Review: Time Split – Briggs (Patricia Smith)

Patricia’s powerful writing in “Time Split – Briggs” brings us multiple time lines thanks to a time machine / teleporter backed up with experimental development from the first novel (“Time Split”). Be prepared for some blood and gore with the evil Briggs!

Time Split Briggs is the second novel by Patricia Smith in her Time Split series. The first novel of the same name operates on a single time line. Now all that changes and the title really comes into play!

Briggs

Briggs himself is the ‘bad guy’ in the original novel – and I’m glad that he gets to have this sequel novel named after him.

Review of "Time Split Briggs" by Patricia Smith

Perhaps I shouldn’t feel like this, but when I watch the X-Men movies I feel sorry for the villain, Magneto. OK, he dumps Mystique quicker than a hot potato when she loses her mutancy, but other than that I think he has a fair view of the world – it’s against him, and ultimately he seeks protection for himself, and for his kind. I’ve forgotten which DVD it is, but one of them you get the option to choose your side – and yes, I chose Magneto’s.

It’s the same here. Bad guys aren’t always bad; they just have a slightly different view. Briggs wants to be someone in a messed up world rather than a nobody in a world where there’s no nuclear holocaust. Don’t we all want to be somebody?

Author Patricia Smith presents Briggs mostly as an antagonist to Jason and Sarah, but we also get an insight into his own character and motivation. We also get to see a slightly different side to him in his double from a different time line.

The bottom line is that he’s an evil character. A really horrible one. I’m reminded of one of Terry Pratchett’s phrases – that if you’re busy running away from something, then where you’re running to kind of takes care of itself. I think Jason and Sarah often operated under this regime, Sarah in particular, ensuring that their paths weren’t going to cross.

I think it was a wise decision.

Time travel

I loved the experimental introduction into how time travel was ‘discovered’ in Time Split. In Time Split – Briggs the methodology is given as a pre and the focus is more on the complexities of time travel, in particular, those which arise from introducing a new time line. (Incidentally, I thought this was a nice way to make a sequel!)

With multiple time lines there is the possibility for multiple versions of the same person. We see this with Briggs. And we also have characters performing actions across different time lines. This latter scenario plays out where Sarah keeps pointing out to Jason things that he (i.e. his double) has already done, or will do, in another time line. (Indeed, in this respect Sarah often seemed to be more of a main character than either Jason or Briggs).

Where we learn more about Briggs through his multiple ‘identities’, Jason learns more about himself through hearing about his.

Having said that the time travel methodology in Time Split – Briggs is a given, I did note a couple of oddities with the time travel machine.

The first is that a message is given that the rotation of Earth has been taken into consideration. At first glance this makes sense – but I’d have expected this to have been the default setting and that a warning message would be displayed if the user opted not to take the Earth’s rotation into account (when would that be?). And come to think of it, what about other astronomical rotations and movements?

Still, this is nit-picking the nits off a nit-picker on a picnic – although possibly annoying for the user. I remember making (paper) photocopies at the Plymouth University library (it was a long time ago…). The default paper setting was A3 which meant you paid 3 times as much as for regular A4. And of course the copy never came out nicely so it was unusable and needed to be made again – with the correct setting. It was a crafty way for the university to effectively extract 4 times as much cash from us hard-up students than I think they should have. It was an annoying setting.

Thankfully Jason and Sarah didn’t seem too perturbed by their machine’s settings!

I was also surprised that this rotation consideration message came before the length of stay had been input. Wouldn’t the consideration require the length of stay? Then again, time is irrelevant with a time machine! 😉

Going back to basics though, Sarah poses the question whether the teleporter time machine can differentiate between 2 bodies which are inside it. Recalling the effects seen in The Fly movie it’s a factor well worth considering. Jason figures that since he travelled without being fused with his clothes, then things should be OK.

Now I may be remembering this incorrectly, but wasn’t the difference between animate and inanimate objects the trigger for time travel instead of teleportation? In other words, I think the comparison that Jason makes between people and clothes is like comparing apples and oranges. Or at least, Adam and fig leaves…

Writing style

In keeping with the first novel, Patricia writes with a mighty pen. The horrors of nuclear fallout are vivid – both physically, and the emotional effects. You can’t help thinking “What the b***dy hell were people thinking when they set off those nuclear bombs?

There’s an interesting observation where WW2 was instrumental in advancing technology (much like the cold war), whereas with nuclear war sets things back. Radiation knows no borders – there are really no winners. Even the kids in the War Games movies knew that. (Then again, when you look at current British politics it doesn’t take long to realise that no-one’s thinking).

Perhaps in keeping with the insanity of humankind, there’s a fair amount of blood and gore. This is inflicted by Briggs (for example, twisting knives to release the vacuum, or catching blades on a piece of back-bone) and inflicted by the pricks who pressed the red button (nuclear blast / survival in post nuclear fallout).

Worrying as it is that Patricia has a startling knowledge of such things (and for clarity – this is not the reason why I’m saying I enjoyed her novel!) – I’m pleased that although subtle, Patricia’s passion for astronomy comes into play. Whereas many authors would cast a reference to the familiarity of the night sky by blurting some speel about the North Star (which is not particularly bright), Patricia mentions Spica and Arcturus – two different stars than the standard stars that your average author would pick. These are two bright stars, one of which can be quite low on the horizon – though now I come to think of it, it would be higher in the sky up near Newcastle (UK) where this novel is set.

(Actually, now I recall, Deb mentioned the constellations of Ursa Major and Orion in Dead Time. Whilst the latter is a well known constellation, it’s situated on the other side of the night sky to Ursa Major so these two in combination would give a good idea of how Earth’s celestial settings is.)

Closing

There is good and bad news when it comes to the ending – things seem to wrap up well (I won’t mention how or for whom! 😉 ) but the bad news is that this suggests that there won’t be a sequel.

I hope I’m wrong…

Paul

PS: Why not read my interview with Patricia?

Author interview: Patricia Smith (Time Split)

Link to my review of Time Split.

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Star ratings:

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

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 it’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, “Oh, yes, Officer. I’m just seeing if this base was destroyed in a nuclear blast, whether Alnwick would survive.” 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 you’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 won’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, Orion’s star nursery, the clouds on Jupiter – 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: Time Split by Patricia Smith

Time Split by Patricia Smith is a beautifully succinct time travel novella which works on one time line. An alternate present arises when the past changes, and the main character seeks to go back in time again to rectify the trouble he’s caused. Naturally, there are complications…

Many of my reads start on the train and Time Split by Patricia Smith was no different. With the clocks going back an hour the first part of my journey now starts just before sunrise. So here I am reading about the detonation of an atom bomb and the skies being on fire and I pause for a breather and take a look out of the window. As I type, Android spell checks that out as “wildfires”…intuitive? Maybe, because the skies did indeed look like they were on fire.

No breather for me then, and really that reflects the tone of this book – it always kept me on my toes!

Time Split book cover
Time Split book cover. When the mushroom really hits the sky.

Synopsis

The story follows Jason, a research scientist who stumbles upon time travel whilst conducting experiments with teleportation. He decides to use his time machine to go back to the time of his grandmother and save her from a painful future. On his return back to the present Jason finds himself in the fallout of a nuclear war and seeks to put things right. But not everyone wants things to be as they were, leaving Jason facing deadly situations.

Between the lines

Time Split is a short novel at just under 150 pages. Whereas many short stories and novellas are very much to-the-point and leave the reader to interpolate between those points to make a story out of it (or extrapolate to get a meaningful ending), Time Split manages to make a balance between a short story and a full novel by providing enough information and narrative for a full story and yet avoiding the fluffy superfluous padding.

For example, when Jason decides to go back in time his wife is justifiably concerned. Half a page later Jason is in the past. There are no lengthy conversions with Jessica (his wife) or self doubting with the tedious “Should I, shouldn’t I?” monologue when we already know that he’s going to do it. And there are no pages and pages of preparation because this was already taken care of when the methodology of time travel was given due attention during Jason’s experimentation). Time Split is not rushed, it’s short and very sweet. Beautiful and succinct! 🙂

Time Travel

The first point is very easy to make. Jason is a blimming idiot! I mean, Jason!!! Change the future of your grandparent? That’s really asking for trouble! There’s even a paradox named after it!

Admittedly Jason doesn’t seek to kill his grandfather but rather save his grandmother to protect his own mother (who was travelling with her) from a lifetime of trouble and a tortured memory, but the point remains. Don’t mess about with your ancestry! To be fair though, Jason isn’t a time travel expert but a scientist working with teleportation.

I thought it was an interesting angle that including organic matter in experiments lead to an ‘error’ in teleportation, i.e. moving an object in time instead of in space. Quite often in time travel novels it is the transport of organic matter through time which proves to be the final hurdle to jump, but here it’s key.

So teleporting living material causes time travel – what about the (inorganic) newspaper which Jason bought and brought back with him? Or his clothes? Yeah, it’s that old chestnut, and to be honest it’s been hacked to death in many other novels and to be honest I’m glad it wasn’t an issue here.

Still. Jason is a scientist and he doesn’t travel in time without due testing beforehand. His first tests result in mice shifting in space as well as time, and indeed he goes on to develop a formula which takes the Earth’s spin into account. Presumably it would also account for the movement of the Earth around the sun, and the rotation of the Milky Way, etc., but lets not get too bogged down in detail!

time travel Earth moves
Warning! The Earth moves ‘during’ time travel! Image Courtesy of tequalstime.blogspot.com.

Jason also postulates that meeting yourself would causes instant annihilation. Is this true? This idea is often mentioned in time travel fiction (e.g. Exploits in Time) although I don’t really see why? Other ‘objects’ can apparently meet themselves – but what is it about people that we self destruct?

Naturally this brings me onto the atom bomb; there’s a strong human element in Time Split. (Note here that the split in time is what happened after Jason’s trip to the past; it wasn’t caused by the atomic bomb). Patricia describes with startling clarity how life during post-nuclear fallout might be. I really picked up on the forlorn sense of survival, being alone and left to fend for yourself. Lessons on the worse side of human character hadn’t been learned, and groups of self-appointed leaders made life even more miserable and desperate for those ‘lucky’ enough to survive the blast and the time afterwards. Tragic.

Jason on the other hand appears to be largely passionless (which may explain why he didn’t bother talking much to his wife about going back in time…). Perhaps this is the stereotypical scientist who’s out of touch with emotion. He doesn’t seem that well connected with her and barely seems to miss her at all. He’s direct and pragmatic, albeit with a few crying sessions – though these are not always for her. He wished she was dead to avoid the fallout before he actually gets round to missing her.

In this way I didn’t really connect with Jason, and whether he survives or not didn’t really matter to me; it was more whether he’d reach his goal of trying to restore things to how they were. Ironically, I guess this puts me into the same passionless boat as Jason…

Ending / beginning

The ending is done beautifully – reaching a climax in good time, and resolving it in a way which doesn’t beg the reader to rush out and buy Book 2 to find out what happens.

The crux of the matter is that Time Split operates on a single time line. That already ticks boxes for me by not packaging difficulties away in a box and shoving them off into another universe.

Despite the changes brought about by actions in the past and the nuclear bomb, the post-nuclear (alternate) present still has a time machine. I guess this makes sense because Jason was able to ‘return’ to this present after his trip to 1930 and in this way there is no threat of the grandfather paradox where his actions in the past would serve to unmake his time machine in the future thus rendering the backward trip impossible.

Jason tries to reach his time machine so that he can go back in time again and this time around make sure that he doesn’t make the changes which lead to this post-nuclear present. It’s a nice touch that one of the characters realises the threat that an alternate or different present may be one without him in it, and he tries to thwart Jason’s efforts.

I’ve read some reviews which mention that the ending is rushed, but here I must disagree; there’s a chase on which of course speeds things up! Actually this chase plays a crucial part of the novel as it wraps up all aspects – time travel, the relationship between Jason and other survivors, the dark side of human nature and the hope of putting things back to right. In fact what happens to Jason is a really neat way of avoiding a potential time travel paradox…

Final thoughts

All in all, I was really impressed with Time Split, especially as Patricia didn’t take the easy way out in creating a new time line – ‘just’ a very good novella! 🙂

There’s only one flaw with Time Split, and it’s the back cover blurb:

“A scientist’s ‘harmless’ tinkering in Germany just before World War II causes a catastrophic change of events which lead to World War III in the present.”

I can’t explain this without a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read the book! (Though I’ve just noticed that the description of Time Split on Patricia’s web page (see below) has it corrected!)

Something to remember?

remember time travellers on poppy day

With 11 November having just passed, thoughts about those who died in the war are likely to still remain in many of our minds. It does raise the question though – are there any time travellers out there whom we should also be remembering?

Rating * * * * *

5 stars. Time Split covers both the journey and the destination aspect of a time travel novel, and manages to both create and avoid time travel paradoxes in only 150 pages.

Time Split by Patricia Smith: a beautifully succinct time travel novella which works on a single time line. Change the future of your grandparent? Now that’s really asking for trouble!

An excerpt from Time Split is available on Patricia’s web page (as well as details on her other books) and you can get hold of a copy from Amazon.co.uk. Patricia is on Facebook and Twitter.

Upcoming sequel

Time Split can be read independently and makes a great novella on it’s own. But I was really pleased to hear that Patricia is currently writing a sequel in response to several reader requests. With permission, I include here the blurb for the upcoming sequel.


Sarah suddenly found herself standing near a town square, the cry still deep in her throat. Her initial shock gave way instantly to surprise when she realised everything Jason had said was true. She had wanted to believe him but, despite this, a small part of her mind had denied it could ever be possible, yet here she was in Jason’s Germany.

A demonstration was taking place and in the commotion nobody had even noticed her unusual arrival.

Quickly she looked around. There was no time to lose. She had to find Jason; she had to find him now. Three minutes, her mind kept screaming, only three minutes, he had said.

She scanned the streets, her senses on high alert, but could not see him anywhere. She started towards the square, then suddenly she was bumped from behind. She glanced at the perpetrator, as they passed, and was shocked to see it was Jason.

She tried to grab him, but missed.

“Jason!” she yelled. “Stop! You must listen!”

He continued through the crowd, the noise of the demonstration drowning out her cries, oblivious to her presence.

Sarah could see the door to a building across the street open; some men in uniform were making their way down the stairs.

As Jason crossed the road towards them, she found herself caught up in the crowd. Pushing against the mass, she forced her way through the demonstrators and was just about to break free when her right arm was abruptly grabbed from behind.

Sarah looked back shocked, then stopped and stared, her mouth open in astonishment. For vital seconds it seemed as if time was no longer fluid, but instead was frozen like ice. The crowd around her blurred as though part of a dream and the only reality was the man who stood before her.

“Briggs,” she said, so quietly she could barely hear her own voice. “How the hell did you get here?”


Paul

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Time Split” to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

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