the present; the story unravels to reveal that the heroic defender was the professor, but who was described as being the brother of the town’s mayor’s wife…and a clock maker – the same one who made the grandfather clock owned by Aunt Gertrude.

But it’s unclear, even perhaps inconsistent…

It doesn’t add up.

Professor van Stopp has “…a physical appearance similar to Aunt Gertrude”, and we’re strongly encouraged to consider that they are brother and sister. The prof points out a photo of the mayor who he considers could well be their father.

So do Gertude and van Stopp have a place in history?

Given the similarity of spelling of Gertude and Gertuyd, it seems that we’re being asked to consider that they are one and the same; a fact corroborated if we look at the dates given in Great Aunt Gertrude’s genealogy near the beginning of the novel (and drummed home to the cousins because it might be important).

Van Stopp owns one of the few houses which predates 1574 which already casts a loose net into history. Further, one of the cousins notes, when back in 1574, that the clock maker looks like van Stopp. The clock maker (note: also the maker of the clock that went backwards) is the husband of the mayor’s wife. Are van Stopp and the clock maker the same?

But here’s the problem. Is van Stopp the mayor’s brother-in-law (clock maker) – or his son (as derived from the photo)?

Likewise, is Gertrude the mayor’s daughter (Gertruyd / genealogy) or the mayor’s unnamed wife?

Gertuyd has a romantic interest with Henry (who remains behind in time). Assuming they stay together as a couple, there are more questions…

If Gertude is the mayor’s unnamed wife, then this makes Henry the Mayor (yikes – he married to his own daughter and present in time at 2 ages – sounds like something from Heinlein!). Actually, given the genealogy, he can’t be the father because Gertrude’s father was a Wiscasset shipper.

OK, so this points to Gertrude and Van Stopp not being brother and sister. Were they so in the present? There’s no mention of it.

In hindsight, the prof talking of a coincidence that the mayor looks like his father…if he was, he’d have known and not talked about it as a coincidence (or even pointed out the photo to the cousins.). This again, this is consistent with the idea that people are different in different times.

I can’t see how this hangs together…what have I misunderstood?

Open questions

There are other open questions:

  • Why does Aunt Gertrude die when the clock goes backward, but Prof van Stopp travels back in time (and back to the present again)?
  • Why were the cousins transported back in time only the second time that the clock went backwards, i.e. with the prof, and not with Gertrude?
  • Why didn’t Henry come back to the present?
  • If van Stopp is the clock maker, why didn’t he recognise the clock in the present time?
  • Summary

    The more I think about The Clock that Went Backward and the more times I reread it, the more frustrated I become with it. And yet at the same time – more impressed!

    The attention given over to the philosophical nature of time certainly places The Clock that went Backward firmly into the time travel genre and makes it worth a read to the time travel enthusiast. But I’d suggest that whilst philosophy demands open minds and thoughts, it should not be used as an excuse to not provide answers – and there are plenty of those in need in this short story.

    Indeed, I sense that many of the open questions have not been deliberately placed, but are there through inconsistency or even through error. They’re more “unanswered” than “open”.

    Despite multiple readings, I’ve still not come to understand the point of this short story. Is it the power of the clock, the siege of Leyden, the characters straddling time, or the philosophical nature of time?

    You can read it for yourself here (note: external content) – I’d be interested to know what you make of it!

    For the real version of events at the Siege of Leiden, why not take check out the webpage at Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden? Note that the museum itself it temporarily closed but will reopen in Spring 2019.

    Thanks again to Natalie Kay-Thatcher for the use of her image. Natalie’s work explores the merging of science and imagination with image-making and workshops; you can see more on her website.

    Paul

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    Author interview: Patricia Smith (Time Split)

    Patricia Smith is currently busy with her sequel to her time travel novel, Time Split. As well as time travel, Patricia’s written novels in other areas of science fiction – and the end of the world!

    Interview with Patricia Smith

    Author Patricia Smith
    Time Split author, Patricia Smith

    Science fiction author Patricia Smith is the author of Time Split – a short but concise time travel novel which works on a single time line. She’s also written other science fiction novels, all of which reflect her interest in some way – the end of the world…

    Time Split by Patricia Smith
    Time Split by Patricia Smith

    What I particularly like about Time Split is how real – or at least, plausible – the science and the process behind the science, is. Time Split also dives into not just the science side of science fiction, but also the human element, with particularly chilling detail given over to post nuclear fallout.

    Add to that Patricia’s unique way of presenting an alternative history when it comes to the “Let’s kill Hitler” line!

    Anyway. Here’s Patricia to tell us more about it – and more!

    I love how you describe experiments at the start of the novel – the set up, results, possible conclusions and testing new hypotheses. This injects science into the novel and makes this a ‘proper’ sci fi novel. What was your motivation to do it this way?

    Patricia: I want my stories to be based on actual science; they might be pushing the boundaries of science, but could still be possible. The reader has to understand what is going on. I did not want them to have to leave their beliefs at the door. I wanted them to have faith in the world I created. I feel itโ€™s the only way to emotionally engage people.

    Often living matter is a problem in experimentation in science fiction, but in Jason’s teleportation experiments it brings about an interesting (and in our case desired) side effect – time travel! Is this evidence that space and time are intrinsically linked, or that in science anything can happen?

    Patricia: Electromagnetic fields would behave differently with inanimate and animated objects. An inanimate object can be encompassed by an electromagnetic field, but when a being produces its own electromagnetic field then it will influence the outcome of the field being project on to it, hence the introduction of living matter can have unforeseen circumstances.

    Directly tackling the grandfather paradox is a bold and courageous move in any time travel novel but I thought it was handled really well! Did you have any problems during the writing process in this respect?

    Patricia: I never really thought about it as being the Grandfather paradox, I just thought about it as time splitting at the point of the change and creating a new time stream from that point on. My writing process was I wanted to get from A-C and I had to make B believable to do so.

    I read that the RAF police chased you whilst you were carrying out some research for your novel. Did this experience dissuade you researching other areas of the novel – or did it give you a heightened sense of adventure?

    Tricia Smith

    Patricia: It gave me a fright. Having a vivid imagination everything gets blown out of all proportion, of course and I had visions of getting arrested, which I probably would have been. I could not have told them what I was doing. Can you imagine it, โ€œOh, yes, Officer. I’m just seeing if this base was destroyed in a nuclear blast, whether Alnwick would survive.โ€ That would have gone down well. Sometimes my research requires me to check out different weapons on the internet. I get a little bit worried about that because you never know who’s watching what sites youโ€™re browsing.

    I thought your description of nuclear fallout was brilliant and very emotive. How on Earth did you write that bit?

    Patricia: I grew up towards the back end of the Cold War and was very much aware of the tensions between Russia and America. There was a great deal of fear about the possibility of nuclear war and it was a subject I had a morbid fascination for. I knew a little bit about the horrors of nuclear war, but again research was the key and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima provided a lot of the information I used in the book.

    If nuclear fallout isn’t bad enough you added more evil with the despicable Briggs! Are people inherently evil?

    Patricia: Is it nature or nuture? I think some people might be inherently evil, but then it could be circumstances that made them that way. If you take a wolf out of the pack and put it with deer, it wonโ€™t become deer, it will still be a wolf at the end of the day, but you might be able to train it to protect the deer and not to eat them. I think there are people you have learned to prey on other people and are ready to take advantage of bad situations, people like Briggs.

    I’ve read several time travel novels with a character named Jason. Can you share the time travel author beans on this. .. is it the “July August September October November” thing, or is it something completely different?

    Patricia: I named my character after my cousin Jason who had a difficult start in life. He managed to turn himself completely around and I was so proud of him I wanted to call my character Jason in his honour.

    You describe yourself as “absolutely nuts about astronomy and writing apocalyptic thrillers”. Do astrologers (not equal to astronomers) really have knowledge of the future and will they ever be able to predict the apocalypse? Or are they absolutely nuts?

    Patricia: Some people might believe that the planets and suns do influence their destiny. The constellations may have been used as a calendar so that people knew when to plant and gather their crops and they were always embroiled in mythology so it’s understandable that these beliefs evolved into the astrology of today. I suppose predicting the future is just another step on from there.

    In keeping with your astronomical interest you’ve written the “Distant Suns” series. Can you tell a little about this?

    Distant Suns by Patricia Smith

    Patricia: Distant Suns is based around the idea of ‘What if Jupiter became a sun.’ How would this affect our planet and could we survive? With global warming a hot topic, my thinking was how much extra would it take to tip the balance. Still, run away global warming was not the only worry and again I leaned on my interest in astronomy to come up with further problems, all of which are more than possible, including Jupiter becoming a sun.

    You’ve also travelled in the opposite direction along the z axis and written about 500 specialists living at the bottom of the sea. Naturally as an oceanographer I’m curious about this! Can you share anything about it?

    Islands- the Epidemic by Patricia Smith

    Patricia: One fifth of the planet is land so my thinking behind Islands was what if you could occupy the ocean instead of the land. Most of the ocean would be way too deep, of course, but still a lot of the coastal shelves would be shallow enough to allow light to penetrate enough to support cities. My vision was huge cities at the bottom of the ocean, freeing up the land for the growth of food and possibly for leisure.

    Your bio pic shows you standing in snow with no coat on. How do I explain that to my daughters?

    Patricia Smith in the snow
    Patricia Smith – braver than I!

    Patricia: Thermals! I had full length thermals underneath my pants and top. Also, I never understood what they meant by the dry cold air not being as cold as the damp cold air in the UK, until I experienced it. I was a little bit cool, but considering it was -15, I would have expected a lot worse. The dampness is the killer, that and the wind, which can make a massive difference, dry air or not.

    Apart from standing in snow, how do you spend your free time?

    Patricia: As you stated before, I love astronomy. I have my own telescope and I love nothing more than going out on a crystal clear night to look at the stars. It just blows me away to see the mountains on the moon, rings around Saturn, Orionโ€™s star nursery, the clouds on Jupiter โ€“ breath taking! During the day I also like hill walking, mountain biking and on a more sedate note, getting together for lunch with my lovely friends.

    Follow Patricia Smith
    Patricia Smith

    Patricia is currently busy with a sequel for Time Split – for news on her progress you can follow Patricia on her website, Facebook page and Twitter (@ForTheLoveOfSF).

    Review: Time Split by Patricia Smith

    Paul

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    Review: Hegira (Jim Cronin)

    “Hegira” is the first book in Jim Cronin’s “The Brin Archives” series and brings us a superb combination of world building, alien races and time travel. It’s well written, covers a phenomenal range of subject matter, and (importantly) deals with many aspects of time travel too!

    Hegira is the first book in The Brin Archives series by Jim Cronin and brings us a superb combination of world building, alien races and time travel.

    Brief synopsis

    Hegira by Jim Cronin

    Members of the Skae species find a derelict alien spacecraft with DNA samples onboard. From these samples two are able to be cloned, one of whom grows up to be Karm. Karm is trained by one of the Skae to go back in time to help save his species (the “Brin”) from extinction.

    The main thrust of the plot is what and how Karm orchestrates events and people in order to complete his mission.

    Naturally, nothing is easy…whilst he’s back on his home planet of Dyan’ta, Karm needs to deal with a monarch with cut throat political intentions and whose younger brother is the leader of an increasingly powerful and influential religious sect. Will power and greed cost the Brin their future?

    Not so final destination

    Hegira is mostly a destination based time travel novel and deals with how Karm acts to preserve the original time line. He doesn’t flit around from one time to another, or fiddle with the nuts and bolts of a time machine – but he is continuously aware of the impact of his actions of today on tomorrow.

    Admittedly my first thought after a couple of chapters in was “Ah – another pseudo time travel novel and not a ‘proper’ one with the time travelley bells, whistles and (un)murdered grampas ๐Ÿ™ ” But like a blob of wet clay spinning on a potters’ wheel, Hegira morphs majestically into a juicy time travel novel with some serious clout!

    I shouldn’t knock the destination side of things. Going back in time and saving a species from extinction – now that should be pretty griping – right?

    (Right!)

    Despite my momentary misgivings about the nature of time travel in this novel, Hegira had me gripped from the outset!

    Time travel element

    Where Hegira‘s focus is on being in a new temporal destination, there is plenty for the die hard time travel enthusiast.

    What I particularly like is how the intricacies of time travel are addressed in a delicate undertone which sets this novel apart from many of the destination-based novels out there.

    The methodology is touched on only lightly (and actually comes in early in the novel) – but adopts an approach which probably could be justified in science.

    It’s explained to Karm (and therefore us) that cosmic strings can be used to travel in space. They can also be used to travel in time (hinting at space-time entanglement) though there is a measure of uncertainties involved. Closed time curves mean that trips in time are one way.

    The nature of events in time is also addressed, being described as like ripples on a pond. With Karm restricting his actions to the outer and therefore less important ripples, there is little danger in upsetting the future. At first I liked this idea. We commonly read of time being like a flowing river or setting up waves into the past or future. Ripples (actually a kind of wave) is another variation. The idea of small events being washed out and rendered insignificant in comparison with the main river of time flow is also commonplace, but putting the emphasis on naturally diminishing ripples I thought was good.

    But after a little thinking I wonder if it’s misplaced – wouldn’t the time traveller be the stone thrown into this pond of time, and therefore by design be right at the epicentre of temporal chaos? Or am I making the cardinal mistake of taking this analogy literally?

    Actually, on the subject of temporal disasters and upsetting the time line, author Jim Cronin has put a grand mechanism in place to avert it – keep an eye out!

    In time travel terms, Hegira is about predestination, or at least maintaining it. Then again, if destiny needs to be maintained, then it’s not destiny, is it…?.

    Originality

    Sit enough monkeys on enough typewriters for enough time, and eventually one of them will be reproducing the works of Shakespeare.

    The point of the above? That statistically speaking, anything that goes around will at some point come round again. And I think the same can be said of great ideas in science fiction.

    Reading Hegira brought to mind several ideas which I’ve read in other novels or seen in movies. To be clear – I’m not pointing a plagiaristic finger, but rather highlighting the fact that Hegira casts its net far and wide when it comes to encompassing genre, style and content.

    For example, reanimating / cloning alien DNA is not a new idea (e.g. Species film) but there’s a different spin on it in Hegira. Karm’s life on the planet Dyan’ta whispers d4 (Sherrie Cronin), and Contact (Carl Sagan), Timeshaft (Stewart Bint) and the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) will certainly be in the minds of those who have read them.

    The most obvious similarity to another work of fiction is the Skae’s use of Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”. And here it’s clear what I’m on about – although popularised by Star Trek, the prime directive is just a normal idea; it was around before Star Trek. The Prime Directive isn’t Star Trek’s.

    At its most basic, a parent who lets go of the hand of their child whilst they’re learning to walk (and letting them fall), employs the prime directive – watching, but with no interference. The professor watching over students having an increasingly heated discussion, and letting them carry on to see where it leads and what ideas will come out of it, employs the prime directive. It’s all around us.

    Author Jim Cronin takes the prime directive and applies an original twist to it. It goes one way; where the more advanced Skae don’t inform Karm of their technology, they can learn new cloning processes and techniques from the Brin – and apply this new knowledge. Brilliant!

    World building

    It’s clear that Jim is a master in finding new angles in existing ideas – as well as creating his own – but these need to find a place where they can find a home. Jim’s created a world and a universe in which these ideas can form and blossom.

    The Brin world of Dyan’ta is such a place. Naturally it has its own clock / calendar system (26 hours a day, 10 days a week – so we know that this is indeed an alien world). Vegetation has blue leaves (so no chlorophyll; no photosynthesis but some other form of bio energy extraction) and animals differ from those on Earth.

    World building also extends to financial, political and social angles. Don’t tell the kids, but there are Brinnish (Jim – is that a word?) swear words! There’s even a sport (“rings”). As in many other aspects, details don’t spoil the narrative – these things are just there and in place. Compare this to the nonsensical quidditch crap in Harry Potter where the rules don’t even make sense (everything done by the team counts for nothing if Potter gets a seeker ball or something).

    Time travel methodology aside, less is more! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Ah yes, and of course there’s technology; faster than light travel, for instance – and time travel! ๐Ÿ™‚

    My only complaint is that I didn’t have a good handle on how the Brin species looked. I know they have feathers, talons and heels…but no wings?

    Writing style

    Overall I thought the writing style of Hegira is really well done! As I mentioned earlier I was immediately drawn into the characters and the plot which is very impressive considering that there’s a huge backdrop against which the novel is set.

    There’s a huge variety of aspects packed into this novel; everything has its (equal) place, and there’s no area which seems weak in comparison to others.

    The Brin world of Dyan’ta really comes to life; does it really exist?

    Rating * * * * *

    Hegira by Jim Cronin earns an easy 5 stars. It’s well written, covers a phenomenal range of subject matter, and (importantly) deals with many aspects of time travel too!

    Read my interview with author Jim Cronin over on Time Travel Nexus!

    Paul

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    Review: Stumbling on a Tale (Suzanne Roche)

    “Stumbling On a Tale” is the next novel in the “Time to Time” series by Suzanne Roche. Like its predecessor it’s written beautifully and sweeps the reader in the author’s enthusiasm for the time and place that the novel is set. Layers are gradually added to the time travel mechanism, and there’s also promise of more great time travel things to follow too!

    Stumbling On a Tale

    Stumbling On a Tale by Suzanne Roche is a beautifully crafted time travel novel aimed at middle grade readers (8-12 years old). It follows Book 1, Making it Home, in Suzanne’s Time to Time series.

    The writing style and fluency in Stumbling On a Tale is just as wonderful as previously, but the style in mapping out the story line differs substantially.

    Perhaps all sequels should be like this.

    Stumbling on a Tale (Suzanne Roche)

    Often, sequels follow the same format as earlier novels in a series – Suzanne does it differently in Stumbling On a Tale and I think the approach works well.

    We have the same characters – brothers Henry and Max, and their older step-sister Peri, and we have the same scenario where they’re transported back in time. From here there’s a divergence in the structure.

    Plot structure

    Where the plot was moved forwards in Making it Home by laying out a series of tasks for Peri, Henry and Max to follow with a clear end goal in mind, the plot in Stumbling on a Tale appears at first glance to be stationary. The children are dumped in a forest and come across secondary characters who tell stories to each other.

    And that seems to be about it. The children are lost in a forest – but have we lost the plot somewhere?

    I don’t think so. It’s not until the closing chapters that the tales come into focus and their context with each other is made clear. Indeed, things are wrapped up very nicely.

    But that’s not to say that prior to the revelation of clarity that Stumbling On a Tale is dull! Suzanne’s writing style is gently humourous and we get the feeling that this is an author who genuinely has fun in the time and location that she’s placed her characters – and she sweeps the reader up in her enthusiasm by educating us in a subtle yet effective manner through her narration!

    Characters

    My biggest disappointment was the loss of Peri as the main character (as she was in Making it Home). The focus in Stumbling On a Tale seems to be on Henry – although of course he frequently looks to his older step-sister and star of the last book.

    Henry is not as strong a main character as Peri was. Mostly he just whines and wants to be at home playing chess. He’s a negative kind of a chap and I felt little sympathy for him. Sadly, Peri often seemed to be dragged down to Henry’s level in discussion. Actually, even one of the indigenous characters even noted how much they bickered with each other.

    Thrust into time travel

    I’ve always hated the confusion beset by unknowing time travelers. Not that I’d do any better, but I’m a reader and I’ve picked (or been given) a book from the time travel section off the bookshelf. Unlike the characters in the novel I at least partly know what to expect.

    Peri, Max and Henry have their share of confusion but being younger maybe they rely on their adventure method of learning more than getting bogged down like us oldies who stumble and rummage around looking for previous experience to help us deal with problems. And with no time travel experience we’re lost and confused.

    The children in this second novel of the Time to Time series have a new take. They’re ready for adventure (sort of – Peri is, and Max is young enough to, but Henry whines), but they also have experience of how their time travel works. It happened before, so surely they can follow the same rules and get back home the same way that they did last time?

    There’s the catch. Either they’re prevented from following the rules, or the rules have altered, or they need to develop their ideas of the rules further.

    In Making it Home, the time travel rules weren’t known, so the children – and plot – kept moving forwards. In Stumbling On a Tale the time travel rules aren’t playing and so present a problem. The children spend more time in mental solving mode – and this is the journey which moves the plot forwards.

    Time travel

    The time travel mechanism itself, as you can imagine in a novel for younger readers, isn’t exactly realistic, but it does fit nicely into the realm of magic and fantasy – and ideas for children to consider.

    We’re reminded of the time travel method fairly early on. An antique is placed on an encyclopedia and the children are taken back in time to where that antique first came from. The return mechanism is slightly more complex – but won’t be mentioned here because that’s a large part of this novel!

    I missed it when I read Making it Home, but I caught it this time; when the children go back in time, they ‘arrive’ in clothing suitable to the period. Often in time travel novels there’s a lot of attention given over to the transport of non organic matter (such as clothing) when time travelling.

    Again, there’s no scientific explanation as to why clothing morphs from the style of one time period to another, but then again – this is a kids book! But the point is embraced here all the same, and indeed the clothing styles help the children (through Peri) understand something about the era in which they’ve arrived, as well as the status that they – and those they meet – hold in relation to each other.

    I like the closing scenes of Stumbling On a Tale because we start to hit some of the deeper time travel stuff. I mentioned earlier that Peri, Henry and Max are in need of figuring out how to possibly expand the rules of their time travel and one of their discussion ends up with the idea of pre-destination – the things that the children did in the past had to happen because they had already happened in the present and had been already been recorded in history.

    We can therefore deduce that we’re operating on a single time line, and not several time lines with alternative histories.

    That said, there’s the encyclopedia. I mentioned in my review of Making it Home that the encyclopedia had an interesting angle, and indeed we are slowly learning some more of the intricacies behind the the mysteries that it holds – such as a change in location of publisher. The epilogue here adds another layer of of mystery of the origin and meaning of the book. I’m looking forward to reading more!

    Print layout and quality

    I’ll finish with a superficial look at the print layout and quality. It was a problem in the first book and I harped on about it in my review of Making it Home and I’ve since noted that several other reviewers have also mentioned it. It’s sad that it hasn’t been addressed in the second book of the series.

    This print edition has the look of a low quality novel. The paper quality is good, but the text is faint. The point size is one bigger than previously which helps, but the text is squidged within a narrow print space with huge margins on each side so it looks like there was a problem with the printer – a possible scenario given that the Epilogue and following pages have a more sensible layout.

    The images suffer the same problem as before – they’re too small. Perhaps this is an odd thing to say because they already reduce the amount of text on a page (leading to more page turns) so increasing their size would exacerbate the problem the problem further.

    I’m in two minds about the inclusion of the captioned images. They seem like an easy way of removing description from the narrative which may be appealing for the young target audience and they do make the page visually attractive. But there’s no real right time to look at / read them because they’re relevant for a large chuck of text on the page which may or may not flow onto the next.

    Personally I don’t like pictures in books. To quote / paraphrase Sheldon from the “Big Bang Theory” sitcom, the greatest graphics card is the human imagination. That’s where the power of an author lies – in helping to shape a reader’s imagination. Slapping a picture ‘saves’ a thousand words but it makes us lazy.

    Admittedly, maybe it’s a different condition with younger readers.

    I’d advocate resizing the images to page width, and inserting them at a suitable locations in the text. They’d be larger, clearer, easier to read, and at the right place. But yes – more page turning.

    How the above issues translate on an electronic book format I don’t know.

    Final thoughts and rating * * * * *

    My first instinct was to knock off a star because Peri is no longer the wonderful main character that she was in Making it Home, and instead we have whingey Henry.

    Will Max be the main character in the third novel? Personally I hope not. Good child actors are rare, and I’d be cautious that we may have a literary equivalent here with Max. I’d love to see Peri return, but I do concede that it’s probably Max’s ‘turn’.

    I was also tempted to knock off a star because of the vagueness of the general story line where we stagger from one tale to another (as the title may suggest!). But I got to thinking that not only is this a novel approach in appealing to younger readers, things do sort of come together at the end and wrap up.

    I also really appreciate that layers are being added to the time travel element – not just the the encyclopedia aspect, but in more subtle things like the discussions leading to the idea of predestination.

    I’m looking forward to Book 3 which guessing from the Epilogue sounds very promising – Peri trying to the solve the mystery which shrouds the encyclopedia. Perfect!

    Review: Making it Home (Suzanne Roche)

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

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    Review: Fated Memories by Joan Carney

    Fated Memories by Joan Carney is a well written and interesting exploration into the times of the American Civil War seen through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie. Surviving as nurses they see the harsher sides of the war, although a romantic light shines its light into the novel. Frequent comparisons between the duo’s past and present keep the time travel theme alive, though as is fitting with the flavour of the novel, there is no heavy scientific content.

    Fated Memories by Joan Carney is an interesting delve into the past thanks to a simplistic time travel device and characters who yearn to be back in their own time.

    Fated Memories book cover (Joan Carney)

    It’s a relatively simple plot – Kitty and Maggie inexplicably find themselves transported back in time to 1861 – the time of the American Civil War. Without knowing how they got there, or more importantly, how to get back, they enlist as nurses at an army camp which gives them food, shelter and a degree of protection.

    Although they often seem to wallow around a bit waiting for things to respond to rather then trying to actively deal with their predicament, Joan writes with an easy style which keeps the reader engaged and interested in what’s happening – and what will come!

    A large element of Fated Memories devotes itself to the day to day living experiences within that compound – some pleasant, and others harrowing, and this is where the main thrust of the novel lies; in how Kitty and Maggie come to terms with their new temporal location.

    Many time travel novels involve characters being thrust into another era who then need to deal with finding a way back or getting on with things. Fated Memories has a bit of both – the lack of knowledge of how things happened and the uncomfortable environment they find themselves in brings an intense internal conflict.

    At times Kitty and Maggie make temporary plans with an eye on the near term future (for example, getting things to eat and a place sleep) to a longer term view as their prospect of return becomes increasingly bleak. Soldiers around them help them settle in, and for the most part are respectful and friendly (complete in one case with a proposal). That said – this duo could look after themselves pretty well!

    Writing style

    Fated Memories is very well written. Joan writes smoothly with sentences which somehow give more information and feeling than at face value. No, I don’t know how it’s done!

    What I really like is that every now and then there’s a small section with a couple of paragraphs which describe conditions or feelings then we’re back to main story line. These small sections are almost like an aside or a semi-running commentary or something. It’s a powerful writing technique which I’ve not seen before – and don’t know why not!

    At times I was reminded of Marlys Millhiser’s The Mirror – not in the negative way in that I didn’t enjoy it, but in the way that Kitty and Maggie seemed to resign to being in the past and just got on with things. This is predominantly a destination novel where the focus is on what characters do once they’re done with time travel (rather than the ‘journey’ novel which focuses more on the time travel mechanics and time machine side of things).

    But where The Mirror is dull and misses several time travel opportunities, Joan keeps things active in Fated Memories – not necessarily through time travel related mechanics and paradoxes, but with active comparison between the past and present, complete with frustration of life threatening changes in medical practices. (Actually in this last respect Fated Memories has a huge amount of medical information. It doesn’t come over as contrived, but as natural thought processes that Kitty and Maggie have as trained nurses. I thought it was really well done!)

    Genre

    Science fiction?

    I wouldn’t normally include a “Genre” section, but whilst reading through Joan’s website regarding the front cover (which I’ll come back to in a bit) I thought I’d write a few thoughts here.

    Joan describes Fated Memories as science fiction because time travel isn’t possible. I think this is a fair point to make, although personally I subscribe to Asimov’s description of a science fiction novel being one in which science plays a central role, i.e, if the science was taken out then the novel would no longer make sense. In this latter sense, Fated Memories isn’t science fiction.

    OK, so Fated Memories contains no science, but it does make use of a phenomenon which for now has not been scientifically realised and therefore remains within the (science) fiction camp…!

    Time travel romance?

    Where there is no scientific content, Fated Memories picks up on character development. Indeed, Kitty and Maggie are characters who for the most part seem to be driven by their love interest.

    That said, I’m not sure if Fated Memories comes in as a romance novel either – there is a love interest and a heavy emphasis on relationships, but I’m not convinced that this is the main thrust of the plot. Certainly it’s a strong back-drop and motivation (or induced behaviour) for much of what Kitty and Maggie do.

    Chick lit?

    I’m not sure what “chick lit” is (or even if it’s an offensive term), but Fated Memories, especially at the end, starts to drift into what I imagine romantic fiction geared towards ladies would be like.

    For me the ‘give away’ is that whilst Kitty and Maggie are well developed characters, the male characters are superficial at best. This may be a little unfair to point out because in other novels with mainly male characters the reverse can often be said for the female participants in the plot. But where I can imagine a “hot girl” quite easily, when Simon’s described as “hot” I draw a blank. Then again, I don’t want to read about rugged looks or tight buns or whatever, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

    Ultimately, I just don’t know who he is and what he really thinks about things. Where the “hot girl” in the male dominated novel is often there to support the big boobs, Simon (and others) are around in Fated Memories to be either the knight in shining armour or the dragon.

    Towards the end of the novel Kitty was winding up in an unrealistic soppy love story with too many conveniences and people to help her out. It’s very cuddly, goody goody and drives the point home that everyone lives happily ever after.

    On the time travel side of things, there’s a huge explanation of what I thought was pretty obvious, but admittedly perhaps this is justifiably toned down for a non scientific novel. That said, there’s potential for a paradoxical twist regarding time travel which never came, though by this stage I think I’d probably bought into the chick lit thing – I wanted the happy ever after bit.

    Mission accomplished, I guess!

    Historical aspect

    Kitty, Maggie and Simon end up travelling back in time to 28 June 1861 which is commensurate with Simon’s memories…of the American Civil War.

    By now I’m sure you’re already aware that I’ve got no knowledge of history so it’ll come as no surprise that some names (e.g. Commander Biddle and Colonel Kane) meant nothing to me. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if they’re not supposed to mean anything to me… But I should mention that I don’t think my lack of historical knowledge detracted from novel (unless Simon was a well known and famous chap and I was expected to have known about him, thus negating the need to provide some deeper character building for him…).

    Kitty and Maggie had a few deep conversations about philosophical approaches to war which I found interesting. For example, ethics are called into question when as nurses they end up caring for wounded ‘enemy’ soldiers. Effectively, this means that a wounded enemy can be brought back to health so they then get to have another shot at killing you later. Killing someone presumably means winning the war? It’s insanity – and as Kitty and Maggie note, these men just wear different colour clothes and stand on the other side of the line.

    It’s a good point: caring for the wounded is not crazy, but often war is.

    Time travel aspect

    Time travel isn’t really a large part of this novel other than it was used to transport the main characters back in time. The time travel element mostly comes into play not through the mechanism or paradoxes, but more through a description of the past through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie who have a modern perspective.

    The time ‘machine’ is simple and necessarily black box. It has an interesting trigger mechanism which I won’t reveal here. It does the job and basic though it is, I was happy to note that there is consistency in its operation and how it’s capable of transporting more than one person at the same time. (“At the same time” – is that even relevant with a time machine? ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    One of my pet peeves with unwilling or unknowing time travelers is that a huge amount of time spent is often spent in confusion after the trip to the past (or future). That is the case in Fated Memories although I’m going to forgive Kitty and Maggie here because of Simon’s previous interest in historical reenactments which blurs the distinction between past and present. It’s a nice new angle which gives credence to the confusion and disbelief, and adds a layer of depth to the new setting the time travelers find themselves in.

    Whilst the story line is a little slow at times, Joan keeps the characters treading water by taking opportunities to wander around the area in that time. For example, Kitty and Maggie go off to get dresses tailor made which means that they get to meet the temporally indigenous people. Whilst it didn’t move the plot forwards these kinds of events provide interesting insights into the destination side of Fated Memories.

    There are other indications that we’re reading a time travel novel; there are frequent links back to the present with references to old houses which now look new, for example, or to local history, how a pinafore got its name, etc. – these things mercifully aren’t done explicitly, but gently and surreptitiously through observations made by the characters.

    There’s one scene which had me in stitches – Kitty swears in front of men who are shocked because women don’t use such language in this time. A cover up story is made hastily – she has tourettes and needs a smack in the mouth to shock her out of it(!) Later, Kitty swears again so a soldier raises his arm as he’s about to hit her as prescribed – but Kitty gets in first; she hits him and warns him not to try it again – and walks off swearing under her breath!

    At first I read this as Kitty being a leopard who can’t change her swearing spots (as well a lady who could look after herself in a male dominated setting) then I got to thinking that maybe we are just tied into our times just as we are with our spatial location – we have a language and a culture which take their roots from where we grew up. Usually.

    A couple of final points

    The butterfly effect

    The front cover of Fated Memories shows a butterfly on a watch.

    Butterfly effect in Fated Memories (Joan Carney)
    The butterfly effect in Fated Memories

    This makes it fairly clear that this is a time travel novel, and indeed there’s a discussion on Joan’s blog where Joan explains that “The butterfly is taken from chaos theory and represents the possible damaging effects a time traveler might have on the future. It is not meant to be whimsical.”

    Indeed, within the novel there’s mention of the butterfly effect. I particularly liked how it was handled at the end by mentioning that the effects of actions in the past, if any, weren’t known. Realistic, and fits with the tone of the novel – perfect!

    Why not?

    The end of the novel made me raise my time travel alert eyebrow. This is the eyebrow over the eye beneath it which sees a phenomenal opportunity to go time travelling and curls upwards in mouth watering anticipation. But in Fated Memories this route isn’t taken.

    Having found the mechanism behind time travel, Kitty, Maggie and companions lock the time machine away. Why? Why not make the most of it? Or is the point that they are now in the happy ever bit and don’t want to change anything?

    Maybe this scientific curiosity / opportunity is another difference between a science fiction novel and novels in other genres.

    Summary and Rating * * * *

    Fated Memories is a well written and interesting exploration into the times of the American Civil War seen through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie. Surviving as nurses they see the harsher sides of the war, although a romantic light shines its light into the novel. Frequent comparisons between the duo’s past and present keep the time travel theme alive, though as is fitting with the flavour of the novel, there is no hard scientific content.

    All in all, an enjoyable read!

    Paul

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    Review: Backwards by Rob Grant

    Backwards isn’t strictly a time travel novel – playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which at the same time creates plenty of comedic scenarios…as you’d hope from a comedy!

    Backwards is the third novel from the “Red Dwarf” TV sitcom devised by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.

    The novel continues from Better Than Life (the sequel to the original Red Dwarf) so the main characters are the same and the plot is consistent.

    Book cover for Backwards (Red Dwarf Series, Rob Grant)

    An introductory summary paragraph provides the relevant thread of the previous book to get us up to speed, so the plot in Backwards is pretty much self contained. That said, the characters are complex – who’d have thought a computer generated hologram, a mechanoid, a humanoid creature descended from a cat and the last ‘real’ human!

    I’d therefore suggest reading the first book (Red Dwarf) or watching a couple of TV episodes before reading Backwards.

    At first I was hesitant in deciding to write a review for Backwards – it doesn’t set out to be a time travel novel in itself; rather it has an element of time travel in it.

    Synopsis

    The basic premise is that (in the previous book) a 30-odd year old Lister encounters time dilation and comes out as an old man and dies. He’s placed on a planet where time runs backwards (“Backworld”) so that he’ll get younger and get picked up by his crew mates when he’s ‘aged’ (or ‘younged’?) back to his original age as it was before the time dilation event.

    Writing style

    You can imagine that writing a novel which by definition is going to be backwards is going to have to be done well for it to makes sense. And it does!

    Backwards leaps straight into backwards time, assuming that the reader is aware of it.

    The writing is very clever – it describes an event and then shows how that event comes about. This isn’t done in a chunky Tarantino style swapping of sections but in a smooth ‘unhappening’ of events where the reader (and characters) are slowly introduced to scenarios and logic which map out the plot line.

    For example, Lister runs towards the crime scene where he’d discover whether he really was guilty of the crime that he’d been put away in jail for. Or, the pain disappeared when the policeman hit him in the face. It’s really clever stuff!

    I was pleased to see consistency in that everything was backwards, including speech. For Rimmer (a computer generated hologram) and Kryten (a mechanoid) this poses no problem as they can be reprogrammed. But for Lister and “the Cat” (a human-like creature evolved from a cat) speech was more problematic. Thankfully there’s no extended or overused attempts at trying to write backwards speech phonetically.

    As an aside, there’s a rumour that in the TV version if you record the backwards speech and play it backwards to hear what is being said, you hear comments such as “I bet there are sad people who have recorded this and who are playing it backwards to hear what we are really saying!”

    Backwards Time Travel

    Despite the backward motion of time, Backwards isn’t a time travel novel.

    Time travel can perhaps be defined as experiencing time at a different rate to it’s normal flow rate. e.g. experiencing 1 second, but going forwards in time by 1 hour. I think going backwards is “different” enough!

    There’s no explanation why or how time runs back wards, it just does (or undoes depending on how you look at it). Given the comical nature of Backwards, the exclusion of the scientific intricacies and nature of time is not important, indeed it would be out of place. Rather, it’s the effect of time running the wrong way that is central to this novel more than anything else – it’s the canvas upon which the story line is painted.

    Final thoughts

    Playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which creates plenty of comedic scenarios – as you’d hope from a comedy! Some of the humour does get a bit repetitive after a while, but I suppose this is the nature of the book. As the plot progresses though, what starts out as humorous writing changes to a simple description of “Backworld” with different physics than ours. It’s not detailed to be scifi, and it’s no longer comedy. It kind of falls flat.

    Rating * * *

    Backwards continues the Red Dwarf comedy series with a time travel component used as a sounding block for its comedy. The concept is interesting and handled well, though the novel is clearly too long to be able to keep this up and peters out into more description than anything else towards the end.

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

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    Review: Before you Leap by Les Lynam

    Before you Leap by Les Lynam is a wonderful YA time travel novel with many other scifi ideas included. Les gives us ideas of future technology as well as an elegant time travel methodology – and how strained relationships between a Grandfather and a 5 times great grandson can be!

    …Before You Leap (Les Lynam)

    …Before you Leap by Les Lynam is the first book in the Time Will Tell series for young adults.

    Book cover for Before you Leap by Les Lynam

    This is a novel which has a huge array of futuristic ideas enveloped within it!

    One of its strongest points is how futuristic technology is put in juxtaposition with that of 1995. At the same time, the importance of history – and knowledge of the future – is brought to the fore. The social interaction between the characters bring these elements into the light, and is presented in a writing style which is both sensitive and light-hearted!

    Brief Synopsis

    16 year old Sean receives a visit from his great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Alex, who has come back in time to 1995 from the year 2217 for what is effectively a historical research study. To assist him with this, the “5G grandfather” wants to get to know Sean better and has his methods to do it. Alex also has plans to get further back into the past to 1969, specifically to meet Sean’s father. For this he requires a DNA sample to use as a “dimensional beacon”- something which Sean is able to help out with.

    The novel centres on the relationship between Sean and Alex – complete with differences in their temporal-based cultures.

    Prologue set in the future

    The Prologue sets the scene from the view point of KLE1752-NI28-949-LX (or Alex as he becomes to be known in 1995). It’s 2216 and Alex is competing against 126 other applicants for a sponsorship from Chronos University grant to pursue his proposal.

    In this future we’re introduced to the realisation of many technological advances.

    For example, there’s a direct interface between Alex and a computer which seems to be able to control many things both externally and internally within Alex’s body. There’s a brilliant description of him sitting in a virtual auditorium and awaiting the results for the award of the scholarship; two ‘attendees’ log in from the Moon (so by now human-kind has made it off the planet) and Alex displays frustration that the bad connection means that their images flicker and cause distraction – he wishes they sat at the back.

    We’re lead to believe that the society that Alex belongs to frowns upon emotion – certainly the expression of it – which reminded me of the Equilibrium movie (where feelings are suppressed with drugs because emotion can lead to violence and an unstable society). In …Before You Leap we’re not told the reasons why things have become like this, only that Alex’s father would disapprove of such kinds of behaviour.

    His mother on the other hand is considered odd because she encourages the expression of emotion, and indeed at the end of the Prologue Alex displays happiness and excitement (in private) that he wins the scholarship. Thankfully in 2217, emotion’s not completely dead!

    Writing style

    …Before You Leap adopts a young adult style of writing.

    It’s written mostly from Sean’s point of view, though sometimes gives an insight into Alex’s thoughts and feelings too. Sean is 16 so I expect that his feelings, frustrations, hopes and ambitions will be mirrored by the target audience.

    I did notice there were frequent descriptions of clothing, specifically of matching colours and cut lines and things. At the risk of sounding sexist (or at least, recalling my own sweet 16 years) – these are issues which boys usually don’t know about. Interest in what lies beneath, yes, but all the rest of it?

    Sean’s reaction to some characters is melodramatic at times. He treats his parents badly and his mates are a couple of idiots as well. Sean makes a big deal about breaking off a relationship where he was used as a toy boy, but he goes on to ditch Alexis for her more attractive twin sister, Nicole, who on a conversational and intellectual level is for all intents and purposes identical.

    Sean is slow at putting things together, although in his defence I picked this book based on genre, I’ve read the Prologue – and I’m not 16!

    I didn’t particularly like Sean, a feeling amplified when he shows little patience with Alex. Certainly for the first few chapters I found it was my interest in Alexis which got the pages turned!

    All that said, I can see teenagers lapping up this novel! Actually, despite my misgivings about Sean, so did I!

    Getting the girl

    If nothing else, …Before You Leap (especially the beginning) is yet another thing which reminds me I’m very lucky to be married to my wife! …Before You Leap is written very well – and I say this because it takes me right back to the prolonged agony in high school in trying to get the girl. Thankfully I don’t need to go through all the angst of getting the girl again!

    Slowly does it?

    My initial feelings with the initial chapters was that it’s a slow beginning. Having got to the end I think it would be fairer to call it ‘paced for the long haul’, recalling here that this is the first book in a series of three novels (“Saves Nine” and “In One Basket” being the following novels in the series.)

    Plot direction

    As the novel progresses into the second half the general plot shifts from Sean and the twins to Sean and Alex. The focus changes and things settle down.

    Although time travel plays a critical role in …Before You Leap, it’s not the main subject – it’s the relationship between Sean and Alex brought about by their differences in temporal rooting. This didn’t hit me until I’d got to the end of the novel, so like Sean and his attempts to get the girl, it’s fair to say that in this respect I was slow!

    Alex’s solution in getting to know Sean is clever but flawed (at first), and he comes up with a solution which had me at times vaguely concerned on behalf of young adults in case there was a following in the footsteps of Heinlein’s All you Zombies or The Man who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.

    All that said, I didn’t expect the truth behind Alexis and Nicole which came as a complete surprise. (Nicole’s name, by the way, shows Les’ breadth of knowledge across many disciplines – details revealed in the novel!)

    Juxtaposition of 1995 and 2217

    One of the strengths of …Before You Leap is how the ideas and values that Sean has in 1995 are so different from Alex’s view with a base line in 2217. They have interesting conversations, each getting frustrated with the other for reasons and principles they either don’t fully understand, or disagree with.

    For example, I fully sympathise with Sean’s boredom surrounding history, whereas Alex is much more aware after several good and bad events between 1995 and 2217 of the need to learn from past mistakes. (Although there’s been an equal amount of good and bad mistakes up to 1995 too…)

    At times Alex reminded me of a likeable version of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory sitcom comedy. I think this was due to his logical and sometimes emotionless way of thinking and speaking, though to be fair, Sheldon has no social skills whereas Alex is fully integrated into his own societal norm. And crucially, Alex is keen to be on Sean’s good side.

    Sean has a lot of difficulty in trying to break through this passionless barrier, and we read further that Sean finds Alex difficult in his misconception of 1995 lifestyles and values. Sometimes he imagines how things would be for him if he were to go back in time and suffer the need to get on with those around him who were less technologically capable than he, so I suppose in fairness he isn’t a completely unsympathetic moron.

    On the other hand, despite his training, Alex found it a minefield to navigate through Sean’s thought processes and struggled to understand many of Sean’s irrational actions. Alex displays a much higher level of patience with Sean than I would have done!

    Futuristic ideas

    Through Alex and his conversations with Sean we gain an insight into the future of 2217 – the year in which he completed his training and went back to 1995 to carry out historical research.

    Nanites lead to ticks

    One of the pieces of technology I really liked in …Before You Leap was microscopic programmable nanite robots which are inserted into the body during gestation. People could then use them for a multitude number of reasons ranging from body monitoring and drug administration, to accessing a main frame computer for near instant information.

    This latter use tended to lead to a facial tick. So here I am, reading at my pleasure in the peace and quiet of a local wood. Totally immersed in the world that Les is painting in …Before You Leap, then come home to find out that I had a completely different kind of tick…one burying his head in my chest ๐Ÿ™

    (Now how many book reviewers would mention that?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Non nanite insertion tick
    My own non-nanite bodily insertion procedure. Gives me a tick.
    Close up of my unwelcome tick
    Close-up of the little blighter. This is a tick I didn’t want!

    Nanites were also used to disallow memories to be stored into long term memory. That feature might be handy here…

    A different outlook

    Personally, I find the lack of emotion in the future disturning. But there is a saving grace in the futuristic outlook – at least from Alex; a refusal to over-use technology.

    This happens today – people drive 500 meters instead of walking, or splel bdaly thkans ot spl chcek and atuo corect. Similarly, Sean wants to use Alex’s access to holographic technology to reserve him a good spot in a car park. Alex suggests coming in 15 minutes earlier. Spot on!

    And then of course there’s the time travel!

    Elegant time travel methodology

    Alex first describes the time travel methodology as moving or slipping through time as if it were a spatial dimension. This of course is similar to H. G. Wells’ famous description of it – but whereas Wells leaves it there, Alex describes it further in a dumbed down format to Sean; he compares a time machine to flying a jet engine where energy is required to provide enough thrust which can then use aerodynamics to combat gravity. Or if a person is freed from the gravitational constraints of the Earth then remaining stationary in space means a relative motion on Earth (so Coriolis force). (Actually this also applies to spatial relocation too, with the same analogy).

    Similarly, given enough energy, a time traveler can be lifted out of the river of time and placed in another temporal location. Quite elegant!

    Following the “time is like a river” theme, small changes get washed away whereas other disturbances affect things close by or further downstream if the disturbance is great enough. Whilst it’s not possible to change the flow rate of the river of time, it’s possible to change its direction creating another time line.

    An interesting feature of the time travel method is the “DNA dimensional beacon”. Again, we don’t know exactly how this works, but it was developed by one of Sean’s descendants. By using DNA it’s possible to go further back in time than without the DNA. I find this a particularly interesting concept because it starts to cross into the biological time travel arena – an area which I think potentially holds a lot of promise for future time travel!

    Epilogue

    As the Prologue starts with Alex in 2216 prior to his training and his trip into history, the Epilogue concludes with Alex in 2217, after his trip to 1995.

    Alex looks back over his experience and we share in his thoughts, augmented of course with his nanite connection to his home computer who lets up on an observation that it made some time ago. This observation in some ways calls into question the ethos of the futuristic society in which Alex lives.

    On a personal level, I’m very pleased that the epilogue isn’t a padded out “buy the next book in the series” statement. Indeed, …Before You Leap is self-contained and concludes – but I should ‘warn’ you that the notes following the epilogue effectively crush some of the tension which has been building up by telling us what happens in Book 2 (“Saves Nine”) ๐Ÿ™ When you get to the end of the novel, I’d urge you not to read the notes. Just have faith that Saves Nine will be as fantastic as the novel you’ve just read!

    (So my only negative comment is actually not about the novel! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Rating * * * * *

    …Before you Leap by Les Lynam is a superb scifi novel with time travel and futuristic technology. Although aimed at young adults I think this novel has much to offer for us older types too! I’m giving this 5 stars because I really like how ideas and concepts from 2217 are brought and examined from a nineties viewpoint.

    …Before you Leap is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback formats.

    Stand by for reviews of the next books in the Time Will Tell series, …Saves Nine and …In One Basket, as well as an interview with Les Lynam. I’ll keep you posted!

    Update: Here are the links! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Review of …Saves Nine and …In One Basket

    Author interview with Les

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: Les kindly sent me a free copy of “…Before you Leap” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

    Star ratings:

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    Action Cut: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

    The Echo Back Action Cut shows the physical strain of time traveller Vance’s fight with the authorities, and his frustration that he needs to repeatedly go through this fiasco. He learns and becomes wiser – but they don’t.

    First time around

    A little while ago I watched Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus. A short online movie written and produced by William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary.

    Biological time travel in Echo Back
    Biological time travel in Echo Back

    As well as the underlying plot line of the reaction of the masses (and authorities) should time travel be preferentially ‘available’, Echo Back also lead me to think about the reality of time travel using biological processes, and how that might stand up against current (or future) technological advances.

    Echo 1: Action Cut

    Now comes another installment. It’s not a sequel or a prequel (or any other kind of a ~quel) but more of a subset – an “Action Cut”. Will explained that some viewers of the full version really wanted to see what the fight scenes with Vance looked like by themselves, so he and Tristram edited it all together without the stock.

    I suppose that just as cuts through a solid object give us a better idea of what’s inside that object, perhaps the same can be said in the filming / editing business. In this case, the Action Cut offers us another view into the original film. Actually, it’s the same stuff, but the focus is different.

    Personally, I think this Action Cut version shows more clearly the physical strain of the fight that Vance has with the authorities, but what I particularly like is how his mental frustration of having to go through all of this again also comes through really well.

    It’s this latter point which got me thinking about repeating various parts of your life. Again.

    Echo 2: Oh no, not this again!

    The idea of reliving part of your life again and again is not new. Indeed, it seems to come round again and again! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Replay, Groundhog Day, and my recently reviewed Buckyball all have this theme, for example.

    Phil Connors clearly shows frustration to the point of self harm in Groundhog Day until he grabs the bull by the horns and steers his own destiny. Jim in Buckyball, perhaps being younger (at first), is much more open to the possibilities which are available when you effectively have second chances.

    (And to be blatantly honest here – I can’t remember any more what happened with Jeff in Replay regarding this angle).

    Phil and Jeff have no control over their replays or repeats, whereas Vance and Jim do. Control is a much sought after commodity, but both Jim and Vance have another variable which they can’t control – other people.

    Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.
    Other people are the problem for Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.

    But back to Vance in Echo Back. It strikes me that he’s just had enough. He’s learning with each iteration, quite literally so that he can get on with his life. But the trouble is the people around him – they’re not learning or becoming wiser because they don’t know any better. For them, it’s the first time that things happen.

    Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.
    Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.

    Reliving a part of your life again sounds like it might be fun, sometimes – but only if other people are willing to let you.

    The choice is yours?

    Would you choose to relive a given day or moment again? People around us wouldn’t behave differently, but we would. Our accumulating experience would make sure of that.

    In some ways some of us already do relive the same moments in our lives – and we’re not impressed. And thee are others of us who bring a stop to their enjoyment, or at least, make their lives a living misery.

    I remember my first year at university. We played many practical jokes which at the time we thought were blindingly comical – and original. But here’s the thing – what we thought was new and original had already been done before by previous year groups. And of course the staff were never impressed – they’d seen it all before. They had to relive these first few days of first year students every year.

    Or there’s the time at secondary school when an overly self-conscious version of me is taking a leak and a female cleaner walks in. I rapidly zip up.

    “Don’t worry!” she says, “I’ve seen it all before!”

    Yeah, but not MINE!

    So the point is that a repetitive life isn’t always a good thing. Production line workers need variation in their schedule before they numb themselves with boredom. Like them, and the university staff, Vance seems tired of it all. Wouldn’t you be?

    Einstein’s sometimes quoted (perhaps incorrectly) as saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

    But I think the question remains: who goes insane – the time traveller, or those around him?

    Paul

    PS: Here’s the link to the full version of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus:

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    Review: Timeshaft by Stewart Bint

    Timeshaft (Stewart Bint) is a brilliant time travel novel which fully explores the causal loop. Time travel mechanics and paradoxes are rife in Timeshaft with intelligent characters who get us tangled in a spiderweb of predestination!

    Timeshaft by Stewart Bint is a brilliant time travel novel which fully explores the causal loop.

    Time travel mechanics, paradoxes, the journey in time – and what you do once you get there – Timeshaft has it all! It screams for every time travel fan’s bookshelf!

    Cover for Timeshaft by Stewart Bint

    I’m going to be singing praises here – perhaps untunefully – so I’ll get the disclosure out of the way now. Stewart contacted Time Travel Nexus asking for an honest review in exchange for a free copy of Timeshaft. This is the review, and I should also add that I’m really pleased that Stewart has agreed to give an author interview which will be (or has been – I’ll add the link when it’s ready) published over on Time Travel Nexus.

    Timeshaft in context

    I’ve read some absolutely crap books in the past (hopefully less in the future). More often than not I can’t bring my self to waste any further time in crafting a review unless I’ve either committed to it or need to vent. For these terrible books a 1 or 2 star review sends a clear signal.

    On the much much greener side of the fence are numerable novels which are blinders! Original angles on mind blowing concepts…you know, the kind of novel which makes it stand out from the rest and leaves you gasping for more. And for these books I’ve always felt that the full 5 stars often doesn’t do those novels the full justice they deserve.

    Often in review land (which incidentally is about the size of a desk chair, the desk (now a noun not an adjective) and a computer) 5 stars generally means “I love it” and nothing more, pretty much the same way as my daughter tells me she “loves” chips in the same sentence that she tells me that she “loves” me. In other words, there’s no scope for expressing – in stars – a truly outstanding novel.

    Timeshaft is such a novel! It brilliantly scorches the brain and leaves it sizzling! (I think that’s a good thing…!)

    Time travel in the timeshaft

    I was really pleased that Timeshaft has a solid scientific mechanism for time travel. It’s not wholly transparent but we get a pretty good insight into it – and perhaps it’s even plausible!

    Moreover, Stewart plays with the ideas he’s developed. For example, the time shuttle gets buffeted by temporal disturbances which ripple like waves across time. This means that not only does a time shuttle get flung in the direction of propagation of the time wave (in this case it was back into history) but also in the opposite direction (the future).

    Sound odd? Actually it makes sense. Objects on the crest of a wave do indeed travel forwards. And backwards on the trough! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The time travel mechanism

    Now I need to make a confession here. When I read I usually make notes as I go…except this isn’t the case here because I was too engrossed. That’s good and bad at the same time, so I’ll call Schroedinger’s bluff and from memory recount the basics:

    Ley lines run across the Earth which contain kinetic energy. They form a network wherein intersection points hold particularly large amounts of this energy. A solar wind conversion plant located on one of these intersection points explodes and disperses that energy in time tearing a hole or shaft – the timeshaft.

    Travelling along the timeshaft in a time shuttle that taps energy taken directly from the timeshaft, means travelling along time.

    I should say that I have issue with “kinetic energy” – an object with mass and velocity has kinetic energy, so I don’t see how these ley lines contain any. Perhaps “potential energy” may have been a better term if we disassociate the mass and height terms and take “potential” more literally, but still (no pun intended there…) this is science fiction and I suppose anything goes (ditto…)!

    One particular aspect of the timeshaft which I liked was the damaged or partially complete sections – in these locations the ‘lining’ was not in place so characters could see the energy fluxing as waves of light! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Causal loops

    One of the features which makes a time travel novel stand out from others is not only the inclusion of time travel paradoxes, but also how they’re utilised and dealt with.

    Causal loops play a crucial part in Timeshaft. Indeed, they’re the backbone of the plot. The issues of predetermination, destiny, free will and choice also come into play in more philosophical contexts; this particular time travel paradox is recognised and covered fully!

    Writing style

    Timeshaft is an epic novel. It’s BIG! To be clear, this isn’t “big” in a shallow superficial word-county sort of a way, but big in the vastness of time, concepts and ramifications. To facilitate this there’s a requirement for breadth in content, and this comes through with rapidly changing chapter content.

    When I first started reading Timeshaft I thought that I was reading a scifi novel in a particular setting. But the second chapter took on such a different direction I must admit that I wondered whether I was in fact reading a collection of short stories. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and continuity soon became clear.

    This pattern set the benchmark for most of the novel; apparent hiatuses and jumps in the novel get sewn together very quickly and not right at the end which somehow I found to be a blessing!

    The thread which sews the chapters and sections together is one of environmentalism – this is the reason behind time travel; to avert disasters or to change the course of the world’s history so that it can have a longer future.

    The Time Store has miriad reasons to time travel – each of which means the world to the Time Store’s client, and in that novel we see how people react. In Timeshaft it’s literally how the world reacts!

    Characters

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on this before in a review, but somehow I’m aware of it in Timeshaft: there is an optimum number of characters – which turns out to be 6 (although two of those are more of one couple than 2 people).

    Some novels have just a single main character, leaving the reader screwed if there’s dislike or lack of empathy. Other novels have too many characters all fighting for reader attention and spoiling the broth that the author is desperately trying to cook up.

    Stewart handles his 6 characters well. There is clearly one main character but he’s supported by the others who also have their own important roles to play. They are thrust into different times and settings which is reflected in differences in writing style as well as changes in the character point of view.

    My only criticism is the characters are clearly intelligent but at times they ‘feign’ ignorance. I suspect that they do this to allow a narrative explanation to the reader; in other words, we the readers aren’t as intelligent as the characters and need to be brought up to speed (usually regarding issues surrounding causal loops).

    No pun intended, but having the same principle explained again and again got quite repetitive at times, and I think that certainly by the end of the novel we’re more than well versed in casual loops. If you don’t understand them by then you may as well stick to banging a couple of rocks together – and let the characters do their thing.

    Specific sections

    Two sections in particular stand out to me. The first is truly horrific, and comes about a third of the way into the novel where Phillip and Nadia (“the pioneers of time travel”) find themselves in the midst of a witch hunt. I won’t say more to avoid a spoiler, but I will mention that as a father of daughters I was very happy that it was Nadia who, in this case, seemed to be the stronger of the pair.

    Actually on this note, I was also pleased that the main character, Ashday’s Child, has a female helper (Caitlin) who is certainly more than up to the task.

    The second section is where Ashday’s Child meets his parents in the past and explains that they’ll never see him again (till now). The combination of his own internal thoughts and his parents non-understanding – but complete trust and acceptance – is absolutely heart wrenching. Wonderfully written.

    (So it seems that I have a thing about parents!)

    Confusion

    One issue has me stumped – though I’m sure there must be a simple explanation because everything else is so tight. Perhaps you can enlighten me if you are lucky enough to read Timeshaft and can figure it out!

    The power plant at the beginning of the novel harnesses solar wind and channels and converts it into cheap energy. My confusion arises because it’s located on the top of a mountain – underneath the magnetosphere which deflects the solar wind away from the Earth.

    So how is the solar wind collected and channeled from an Earth bound installation? It’s true that during solar storms the solar wind can be strong enough to penetrate the magnetosphere, but I was under the impression that the plant harnesses the solar wind all of the time.

    I think it’s an important point because this features at the start of the novel, and effectively marks the start of the timeshaft itself – although not chronologically! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Random other points

    I’m not sure if this point shows that I’m old, or that I’m young enough to be embracing new technology (in which I mean, an ereader) but it is this: chapters and sections are long. Am I too young and that my concentration limit is set to “low” and need a break every few page turns (or swipes)? Or am I finishing a chapter / section on the train and wondering whether I have time enough to wolf down another before my station comes?

    Finally, I like the ending, specifically that it doesn’t stop at the Hollywood moment when people and events seem to have been sorted, leaving open and loose scientific loop holes. Nope – Timeshaft finishes when the science is sorted. Perfect! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Rating * * * * *

    Comments like “Wish I could give it 11 stars out of 10 have more cheese than my local market in Holland. And what would prerequisite a desired 12 stars? Or 15 or 20? I suspect it would be an inverted law of diminishing returns.

    And the suggested solution of rescaling to the Spinal Tap approach wouldn’t seem fair for all those other good novels who would now get a less than the “full” 10 stars. (OK, actually 5 for blog reviews!)

    But yeah. Full 5 stars – I loved it! ๐Ÿ™‚ Wish I could give it more… etc. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Read my interview with Stewart Bint over on Time Travel Nexus!

    Time travel mechanics, paradoxes, the journey in time – and what you do once you get there – Timeshaft has it all! It screams for every time travel fan’s bookshelf!

    Timeshaft is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: Stewart kindly sent me a free copy of “Timeshaft” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

    Review: The Trouble With Time by Lexi Revellian

    Time travel plays a dominant role in “The Trouble with Time ” (Lexi Revellian) with many time travel issues addressed! Although the characters seem weak at times, they pull the plot forwards – complete with a brilliant inverted grandfather paradox!

    Review: The Trouble with Time by Lexi Revellian

    The Trouble with Time is Book 1 of the Time Rats series by Lexi Revellian.

    Book cover for The Trouble With Time by Lexi Revellian

    I’ve had a very strange adventure with The Trouble with Time! It started out as receiving a ‘proper’ paperback copy but finding that the font drove me insane I ended up buying the ebook format and reading that instead (well, later…my battery died after 2 page swipes!).

    Whether or not a book reviewer should comment on a book cover is one thing, but I do feel compelled to mention that unless I received a dodgy misprint there’s either a strong case for avoiding the paperback completely, or – preferably – accepting that ebooks may be the way of the future! (Given enough battery power! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    The underlying premise

    Anyway. On with the content! I think this might be a blimming excellent time travel novel!

    Remember that argument you had with your ex-girlfriend – the one when you said something sweet and innocent like “why don’t you try a larger size which might fit better?” and she inexplicably went ballistic? I had that argument too, and I spent hours agonising over the issue, twisting and contorting my mind in an attempt to comprehend what or how she was thinking.

    I think I might have got there in the end.

    And it’s a bit the same with The Trouble with Time – there seem to be some open questions and loop holes, but at the same time, if I bend my mind round far enough I think the novel works and comes clean! ๐Ÿ™‚

    If my understanding is correct, the basic premise is a brilliantly inverted grandfather paradox. This is where the grandchild goes back in time, kills his grandfather and…blah blah, you know it already. The paradox arises because there’s a question over which history occurred (which affects whether the grandchild exists or not).

    In The Trouble with Time the question comes from the other side – from the viewpoint of the past, which future will have happened?

    Brief synopsis

    Time travel is restricted and time cops ensure that this remains so. However, one agent is a good egg gone bad who has his own agenda. Running concurrently with this thread is the story of Floss who’s unwillingly brought from 2015 to 2045 under the impression that removing her from her own time will assist in setting the world’s future on a better path. Naturally Floss wishes to get back to her own time.

    Holding these story lines together is Jace who is both a time cop and who through as series of events comes to know Floss. Together they deal with the issues of good-cop-gone-bad and getting back home.

    The role of time travel

    By 2045 time travel is possible with “TiTrav” devices strapped to the wrist. However, it’s illegal to own, wear or operate such a device. The “International Event Modification Authority” (IEMA) enforce this ruling and its superior officials are the only members allowed to travel in time – after intense training and under strict regulation.

    In a way the novel reminds me of Hexad: The Factory which asks “What if everyone can time travel?” The Trouble with Time partly answers this question by making it moot – it’s not allowed!

    Time travel is used to bring back information from the short term future to ensure that decisions made today don’t have adverse effects for tomorrow. This might be somewhat ontological but I was pleased that the novel avoided the more usual drama of going backwards in time to change the outcomes of wars etc..

    The mechanics of time travel aren’t given, but The Trouble with Time does have plenty of golden time travel nuggets which keeps the genre alive and in the forefront of the plot! ๐Ÿ™‚ It touches, for example, on time travel tourism (visiting various times and locations in the past) and it introduces a time travel diction such as “timing in” (arriving with time travel) and “timing out” (leaving).

    Then there are the IEMA rules to abide by…

    Writing style

    Time travel

    What stands out in The Trouble with Time is how attention given to many aspects of time travel with bonus extras such as difficulties with time passing in real time during a time travel jaunt, the ontological paradox involved in miniaturising the TiTrav device or simply being (time) travel sick! Indeed, this is a ‘proper’ time travel novel where time travel plays a dominant role!

    Sometimes it seemed that more was bitten off than could be comfortably chewed. Black box time travel is fine of course, but sometimes the lack of information seemed too apparent or even vague. For example, there’s a reference to the problem of the movement of galaxies when time travelling (so presumably also a problem of a spinning / orbiting Earth etc.) but this information is simply entered into the TiTrav device. Or “compensatory fuzzy logic” is used to avoid ending up in the same place as another object or in mid air. Without further information on this fuzzy logic, it seems a little superficial.

    Admittedly, maybe I’ve been spoiled because these particular aspects are covered especially well in Nathan Van Coops’ “The Chronothon”.

    That said, Lexi takes the concept a step further and describes how the “compensatory fuzzy logic” also ensures that a time traveller can’t time in when the destination isn’t clear of oncoming people, trucks and drones. This idea of needing clear space around you is taken forwards where IEMA have time travel-proof holding cells with metal rods and loops to ensure that people can’t time travel into them (although leaving is possible – which is probably handy if you’d like to escape a holding cell! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    IEMA quite often seemed to be a tool for stating various problems associated with time travel, although I must admit that at times I got a bit annoyed because rules were stated without further explanation. There’s a rule not to go back in history to the same day and minute as before because it’s too dangerous to meet yourself. Why? Anyway. This is a personal thing – it’s not that I’ve got a problem with authority; I just like to understand things!

    What I particularly like is how a person or event is written from the viewpoint of both the past and the future, for example, someone had been dead for half a century…or had not been born yet, or coming over in speech, for example when Floss mentions that someone “…knows Prince – I mean King William”.

    In the same vein, references to actions are given which then come into the main narrative later either through eyes of another character or from a different viewpoint in time.

    I wrote a while ago about how time travel novels can take on a journey or destination approach. Whereas The Trouble with Time pays little attention to the ‘journey side’ the above points highlight the fun you can have with the ‘destination side’ of things – what it’s like to be in another (unfamiliar) time setting by describing it as a new experience.

    But there’s also the more traditional approach where Lexi expresses her ideas of the future and the available technology (or lack of) in 2045 and beyond. It’s all good science fiction!

    There’s also a hint of philosophical thought at times, perhaps from characters you wouldn’t expect it from; the main antagonist ponders the consequences of going back to change the past and finding himself in a new future where he may have died. He doesn’t have an answer (who does!) but it’s nice to see the issue acknowledged!

    Characters

    The novel is strong in time travel and as with most novels it needs characters to lift these concepts. Sadly I feel that The Trouble with Time is let down by weak characters; they seem superficial and made of glass.

    That’s not to say that they don’t think or have thoughts and feelings. In fact, perhaps they have too many – there’s much drawn-out explanation or expansion on what a character is thinking, often as a semi-explanatory note after something they’ve already done. A fox-and-grapey post-event justification, as such.

    Still, the variety of characters used in The Trouble with Time is impressive, and by and large their interaction with each other keeps the plot active and steadily moving forwards. Or backwards! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The time travel icing

    I mentioned earlier that there is a brilliant reversal of the grandfather paradox.

    I think it was Jace who recounted to Floss something which he’d learnt during his IEMA training. Time is likened to a river; if it’s dammed up then it changes direction. This means that there can’t be multiple alternative time lines – just one; if things are changed in the past then there’s a ‘new’ future (rather than an additional one).

    Crucially, this means that there’s a potential for a future (or present) to cease to exist if a trip back in time makes a pivotal change.

    This comes into play in The Trouble with Time where the present as given in the first third(!) of the novel vanishes (I think). And certain aspects of the new present also undergo changes – even to the point of memories being swiped.

    Given that events in the present initiate trips to the past to make changes, the basis for the inverted grandfather paradox is set up! ๐Ÿ™‚ Excellent stuff!

    Rating * * * *

    A single star rating is tricky.

    I’m disappointed with the characters and the glossing over of many of the time travel tid bits, but I really do like how time travel plays a dominant role in this novel. Yes, some time travel issues are given only a passing mention, but others are handled really well; and I especially like the topsy turvy approach to the grandfather paradox!

    I’m going to go for 3.7 stars, falling just shy of 4 because I found that putting on a ‘character filter’ ultimately made it slightly less than a “good” reading experience (see scale below). I’ll add again here though that there are many aspects of time travel covered very well in this novel which on their own would warrant a higher star rating.

    I’m curious as to why this novel is called “The Trouble with Time” which seems rather generic, but then again, I’m also curious as to how a second book in the series will come out as things are pretty well wrapped up at the end!

    Time will tell, I guess!

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: Lexi kindly sent me a free copy of “The Trouble With Time” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

    Review: The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

    The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews is a strong character driven novel with a magnetic quality which has the reader zoned into the lives of the proprietors of the Time Store establishment.

    The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews is a magnetic novel which invites us into the lives of Dan, Jason, Sarah and David Bradbeer – the proprietors of the altrusitic Time Store.

    The Time Store

    book cover for The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

    Brothers Dan and Jason, and sister Sarah work in the Time Store under the supervision of their father David Bradbeer. For reasons we don’t yet know, the Bradbeer family and their ancestors have always been the proprietors of the Time Store, and each family member is able to time travel with the help of a custom built bracelet and ring.

    The Time Store both sells and exhibits expensive time pieces and this is where their income arises, but arguably the main purpose of its existence is to provide altruistic time travel services for interested clients who for one reason or another would benefit from a time travel trip. The family board must approve of any such request.

    That said, “…the time store hadn’t always operated as a bespoke travel agent with the obvious twist” though as Jason also questions, we don’t know much about it’s history. I suspect that will become clearer in subsequent books in the series.

    Time travel

    Time travel is possible with a system of bracelets and rings and straddling the prime meridian for the outward time travel trip. Linking arms means a passenger can be brought. The bracelets glow with “something like lunar energy” and come to life when they’re in contact with member of the Bradbeer family.

    In a way The Time Store adopts a salesman kind of approach to time travel:

    Whilst at the garage a couple of weeks ago I was flicking through a new car sales brochure whilst the mechanics were fixing my old banger in the workshop next door. As you’d expect it was very glossy and very colourful, and full of shallow attempts to suggest that the life of the driver would be wonderful if they purchased this new car from this dealer.

    But there was no description of what I was interested in – how big is the engine? How powerful is it? I know that the car door has a drinks holder and the rear shelf can be lowered and various other superficial crap, but there was nothing about the most important part of the car – the engine. So I asked the salesman…and he sloped off to the back office to find out about his product. By the time he’d returned I’d already paid the mechanic and had left.

    The Time Store almost literally adopts a sales brochure kind of approach when it comes to time travel. Don’t get me wrong – Dan, Jason, Sarah and David know their timepieces and are very knowledgeable about them, but when it comes to actually travelling through time and the mechanics of the bracelets and rings it’s all pretty much black box. They seemingly have no idea about how they work – even though they’re able to create and manufactures these devices!

    One thing is very clear to them though – the golden rule of time travel – do not alter anything in the past. Messing about with true time spells a lot of trouble!

    To be pedantic, this rule isn’t strictly adhered to. Going to Elvis concerts or talking to people in bars will clearly have repercussions – as main character Jim comments in Buckyball, even a smile can change things, but to be fair The Time Store isn’t a historical / observational kind of a novel and I think we can forgive Dan, Jason and Sarah in these cases!

    Still, they do repeatedly ask of their father “what is the point of time travel if you can’t change anything?” Indeed, perhaps this might be considered to be the reason behind the Time Store and may be the underlying story?

    Time passes quicker in the past than in the present (in the same way that time passes quicker in dreams than in real waking life); all day spent in Chicago lasted two hours in real (present) time.

    For reasons I didn’t pick up, it wasn’t possible to go back to the same place in time and meet yourself, although we do read that Dan took deliberate measures in a bar to avoid meeting himself.

    These latter points show that the authors have considered some of the tricky aspects of time travel and have given them some attention in their novel.

    It struck me that most Time Store clients wished to travel into the past than into the future, I guess because generally their reasons are more emotive. Sadly this meant that we didn’t get many glimpses into the future, although to be fair, The Time Store isn’t a novel which dwells on events in the past (or future) but rather on the people in the present and how they seek to come to terms with various problems that have (or will have).

    Including the proprietors.

    Writing style

    The writing style is a pleasant bag of mixed nuts! What I particularly enjoyed is how the writing style was able to hook me into the novel and have me wanting to know what was going to happen next in an underlying ‘low frequency low amplitude’ storyline.

    It wasn’t from cliff hangers and suspense, but more from a a certain magnetic writing quality which draws in the reader. Loved it!

    One of the nicest parts for me is where one of the Time Store ‘children’ goes back in time to meet his mother to ask for her advice. It was written beautifully, and also reminded me a little of The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) where people familiar with each other speak together but in unfamiliar ages brought about through time travel.

    There are of course other beautiful moments brought to us through the requests of the Time Store clients. Often we hear about those visits in the past not through a dry third person narrative but through the viewpoint of the client or Dan / Jason / Sarah describing it to other people.

    Some parts of the novel have a hint of humour, others are quite (too) violent; it seems that there’s a bit of something for everyone.

    Some sections though seem to drone on at length about one thing or another. For example, there’s a long section about the art of reading tarot cards and setting up a stall at a convention. It shows lots of research has been carried out into the subject, but was it really all necessary though? My guess is that rather than being about tarot cards, the section was more about Sarah.

    That said, there was a heavy emphasis on a secondary character in this section, and in fact this can be said about much of the novel. Indeed, I found that devoting a lot of attention to both primary and secondary characters made finding the general plot line a little unclear.

    Story lines

    The early chapters focus on John – a homeless guy who’s lost his wife in a car accident and then turned to drink, losing his two daughters along the way. His path crosses with a worker at the shelter, Winnie, who we read contacts the Time Store to go back 33 years to 1976 to see an Elvis concert she’d missed.

    A little later, John is in touch with the Time Store and he goes back to the time of the car crash which killed his wife but kept him alive.

    By now we’re well into the novel, but the main story line is still unclear because the focus has moved away from John and onto Winnie, then onto Dan, and then onto other workers in the Time Store.

    We see throughout the novel that characters are very well-developed and have a solid history and background behind them. So it seems that The Time Store is character driven rather than action driven, albeit reading almost like a series of not quite disconnected short stories held together by a delicate thread of common characters of the Time Store establishment.

    When there was a section handed over to some very mundane activities within the Time Store it finally struck me – this is a time travel soap opera! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Location location location!

    For the time travel methodology to work, the time travellers need to be straddling the Prime Meridian which is presumably why the Time Store is located in Greenwich, London.

    Perhaps it’s a small point, but it’s nice to be reading a novel mostly set in London! There are familiar names and places and even terms like “oyster card” (= a card used for the London public transport system). Since the characters sometimes move around the country, other places around England are mentioned – even Birmingham where I used to live. And shop names. OK, maybe it’s not a big deal but it is to a stranded expat like me! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Error or misunderstanding?

    *** SPOILER ALERT ***

    This section contains a spoiler. Click here to jump to the end of it.

    The underlying running thread through The Time Store is a play on the grandfather paradox and the cause of “Dan’s anomaly”.

    Dan figures out something happened on the time travel tour that he’d returned from, so he goes back to put things right.

    In original true time, John and his wife are in a road accident. Nathan cycles to the accident scene and is able to save John; his wife has already died. This sets the scene for John feeling guilty for surviving, he turns to drink and loses his children. In time he’s motivated to request help from the Time Store to go back in time.

    During the time travel tour, John damages Nathan’s bike so that Nathan is now unable to make the rescue and John dies. Now that John dies, he doesn’t exist in the future present; the Grandfather paradox is set up: John doesn’t visit Dan and ask to go back in time. Dan can’t remember the trip back as it was never done as John doesn’t exist and didn’t need to go back in time. The is the cause of “Dan’s anomaly”.

    So Dan goes back to the past a second (or first, if we ignore the Grandfather paradox as above!) to correct things and put true time back on course. There’s some cross character communication, but the main point is that Nathan sees that his bike is mangled and so gets a lift to the accident scene. He makes the rescue, and John lives, thus being able to contact Dan 5 years later and ask him to take him back in time.

    This is the part I don’t get – wouldn’t Nathan have got the lift in the scenario during the time travel tour?

    *** END OF SPOILER ***

    Closing scenes

    The ending of the book comes in two parts. There’s a very happy-ever-after bit going on in a pub. It’s a bit cheesy but we do learn a little about John’s last 5 years which I was very happy to read as it closed some open questions.

    Another nice aspect is how Sarah keeps an eye on things – it’s a nice touch to see her father’s hand in things – although at a distance – and the idea of the Bradbeer family being special is enforced.

    The last couple of paragraphs I thought were superfluous. These pick up on the opening scene (and a brief mention halfway through the novel) and are there I guess to serve as a cliff hanger or temptation to the second book in the series.

    To be brutally honest, this isn’t necessary, just like cliff hangers in soap operas are pointless because issues get sorted quickly and others will rise just the same. Likewise, this ‘hook’ wasn’t strong and it’ll get sorted and no doubt (i.e. hopefully!) there’ll be another sub plot.

    Ultimately the power of The Time Store is in the lives of the characters and how they develop rather than in the actual action itself!

    The Future

    Book cover for Phelix - A Time Store novel by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

    Book 2 – Phelix was released on Kindle just a few days ago on 21 April.

    And I read on The Time Store Facebook page that Andrew and Dee are busy with Book 3 which is a short story detailing the history of the bracelets.

    Both sound great!

    Rating * * * * *

    The Time Store is a strong character driven novel with a magnetic quality which has the reader zoned into the lives of the proprietors of the Time Store establishment.

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: Andy kindly sent me a free copy of “The Time Store” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

    Film: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

    Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus (William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary) is an action Sci-Fi film about how the world would react if time travel was a virus. Does biological time travel have a head start on us?

    Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus

    A couple of weeks ago William Rosenthal shared his film with me and asked what I thought of it. Will co-wrote and co-produced “Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus” with director Tristram Geary. In his own words, “it’s an action sci-fi about how the world would react if time travel was a virus.”

    A question of authority

    The premise of the film is a simple one – that authorities who control us don’t like the idea that history can be changed. In some ways I echo their sentiment, though with the authorities it’s more sinister – they wish to remain in control and “Time travel dissolves their power”.

    The ability to time travel is not attained through technology but by contracting a virus. There are echoes of the X-Men movies where the infected (i.e. those who are different to the societal ‘norm’) are forced to register or submit to the authorities.

    In Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus we identify with the main character, Vance (as we tend to with the X-Men), who in a way for us represents the underdog, albeit infected with the time travel disease (or who has advanced powers).

    But it’s a possibility that there may be others who have less scruples than Vance and who would use time travel for more sinister purposes. For example, not just stopping the authorities making our decisions for us, but standing in their place, or other reasons for self gain and harm to others.

    Then again, we don’t really know why Vance is being hunted, do we?

    Biological time travel

    We don’t always need a time machine to time travel.

    In X-men: Days of Future Past biological time travel comes through accelerated or staggered evolution. In Edge of Tomorrow a time loop is set up through contact with blood from an “Alpha Mimic” (an alien).

    And here Echo Back is similar – time travel comes to a select few through contracting virus. There’s no time machine, no flux capacitor and no TARDIS. Time travel is of a more natural origin – albeit unwelcome (by some).

    The neanderthal reaction to something we don't understand is to club it.

    I can’t help recognising the basic Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – if we don’t understand it, whack it over the head with a club. Or a gun. It seems a shame (perhaps) that the authorities don’t think to approach the problem intelligently. Why not try to develop a ‘cure’ for the time travel virus? Or come to think of it, deliberately contract the time travel disease themselves to keep themselves ahead in the game?

    Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back - The Time Travel Virus
    Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

    (One of these guys is played by Will…)

    Biological problems often require biological solutions.

    Actually, technological problems often require biological solutions too and we see that technology frequently seeks to emulate nature. Nature is often just much better at things than we are – she can provide the strongest materials, the strongest glue, the most beautiful artwork, etc. and generally speaking it seems that we try to mimic nature where we can. Bullet-proof vests, velcro, swimming technologies…

    We’ve always done it, and to quote the source of the image below, “Stone Age man copied Nature by wearing the fur of slaughtered animals to keep warm.” (sciencenordic.com).

    Nature's echo - technological problems often require biological solutions
    Image source: http://sciencenordic.com/top-10-best-copies-nature-part-2 (Illustration: Mette Friis-Mikkelsen)

    Whilst we can sit with a pen and paper and work things out, even develop computers or other tools to help us do that quicker, it’s much more difficult to develop biological solutions to assist us with life’s obstacles. Copying, or being inspired by Nature is much easier.

    My personal thought is that for whilst theoretical physicists are beavering and banging away at Einstein’s equations to find out if – and if so, how – we can travel in time, Nature is probably busy finding it’s own way. Maybe it’s already got there. And when it’s found or evolved or contracted, we’ll imitate it with our trailing technology.

    Or maybe just whack it on the head.

    Interview with William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary

    In this interview with director, writers and producers William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary we get a behind the scenes view on Echo Back, as well as their personal thoughts behind some of the ideas they’ve written into their film!

    Time is a precious commodity – Will and Tristram, many thanks for giving us some of yours!

    The fight between the authorities and Vance might be viewed as a clash between technology and biology. Given enough time for development / evolution, would you consider technology or biology to have the upper hand?

    In the earlier stages, while the ability is new and underdeveloped, technology (and existing power structures) would very easily mobilise to control it. However, time travel is such an incredible advancement that it simply couldnโ€™t be contained forever. Ultimately, we feel technology and human ingenuity would make time travel more efficient, and expand its possibilities. It may be positive or negative, weaponisation or integration, but as long as we humans have such inquisitive minds, it feels like our biology will always be shackled to our technology.

    Physical limitations are well known when it comes to operating technology and we see how you’ve incorporated biological limitations into your time travel method – avoiding cleanly the grandfather paradox and the creation of ‘major’ alternate histories! Were there any aspects of time travel that were difficult to incorporate into Echo Back and how did you solve them?

    Oh absolutely! Time travel in fiction is so tricky, partly because you need to make something physically impossible at least internally consistent, but also because it needs to be emotionally satisfying in some way.

    Logistically, it was quite difficult to come up with a scenario that would clearly demonstrate the power of small time jumps. We eventually figured out that we needed a clear space or object- something that moved or reverted whenever Vance jumped back in time.

    The action also helped, as the audience can see Vance learn through trial and error (and injury!)We wanted to show that despite the huge advantages of this ability, there are still plenty of limitations. We also needed to work out some tactics and technology that would give the police an upper hand.

    Can you explain the “Echo” aspect in the film title?

    Well firstly of course, thereโ€™s the idiom โ€˜to echo backโ€™, meaning to evoke something similar from the past. The way in which the world reacts to time travel is similar to other, world-changing phenomena; excitement, fear, and ultimately a desire for control. The nature and mandate of governments means that theyโ€™ll always aim to regulate things, the internet for example. Sometimes thatโ€™s a helpful step, other times, less so.

    Itโ€™s also a reference to the mechanism of our form of time travel. In the film, Vance jumps through what is essentially the same scenario many, many times. Each variation shares the same key features, but is slightly distorted from its predecessor; like an echo.

    To turn things upside down, how do you think people would feel if their local authority was able to time travel and they weren’t?

    As regular citizens, weโ€™re already very much at the mercy of our systems and those more powerful than us. Authorities can monitor your phone activity, control the legitimate use of violence, and make decisions daily that most of us will never know about but which will profoundly affect our lives. Now, these arenโ€™t always bad things- you could argue theyโ€™re necessary components of a government- but time travel would probably just be another (albeit near-omnipotent) string in their bow.

    However, who knows, a shift in power this enormous might actually galvanise many people into protest and defiance. Instead of being the ultimate weapon for control, time travel could be the catalyst for a regimeโ€™s unravelling.

    Are there any plans for a sequel / prequel to Echo Back?

    Actually, weโ€™ve drafted a screenplay for a feature film, so weโ€™d love to see the concept explored further!

    How did you go about writing Echo Back? Did you write, then ‘convert’ it into a screenplay, or did you write it as a screen play from the outset?

    We always intended to convert the basic time travel mechanism into some sort of film, but we initially had very few specifics beyond that. Our excitement about the premise meant that we spent some time throwing ideas at each other. How would it work on an individual level? How heavily could it shake the worldโ€™s establishments? What would it mean for how we perceive death? Given our miniscule budget, we were obviously limited in what we could show, but we still wanted to express as many of these possibilities as we could- hence the narrated sections.

    As a scientist I’m told that I need to spend about an hour in preparation for each slide I present at a conference. I can’t help considering that a movie comprises many frames per second, and arguably the story line is much more important! How long did it take to make this film?

    We spent roughly three months on pre-production, including design, costume, rehearsal, choreography, and searching for locations.

    We were extremely fortunate to get David on board to play Vance. On the day of filming, he spent about 16 consecutive hours being beaten up. Our budget limited us to just one day with the camera and shooting gear, so we had to make the most of it! He and the rest of our small, brilliant crew of volunteers were consummately professional and seriously hard workers.

    Our tiny post-production crew spent the next months editing, sound editing, scoring, and crafting effects. It really was a huge undertaking for a small number of dedicated people.

    I love the interplay between the narration (done by Tristram) and the action sequences which show the more physical side of the battle between the authorities and time travellers. Were there times when you struggled to mesh these two techniques together?

    Fantastic to hear you liked it! It was definitely a difficult pairing to balance. We wanted to expose the audience to a larger world, while not encroaching too heavily on the emotional flow of the action sequence. The parallels with broader time travel struggles also hopefully reinforced Vanceโ€™s motivation and determination. However, we also couldnโ€™t get too specific in describing these events, as it could jerk viewers out of his immediate predicament. Definitely a challenge!

    Will and Tristram, many thanks again for your time – for both the interview and for creating Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus! I’m really excited to hear that you’ve got plans for a feature film!!

    Follow Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus on Facebook and Twitter (@EchoBackMovie).

    Edit: Will and Tristram have since compiled an “Action Cut” of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus which offers us (yet) another view into the original film. Vance’s physical exhaustion and also his frustration in his need to endure the authorities and the masses really shines through in this cut. I’ve written a short piece (with the link to Action Cut) which touches on the ideas of other people’s role when you relive your life. It’s clearly not always for the better!

    Paul

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    Review: d4 by Sherrie Cronin

    d4 by Sherrie Cronin is an action novel for intellectuals! It has a gripping plot which incorporates a fully thought out phenomenon of seeing into the future, as well as addressing the philosophical question of what to do with that knowledge.

    Sherrie Cronin’s “46.Ascending” series consists of 6 novels each of which focusses on a member of the Zeitman family who have a special power. In d4 the main character is Ariel who is able to see the future.

    Book cover for d4 by Sherrie Cronin

    Admittedly d4 is not strictly time travel, but there’s a knowledge of the future which I suppose in another novel a time traveller might learn. So call it pseudo time travel. Besides I recently read, loved and reviewed z2 where Alex was able to warp time and manipulate the speed of its passage and I wanted to read more from Sherrie!

    Brief synopsis

    Ariel works for an investment company which specialises in “high frequency trading” – buying and selling stocks and shares and things based on short term fluctuations in the market. She has 3 clients, one of whom is intent on amassing the world’s wealth with help from his own ability to see the short term future. When he finds out that Ariel has a similar ability to see the future he tries to coerce her into assisting him.

    Against this backdrop is the knowledge of a long term future where humankind is threatened. How Ariel deals with her clients, and the relationships she makes with them, seemingly affect the likelihood and the outcome of the future of mankind.

    Wrting style

    Sherrie really hits the spot when it comes to beautiful writing! Characters have depth and background and these attributes come into play in their conversation with each other as well as how they react to certain given situations. Like in z2 they’re introduced early on and the connections between them become evident fairly quickly.

    There is also realism in that the line between the good and the bad guys is either fuzzy, or moves completely. I suppose that in the end, motivations and feelings of people define whether they are good or bad.

    The main plot line within d4 is clearly defined, and the pace is steady. A lot happens – not necessarily through direct action like in z2 but through movement of knowledge from one character to another. Consequences of holding that information are key in what happens in d4! Let’s call this an intellectual property -action novel!

    d4 is set in Ireland, Greenland and Iceland. A map is included at the front of the novel so that we know where some of the towns in these countries are – which highlights the following point: the assumption is that most readers are probably not familiar with these locations, possibly because not many other novels are set here. Sherrie gives us a breath of fresh (and probably very cold) air!

    I should add that thankfully accents are described and not spelled out phonetically (which is a pet peeve of mine). Actually there’s a special case with one word, but this is added for a slightly humourous angle!

    A special note needs to be made about tension in the novel. You’d think that with several of the characters having knowledge of the future there would be little space for intrigue and mystery. I don’t know how she does it (and I hope it’s not my stupidity!) but Sherrie masterfully maintains suspense throughout the novel. Ariel knows what’s going to happen next – but we don’t!

    Several small details help to ‘pad out’ d4 with more elements of realism. For example, Ariel’s ongoing confusion between Fergus and Ronan shows her vulnerability as well as providing a touch of humour.

    “d4” – What’s in a name?

    Talking of names…

    I’m giving this a little section of its own partly in response to an entertaining – but nonsensical – review I read on Goodreads which is so inaccurate it’s almost comical. The reviewer starts off with an insane comment opinion different to my own that the name “d4” comes up out of nowhere.

    Interested in knowing what’s behind the name? Me too! Personally, I think the name stands out. Most time travel novels have “time” in the title. It’s getting old and stale. Names like “d4”, “z2” and “46.Ascending” are different and call attention!

    The Goodreads reviewer had trouble in understanding where the name “d4” came from. “d4” is the name of Baldur’s organisation. Not difficult to pick up (from page 38 or thereabouts), and hardly scientific stuff – although if you want that, it comes on p 138 where “d4” is explained in glorious mathematical detail (although I must admit that I find it unlikely that Ariel would have followed the path she took to discover this).

    Personally, I love the naming of the book (and of z2 which equally has a brilliant basis)!

    Links with other novels

    Like z2, d4 is a novel which is loosely connected with others in the 46.Ascending series – but only loosely; it can be read independently from the others and still make sense.

    Since Ariel is a member of the Zeitman family, each of whom are the main characters in the other novels (x0, y1, z2 and c3), there are clearly come cross references. Having read z2 I was aware of the links back to that novel, but there were also others which I must admit whetted my appetite. For example, Ariels’ brother Zane is able to morph into other shapes, and there’s a comment that one of his friends, Toby, owes him a debt which can’t be repaid.

    I’m guessing that’s covered in y1 and I’d love to read it, though I should specifically point out here that the cross-references don’t come over as a cheesy way of begging the reader to rush out and purchase all of the other novels in the series. In fact, you’d probably hardly notice that they’re there at all if you didn’t know about the other novels in the 46.Ascending series.

    Thanks for the premory

    Now for the real juice of the novel!

    Ariel ‘remembers’ the future, or to use her word – she has “premories” of the future. I think it’s a really nice touch to give Ariel’s capability a word, and I’m embarrassed to admit like much like a test rat in some psychological experiment of some ilk, I found that having a word to call it kind of made her experience more understandable to me!

    Much like memories, Ariel’s ideas about the future are fuzzy. They can consist of sounds, smells and meanings – and she is also able to assign a level of likelihood of occurrence. Her premories arise mostly through physical contact with an object or a person.

    It turns out that Ariel is not the only one in the novel with this ability. But where Ariel can see a few weeks ahead, other characters can see only a few seconds into the future; others a few hundred years.

    Mikkel describes Ariel’s range into the future as being in the Goldilocks zone – not too close and not too far. Indeed, Ariel and other characters were described as being like a telescope, binoculars, magnifying glass or a microscope depending on the extent of their view. Very nice! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Another really nice explanation of the range of views was given by Siarnaq who likened the phenomenon to being tuned in to different frequencies. I couldn’t help wondering if there was a connection between this and Ariel’s name! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Just as touch can trigger a premory, it can also trigger a contagion of sorts between those with the ability; each gains a view of what the other can see. When Ariel has prolonged physical contact with another who can see short term, she suffers after-shocks – little flickers of the short term future.

    Again, this shows the command that Sherrie wields in her novel by adding in these extra details to make a fully comprehensive phenomenon.

    On a personal note, I didn’t like the terms “psychic” or “clairvoyant” to describe Ariel’s ability to see into the future. For me, these words conjure up images of dodgy spiritualism, gypsy caravans, josticks and cheap gaudy bling. What Ariel (and the others) have is much more tangible.

    Actually on that note, d4 is a good example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The book cover shows a girl (presumably Ariel) doing a pose (presumably yoga, because Ariel practises yoga) by a lake. Maybe you can make out a “D” form in the sky, and the legs make a “4”, but it’s a bit ‘soft’ for the solid novel content. It looks like I’m reading a book about relaxing techniques whereas reading d4 is an exciting read!

    A philosophical approach to the future

    Underneath the main thrust of the story line lies a gentle question – what do we do with knowledge of the future? This is expressed most clearly towards the end of the novel, but prior to that there are several conversations and inner thoughts where this is brought to the fore.

    One aspect I enjoyed was a hint of multiple time lines, though perhaps this would more accurately be described as several branches of possible futures. Knowing the future means that an action can be taken to avoid a particular outcome sometimes. In d4 the point is that the final long term outcome may be the same no matter what actions are taken, but in the short term things can be made better for that particular time line.

    This is a philosophical point in itself – if we know the future can we take actions to avoid it?

    One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
    Quote from Kung Fu Panda movie. Image credit: www.buzzle.com

    Closing

    Like in z2, d4 closes with a section describing the outcome of several actions of several characters, and extrapolating this into the future. The section stands out from others as the writing style differs slightly. It closes and wraps up; it’s to the point – but not rushed.

    At first I was a little disappointed with the end which was a bit of an anticlimax given the suspense which had so far been building up. It seemed a bit of an easy way out, but reading further I think this was the only realistic conclusion to that particular thread. And here lies the power of the ending…it keeps going!

    I love how the plot keeps moving onwards into the future and doesn’t stop where I think most other novels would have (OK –z2 didn’t either! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Rating * * * * *

    Another 5 stars for another brilliant novel in the 46.Ascending series by Sherrie Cronin!

    d4 possesses the wonderful writing style that Sherrie has already shown in z2. It has a steady and gripping plot which incorporates a fully thought out phenomenon of seeing into the future, as well as addressing the philosophical question of what to do with that knowledge.

    You can read more about d4 on Sherrie’s d4 blog, and about the 46.Ascending series here.

    Read my interview with Sherrie over on Time Travel Nexus where she reveals some amazing insights and behind the scenes information!

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

    Review: The Whatever Society by Steve Richer

    A rushed short story or a drawn out advert for following books by the Steve Richer? The Whatever Society has some nice ideas at the beginning of the book, but it disintegrates pretty rapidly. Well. It was free. ..

    This review of The Whatever Society by Steve Richer is a reblog from my original review over at Goodreads.com. Note that my star rating system here on time2timetravel differs from that of Goodreads (the latter is biased towards favourable ratings).

    Book cover for The Whatever Society by Steve Richer

    I picked up a copy of The Whatever Society in ebook format from Amazon because it was short and it was free. I thought I couldn’t go wrong – perhaps I did, because it turns out that whilst it might be a free lunch, we’re strongly recommended to make a purchase from the desert menu.

    Writing style and plot

    The beginning of the story starts off well; the pacing is good and it’s engaging. Sadly it disintegrates into a “tell-not-show piece” towards the end where the Steve Richer’s idea of the future is spurted out by an unlikely group with whom the main character finds himself. It comes over as very rushed.

    I like the idea of how the future is going to pan out – it’s certainly interesting and gives food for thought, but the way it actually comes about is pretty lame, using specific and timely examples which draw far-fetched conclusions from mundane occurrences.

    The solution to the demise of the new future had an interesting and original new angle. However, it was wildly unrealistic – not on a scientific level, but on a character basis – given the main character’s personality, he would never have been able to pull it off.

    Finally, the closing sentence suggests that there was a romantic element but this had not been developed earlier in the story so it simply comes over as a cheesy ending.

    A short story or a long advert?

    “Ending”?

    In the version of the e-book I downloaded, there was a huge (about 30%) preview section for another of his novels. Ironic really, because The Whatever Society puts me off reading anything further from Steve Richer rather than developing any further interest in his writing.

    Ultimately I can’t help wondering if The Whatever Society by Steve Richer a short story or a long advert to lead the reader into getting hold of another one. Either way I guess it fails – the story comes over as rushed tell-not-show, and it’s put me off reading more from Steve Richer.

    Whatever.

    Overall…3 stars for blandidty and some good ideas, but it loses anything more positive for the poor delivery towards the end.

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

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    Review: Time Bangers by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague

    Time Bangers (by Luna Teague and Ivery Kirk) is a light-hearted romp into the court of King Henry VIII. It handles time travel well, though it comes well into the second part of the novel.

    Time Bangers. One does not simply walk into Tudor.

    Time Bangers is not your average time travel novel – it’s an engaging and barmy mix of scifi, historical fiction, erotica and comedy!

    Timebangers book cover showing main characters Tawny and Beth

    How well these different aspects mix together varies through the novel – the focus changes and attention is given more to one angle than another at times, but ultimately I believe it’s the light-hearted approach which everything hangs on.

    The Premise

    For those of you who have read more than a couple or so of my reviews, you’ll know that I neither have a burning passion for history or know anything about it. I’ll lay blame partly on my history teacher because (and I paraphrase Tawny here) she made it sound like boring facts and not like real people.

    But that’s only part of it. It seems that many of those historical people – real or otherwise – were cretins, though to be fair, maybe these were the ones that my teacher focused on.

    So I like the general premise of the story line: to go back in history and get your wicked way with King Henry VIII. It’s effectively taking the mickey out of history (and admittedly probably not the right reason to like a book, but what the hell! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    I mean, it’s just ludicrously brilliant! One of the two main characters, Tawny, is a commercially successful scientist who has conquered time travel and built her own time machine (in a shower) – and then uses it to go back in time and conduct research on sexual ability and prowess! Her friend Beth ends up following close behind and whilst trying to sort out the mess gets into troubles of her own.

    It’s wonderfully and totally insane!

    Historical accuracy

    I’d day that Time Bangers is historically well-researched, but in truth I’ve no idea. Yep – this is a short section which will mention the following: that Beth seems to know history. As well as educating Tawny, if what Beth says is true then she educated me too.

    A book of two parts

    Like some famous football game or other, this is a book of two halves. The first part is character building – at least for Beth – and then finally we get to the time travel in Part 2 where the trip into history is made and its repercussions wrought.

    Part 1

    There’s not much to say about Part 1 in time travel terms so I’m only going to skim over it here.

    The first chapters really struck a chord with me. Beth is introduced as one of the main characters. She suffers crappy child carers and general parenting difficulties. She’s frustrated because she has a brain and wants to use it. Later we meet Tawny, one of Beth’s friends from university. Tawny is a commercially successful scientist, but very socially awkward.

    The writing style is witty and humourous in a subtle way and not slapstick as you might first expect.

    I enjoyed Part 1, but there’s not really much else I can think of to say about it…

    Part 2

    Part 2 is really where the novel starts – not just because this is where time travel kicks in, but because this is where everything else kicks in too. Actually, after reading a few pages into this section I couldn’t help wondering whether Part 1 was overly drawn out; the pace really picks up in Part 2!

    Time travel

    I was expecting the time travel side of things to be fairly minimal but I was pleasantly surprised – Time Bangers handles time travel well and hasn’t just slipped it in as a convenient way to get modern day characters back into history.

    There are continual but gentle reminders to the reader that time travel is responsible for putting Beth and Tawny where and when they are. This is done with links from the past to the present, for example, by observing that Anne Boleyn wears the same necklace in the past as she was last seen painted in (in the present).

    We don’t know much about the time travel method itself other than it involves walking through a shower (“…there’s a funny thing about water and the human body”) and that the time machine is not built on wormhole technology.

    The trigger for return is inserted in the time traveller’s thumb and forefinger beneath the skin; tapping activates the device and the traveller is returned to the present 5 minutes later than their time of departure.

    This has always been a point of interest for me – how do the present and the past co-exist? Is there a relationship between the passage of time in each of these eras? I think the 5 minutes later thing was a device feature more than anything else, and indeed, when Beth expresses her concern in the past about leaving her daughter back in the present, Tawny explains that they’ll be returning 5 minutes later so it’s no big deal and nothing to get worried about. In other words, real time is either not concurrent – or more likely with a time machine, that time is no big deal!

    One of the common ‘troubles’ with time travel is how to transport either organic matter or inanimate objects. For example, lab tests might be able to move a pen back into the past but not a mouse in the first instance. Or in the second, how does a time traveler get to keep their clothes when they travel in time?

    Time Bangers deals with the latter instance through touch – anything that is in contact with the time traveller, such as clothes or even other people, will also travel in time. Or at least, so it’s initially thought.

    This last point provides a bonus time travel sub plot which comes together really nicely towards the end, and also partly explains why a time traveller-touching socks-touching shoes-touching ground-touching other objects, doesn’t seem to mean anything.

    I also thought it was a good call that despite being a time travel erotica novel, the authors didn’t take the potential opportunity of ‘non organic time travelling’ as an excuse for Beth and Tawny to be prematurely parted from their clothes.

    Every now and then there were a few lines which hinted at much a much deeper understanding of time and time travel that Tawny at first was letting on.

    For example, describing the past as being stretchy enough to accommodate some changes to it – a really nice alternative to the usual stuff about the river of time washing away small ripples in the past and historical actions having no long term effect.

    Time Bangers isn’t an out and out scifi novel and only lightly touches on the mechanics of time travel – that’s its style. So it’s really extra points earned for leaving no questions open, and indeed, introducing more elements of time travel and loops and problems when such problems weren’t expected.

    Erotica

    I came down a little harshly in my review of D.L. Orton’s Crossing in Time because of the erotica. Not because of the content itself, but because I thought it took up a lot of the novel and took me away from the brilliant scifi which I had so far been bowled over by.

    With Time Bangers the situation is almost reversed. There was a lot less erotica than I was expecting, and this kind of threw me in terms of plot angle because I thought that ultimately this was the main reason to go back in time. If this is the case, I was expecting more (numerous) steamy encounters.

    But there weren’t that many, which kind of made the few that were present seem out of place, or at least, too graphic.

    Then again. The light-hearted nature of Time Bangers means that just about anything goes – including erotica. And on that basis I think that grants erotica its place in the novel.

    Criticism

    To be wholly honest, my main negative comment about Time Bangers doesn’t really fit within the light-hearted comedy context of the novel. It would be like complaining that Superman shouldn’t be able to fly because he isn’t aerodynamic. But for the sake of completeness, here it is in two swift paragraphs so you can fly right on past it. Aerodynamically, if you wish.

    It’s Tawny. Whilst Beth is well developed, and historical characters seem to be believable, Tawny is simply too unrealistic.

    Like many scientists she’s socially awkward, but there are inconsistencies within her character:

    She can’t say hello to a small group of people but she can get herself laid by saying (and doing) the right things. As a scientist she has time to kill whilst her computer model runs (there’s always stuff for a scientist to do in these moments) and she’s embarrassed about her work (again, unlikely for a scientist – especially one who’s made millions billions. Yes, she’s socially awkward (so she sometimes thinks out social situations in code Note: a dollar sign as used in her computer code style thinking is a special symbol on the unix command line.) but I don’t think that it can fully account for her self contradictory behaviour.

    But I repeat (or at least, encourage you to briefly revisit a few seconds’ reading time ago) – I’m aware that this nerdy scientist’s eye view of Tawny shouldn’t really hold much weight for this novel.

    Ending

    I was relieved that Time Bangers avoids the predictable happily ever after bit and instead goes for the clear opening for the sequel (“The Golden Whored”).

    I must admit that I found the last chapter overtly long with an incredible amount of inane chatter. It just went on too long for print, though I could see this part working well in a movie where the background music gets louder and the camera pulls away from the conversation, leaving Beth and Tawny to continue their mindless gassing and giggling in privacy. Cue the credits.

    Perhaps it was trying to make up for their (weird) strained friendship a few pages earlier, but it was tedious and frustrating to read – the latter because it’s at the end of the novel and I felt compelled to finish it.

    Rating * * * *

    Time Bangers is an easy going and light-hearted novel with time travel and earns 4 stars on a time travel blog.

    I’ve ‘docked’ a star for Part 1 – only because there’s no time travel in that lengthy section – but I did enjoy that part so will give the full 5 stars over on the more general Amazon and Goodreads sites.

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

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    Review: Buckyball by Fabien Roy

    Buckyball (Fabien Roy) is a brilliantly delivered take on repeatedly reliving part of your life over and over again. The attention to small time travel details and the writing style make Buckyball a superb read!

    Buckyball

    I must be old. Here’s me thinking a “buckyball” is a common term for “Buckminsterfullerene” – a C60 carbon molecule folded round in the shape of a football. And that a “screaming snowball” is something of a personification when someone says “there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell” and then decides to literally make a point by lobbing said snowball into the fiery pit.

    Buckyball by Fabien Roy

    But it turns out that a buckyball is a recreational drug, and it also turns out that in this novel a buckyball can send you back in time (or have a “life turn”).

    Beginnings

    Buckyball starts with James Pesola who’s recovering from a double stapedectomy – an operation to improve hearing. He’s nervous about the outcome and is advised to write down his thoughts about his life which is the novel that we’re reading. (So I should mention that on a personal level I immediately felt heavily involved because only the day before starting this novel I was at the hospital to get the results of my MRI scan for my own ear problems!)

    Things start quickly. I thought it was interesting that the first person character isn’t the first time traveller; it’s James’ friend, John. On the night of Saturday 11 June 2005 John explains to his friends that he’s already lived the following week and has now come back to be reunited with his friends. Somehow.

    Over the course of the following week John’s knowledge of the future is shown to be correct so there’s no prolonged confusion or disbelief (which would be understandable since drugs are involved). Then on Sunday 19 June the same happens to James – he finds himself (with John) back on Saturday 11 June 2005, again with their friends who know no different.

    Life turns

    James and John find that they can act on information from the future when they return back in time and relive their lives again on a repeated week or “life turn”. For example, they’re cooks by profession and keep a burnt steak instead of chucking it out because they know it will be ordered the next day by another customer.

    Not everything stays exactly the same though – there are some subtle differences between life turns. Winning lottery numbers differ, for example, and the two surmise that this is due to the small changes brought about just by their presence. Something as small as a smile in an elevator can change somebody’s mood and affect how they behave, which goes on to have subsequent ramifications, etc..

    I liked this lottery number thing – not only does it do away with making easy money on each life turn (which would be a bore to read), this is an example of Fabien’s remarkable eye for detail when it comes to things surrounding time travel.

    Generally speaking though, actions and (other people’s) memories are erased at the beginning of each life turn. Their friends on Saturday 11 June 2005 have no idea what’s going on, for example. Indeed, there is an incident between John and his girlfriend on one life turn where their relationship takes on a new direction. This is addressed in following life turns, even though the girlfriend is none the wiser.

    This reset gives James and John almost a completely free reign over everything they do because in effect their actions don’t matter as they don’t have lasting consequences. This clearance also holds for their physical condition – a bodily injury or illness will dissolve on the next life turn.

    This leaves an open question – what happens to the people (and objects) who don’t go back in time? If James is talking to Person X on 14 June then goes back to Saturday 11, what happens to Person X? Is there a 15th June?

    We never know because we never read from that viewpoint – we read from James’, and James goes back so he never knows either. It’s an interesting thought though. Maybe that present (or future) disappears in the same way that our past disappears. But if it doesn’t vanish then that means that it’s recreated on the next life turn and we’ve entered the multiple universe theory…

    The first few lief turns were always a week long and this fixed time length makes reading the experience seem a little like a week-long version of the Groundhog Day movie – but with the point of repetition much less laboured!

    I was really pleased when the time between life turns increased to 5 months. This brings us out of the risk zone of the repetitive ‘Groundhog Day loop’ and brings about a new element of the mystery of time in the buckyball life turns. (Replay (Ken Grimwood) partly tackled the problem of repetition by the main character reliving ever decreasing portions of his life).

    This prompts James and John to experiment and figure out what the catalyst is for returning to 11 June, and armed with this information they play out a number of ways in how they relive their lives. And as these two discover, if things were to remain like this it would become a dull life, and an even duller book. But it’s not to remain so!

    Curve buckyballs

    Fabien continually throws curve balls in Buckyball to keep James and John – and us – on our toes. For example, they’re not the only two who have taken buckyballs, meaning that they’re not the only two who relive a part of their life and have everything reset after the catalyst to return to the past is triggered.

    And crucially, this means that they’re not the only two who can set off the trigger. The upshot is that every now and then they find themselves back at the beginning of their life turn – often feeling very angry about it.

    This lack of control over what’s happening to them reminded me in some ways of Syncing Forward (W. Lawrence). Indeed, James even refers obliquely to the phenomenon as a disease – a real change in attitude to his initial impressions of the experience.

    Writing style

    I thoroughly enjoyed Fabien’s writing – he addresses my questions almost as fast as I was formulating them which certainly made me feel that he was writing on my wavelength in terms of information delivery. What I really value is his amazing eye for detail – for example, the time travel related details such as why lottery numbers differ, or specific details on how the catalyst to return to the past needs to be delivered.

    Fabien uses the skills of the characters he’s written into Buckyball to ‘help him out’, most noticeably with an expert in physics and an IT girl (kudos to Fabien for using girls here in traditionally ‘male roles’). In fact, he uses a group of people as an opportunity to show further ways of living life turns which wouldn’t have been in character with either James or John who for the most part we follow (and I had a little smile in that one of them sets up a “Groundhog training school”! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    The writing style itself is progressive, but recall that this novel is being read as a letter written by James as an old man. Fabien sort of makes it difficult for himself then, writing in first person as an old man recalling feelings from a younger man. Should he write the whole novel in “old people speak”?

    I thought that at first it read like James was a teenager, even though he’s in his twenties. Perhaps this is me being so far from this age group that it all merges into one (stand by for my upcoming post “A tale of two Dutch cities”). The thoughts and dialogue come sometimes with some inappropriate or politically incorrect insensitive language. Sometimes it was funny though on one occasion I can see that it may be offensive, but at the same time this could just be James’ character.

    For the immersion side of things, I think Fabien took the right road in writing in first person as a younger man when James was younger. It also makes it much clearer to see James’ development in character as time goes on and the number of life turns clocks up. We see that even though he ‘officially’ remains at the same age of 26, his mentality changes and matures as he experiences different facets of life.

    Closing scenes

    I really had no idea in how Buckyball was going to finish!

    There’s an interesting scientific spew at the end which at first seemed disjointed to the preceding text until I realised we’re now back in current time with James writing his letter.

    I have two slight issues with the final sections. The first is a heavy focus on a policeman which, though interesting, didn’t really seem to either move things forwards or tie any ends.

    The other thing was – why a buckyball? It seems a grossly inefficient way to…ah. Read it yourself to find out! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Replay. What was that again?

    Anyone reading Buckyball might immediately think of Replay by Ken Grimwood.

    But I’ll just say it straight – Buckyball is a better version of Replay! If Ken Grimwood relived his life again and rewrote Replay, he might be tempted to write it to be something more like Buckyball!

    Whereas Replay effectively resets the storyline with each ‘reincarnation’, Buckyball has more of a continuous thread which follows James through each of his turns – and there’s much more going on!

    Rating * * * * *

    Buckyball has the full 5 stars for a brilliantly delivered take on repeatedly reliving part of your life over and over again. The attention to small time travel details and the writing style make Buckyball a superb read!

    Buckyball is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

    You can read my interview with Fabien Roy over at timetravelnexus.com!

    Paul

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    Star ratings:

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    Review: One Red Thread by Ernie Wood

    One Red Thread (Ernie Wood) doesn’t set out to be a time travel or scifi novel yet it is able to circumnavigate so many time travel pitfalls – and it’s all wrapped up beautifully in a literary writing style!

    One Red Thread by Ernie Wood isn’t just a novel – it’s time travel literature!

    Perhaps I should mention my disclaimer first (i.e. that “I received a copy of One Red Thread free of charge in exchange for an honest review”). And when the book did make it’s way over to me I was very impressed that what I’d received was a hard back. With a dust jacket! It’s a small thing maybe, but to a simple chap such as myself who prefers reading on real paper, holding a hardback already exudes quality!

    But enough about the book cover. We’re not meant to judge a book that way! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    What’s inside?

    Baseball on One Red Thread book cover

    It turns out there’s a note from Ernie:

    “Follow your thread!”

    Oh dear. A reference that I’d contacted Ernie on the Goodreads time travel group forum and hadn’t replied? I’d like to think that that sort of rudeness / ignorance isn’t in my nature – and indeed it turns out that the mystery is much more simple – and admittedly blindingly obvious – a tie in to the book title!

    The thread – oh what a tangled web we weave!

    In a radio interview with WCHL-FM radio, Ernie describes One Red Thread not as a scifi or time travel novel, but as a novel which focuses more on the significance of having knowledge of the past and bringing it to the present.

    The contents of the book are complex, but the premise is simple. The main character, Eddy McBride, seeks to solve the mystery of his rich family history and the impact it has on his present. It is in this way that he finds and follows his one red thread – the common thread that runs through his history.

    Writing style

    Initially I felt that One Red Thread didn’t have so much a story line as a general wandering along Eddy’s train of thought. It seemed to be somewhat of a ‘2 dimensional’ approach of not just moving the story forwards but one where it takes the reader on little excursions and then back again.

    After a while it struck me that One Red Thread is written in the same way as painting a water colour painting – gradually adding layer upon layer, and in this way it has a ‘lateral’ level as well as a deep one.

    Time travel literature

    Eddy is an over-thinker. He thinks about everything in incredible detail and I think it would be fair to say that often-times it’s to the detriment of relationships around him. Sometimes I shared his wife’s feelings (Sheila) and became frustrated with Eddy in how he continually obsessed and analysed situations.

    But this is his character, and in reading Eddy’s description of the world about him and his journey through his thoughts One Red Thread reminded me of reading a D. H. Lawrence book in my English Literature class way back, where a church spire wasn’t a church spire – it was a connection between Heaven and Earth. A horse in a field wasn’t a horse in a field – it was a phallic symbol. Or so said my teacher. (Or maybe he didn’t…I later went on to fail the class!)

    Likewise, Eddy ties huge significances to everything he casts his eyes on and certainly does not call a spade a spade. At one point in the novel he’s offered a tomato, and he makes the comment that at last he has something “…at face value. For once.” (Was he so lucky?) I was surprised at his comment as it’s invariably his own fault that things become things which are not their face value!

    Eddy is one of a handful of main characters, but this ‘literary style’ of writing continues with all of them and in these cases the power of Ernie’s writing really shines through!

    Point of view

    Ernie has a truly beautiful writing style. But in particular I want to highlight the impact of the shared points of view. One Red Thread sees a change in view from the vantage of a different perspective in both time and character and this is largely due to the occasional change in first person character.

    One Red Thread begins through Eddy’s eyes, and occasionally we read through Sheila’s – and later through Tim’s (their business associate).

    I know many readers don’t like such changes but personally I don’t understand (their view! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) because this is pretty much what a third person narrative would do. But by deliberately turning each character involved into a pair of glasses through which we can view the events and experience and witness events and feelings first hand, this is a very powerful tool!

    When you read a first person novel you get a detailed insight into characters and events as seen through that main protagonist. But what if his views are one-sided, warped or just plain wrong? In One Red Thread we see these traits through Eddy’s wife’s eyes.

    Sheila provides information on thoughts, feelings and emotions whilst Eddy focuses on the physical details of things around him often ignoring people. Eddy’s more interested in the past, Sheila in the present. She’s pregnant, and considerations about the new life growing is naturally key on the future as well.

    Through Eddy’s eyes Sheila is cold and distant but actually we see she’s a silent observer too – mostly of Eddy – and cares for him in a careful hands-off approach. She reminds me of a mother letting go of a child as he learns to walk but she’s close by in case there’s any trouble all the while hoping there won’t be – but still kind of expecting it.

    Sheila’s a thinker too, and often overly so. In this way she’s just like Eddy by creating mountains out of molehills. At one time she throws a wobbly when she finds Eddy clutching a baseball, upset that he’s more interested in looking back in the past instead of into the future – though admittedly this is probably a fair thought given as they’re about to have a baby.

    I can understand this sentiment. When I was moping about a girlfriend who’d dumped me, my mates sister told me I couldn’t have a future if I was always looking back to the past. It seems to be a bit like this with Eddy, and I think this is what Sheila was concerned about.

    There’s a third person in the first person roll-up; Tim. I must confess that I didn’t fully understand Tim’s angle on things, but I think the important aspect is that he’s in love with Libby, one of Eddy’s childhood friends who comes first to Eddy then to Sheila and Tim, seeking help in procuring their architectural services in redesigning a building from their shared past.

    Tim is a photographer so much of his view on the world is in capturing the moment. But his chief ‘role’ in One Red Thread is in trying to protect Libby.

    Libby is the hidden star of the novel who is unable to travel in time as Eddy and Sheila are, but seeks most desperately to be able to do so. Eventually she manages to, though initially these are at the wrong times and wrong places – and wrong levels of interaction. But it’s Libby who determines that the past needs to be changed.

    The Time travel element

    In my review of z2 (Sherrie Cronin) I made the comment that thankfully events are ‘live’ instead of a series of flashbacks which in contrast would be dull to read.

    It turns out that One Red Thread is full of memories and flashbacks – and it further turns out I really quite like it! It gives me the feeling of “eternalism” where past and present (and future) co-exist. We live in the present and remember today the events of yesterday.

    Actually this is mostly true at the beginning of the novel with Eddy. At first he has recollections of the past but then he finds that he’s transported back in time when those memories seemingly trigger an actual return to the past – first in an observational capacity, then where people interact with him and then finally where real physical effects occur (for example, where a burn on his arm in the past leaves him with a scar which he takes back with him to the present).

    When Eddy goes back in time he maintains his current age so it’s not a replay; it’s a new ‘addition’ – and people from the past remember him. This is important; his (new) actions in the past affect the future. And for those in the past who encounter him transpose their own thinking with their expectations. People see what they want to see kind of thing, so what starts as mental time travel turns more physical – but with a mental component at the other end.

    Time travel is triggered largely by sensations such as sounds, smells or even taste. Eddy checks the theory to get a real trip back to the past. This part reminded me of Somewhere in Time where Richard Collier takes drastic measures to control his environment to facilitate his time travel venture.

    Ernie has taken great care to cover many aspects of time travel which often get overlooked. For example, the passage of concurrent time in the present during a trip in the past – only moments pass in the present during a trip in the past. And there’s reference to the potential difficulty of meeting yourself in the past. But what I find spectacular is how Ernie has taken this a step further with a beautiful ‘side-effect’: an implication on the number of times you can go back in time to the same moment.

    Note though that this restriction only applies to a single person which means that three people can go back to the same moment in the past, even from different times, and with naturally different viewpoints. This allows for additional views from very different perspectives. For example, Sheila sees Eddy stealing an apple (which is very unlike him) but later in the novel (chronologically) we read Eddy’s view of the event when he goes back in time and we understand why he did such a thing. Or we hear about one of Eddy trips to the past as told by Sheila and what she heard him say. Then we go back to Eddy and have it explained what he said and why.

    The Ending

    Ernie keeps adding layer upon layer, and just when I think there’s nothing more to add and the rest of the novel will be spent in analysing the results and wrapping things up, there’s another trip into history and yet more happens!

    So when the closing chapters came I was all ears as to how things were going to wrap up – if at all!

    First off, there’s a fantastic conclusion in Libby’s adventure, which I suppose would count as the action component of the novel. I especially enjoyed this ending as it involved some intricate workings of time travel (and avoidance of time travel paradoxes).

    In point of fact though, the real conclusion is in the Epilogue where there’s a slight look forward, or at least a progression of the present, where Eddy and Sheila’s daughter (Lizzie) provides her view on what has happened and what she think will happen.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this latter part, mostly because of Lizzie’s description of Eddy’s behaviour between the novel ending and the epilogue. It’s realistic in the sense that this is the most likely way that things will play out, but it’s not your typical happy ever after.

    I suppose that’s how real life is a lot of the time.

    Rating * * * * *

    One Red Thread by Ernie Wood receives a full 5 stars! I was really impressed that a novel which doesn’t set out to be a time travel or scifi novel is able to circumnavigate so many time travel pitfalls – and it’s all wrapped up beautifully in a literary writing style.

    Generally speaking, the plot of the novel is seen in how time travel is dealt with – a subtle shift in focus in the novel from observing the past, changing the past and finally to protecting the present (or future).

    The approach in how time travel is utilised in the novel is really original, focussing on what knowledge of the past means in today’s life, and how it affects our way of living and the relationships that we have. One Red Thread gives us plenty of food for thought.

    One question still remains open to me, and it goes back to my message in the inside cover – how do I follow my one red thread?

    Interview with author: Ernie Wood

    Ernie has very kindly agreed to provide us with an author interview at timetravelnexus.com. In this interview Ernie shares his thoughts about the time travel aspects of his novel, as well as his writing process, marketing activities and personal life. Being an author is certainly an interesting – and very busy – life!

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “One Red Thread” to read and provide an honest review. This is it! Oh yes. I said that already, didn’t I?!

    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

    Review: Beyond the Rest of Us by Andrew Man

    Beyond the Rest of Us is the third in Andrew Man’s Tego Arcana Dei series and is one of the strangest books I’ve read for a long time – and yet I enjoyed it without having the blindest clue as to what is going on to whom, why, where or when!

    Beyond the Rest of Us is the third in Andrew Man’s Tego Arcana Dei series and is one of the strangest books I’ve read for a long time – and yet I enjoyed it without having the blindest clue as to what is going on to whom, why, where or when!

    At a wild guess, Beyond the Rest of Us may be a cross between James Bond and The Paradox War (C. J. Moseley). Both excellent!

    Beyond the Rest of Us cover

    The story line is certainly beyond me and I wonder if this is because I jumped in at Book 3 instead of at the beginning. Indeed, the main character, James Pollack, doesn’t seem that phased when he’s abducted, awakes in an underground cell in Geneva and has it explained to him that he’s gone back in time to 1814.

    There’s talk of jumping, sliding and dreaming between dimensions (I think facilitated by a medallion) – but these are all normal ideas for James who already seems to be familiar with these things. Actually, he seems to be more concerned about the oil lamps in the underground room where he’s being held, and then goes on to ask for a helper in the form of a young Italian prostitute. Needless to say I didn’t understand James’ character or his motivations or intentions.

    And this is just Chapter 1! The Introduction beforehand didn’t make it any clearer for me, indeed, I was confused as to the scene which was being set – political? IT?

    As I continued reading I settled comfortably into the writing style, and whereas I couldn’t keep up with what was happening on a novel-length scale, on a page-by-page basis I was intrigued by the density of well-researched scifi ideas which permeate Beyond the Rest of Us.

    For example there’s an idea where a dimension or a universe is a holographic projection from another – now I’m sure I’ve read about this somewhere fairly recently, and how scientists have been testing this idea; and the experimental details are in part in Beyond the Rest of Us. This is what I love about science fiction – taking a real scientific idea or theory and running away with it in a novel!

    The ease at which characters move between dimensions and universes makes for a busy but enjoyable read. There’s one part where a character needed to take a leak, so (for some reason) jumps into another dimension to do so. But she kind of got stuck there and needed help returning. It’s rather abstract, but a wonderfully crazy idea!

    Apart from the story line, what I missed was depth to the characters. There are several of them, and each seem to have a few chapters where they take the lead role – but those chapters are so busy I quite easily lost track of who was who and who did what in which dimension.

    Needless to say, when the novel (and series) concluded, it probably made less of an impact on me than it had the potential of doing so. Whether there was another chapter to follow or not, I don’t think would have made a difference.

    I was sad that it ended though as I was really enjoying the read!

    Rating * * * *

    Despite having no clue as to what the story line is, the ideas within Beyond the Rest of Us are not only brilliant, but have a sound footing in scientific research. I’d hazard a guess that the political undertones (or maybe overtones?) are similarly well thought out.

    Naturally, I think more clarity on the story line would have pushed this up to the full 5 stars!

    Paul

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    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Beyond the Rest of Us” to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

    Star ratings:

    | 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |