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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Review: The Tunnel by Josh Anderson

Josh Anderson’s “The Tunnel” is Book 1 of the Time of Death series for young adults. Time travel is via a “silk blot” which is a really original method of time travel, providing an entrance (and exit) to a tunnel complete with ladders and rungs marking the year. Lots of interesting threads, but sadly there’s no closure, just a “To be continued…”.

The Tunnel is Book 1 of 6 in Josh Anderson’s Time of Death series and is geared towards Young Adults.

The Tunnel (Time of Death #1)

The Tunnel follows Kyle, a high schooler who gets high with a friend and causes a collision with a school bus in a drink / drug road accident. All 12 children and the driver (plus his friend) are killed. Kyle’s presented with a chance to go back in time and fix things and the novel deals with how he goes about it.

Kyle

I have zero tolerance for drink / drug driving so I immediately disliked Kyle and his idiot friend. But I soon warmed up to him; he’s genuinely sorry for what he did and becomes obsessed with the victims of his earlier stupidity. This is an important point – I find it much easier to read first person books when I can identify with the first person. Kyle is smart and flexible, and I was happy to read about his mission to put his past mistake right.

Kyle winds up in jail and becomes friends with his cell mate Ochoa, a guy who’s the complete opposite of Kyle. As Kyle points out, Ochoa looks after him inside; outside it’s the other way around, and this is where we see a side of Kyle who is able to think things through and give the reader a further insight into the consequences of historical actions.

Time Travel…with a silk blot!

Kyle is contacted and told that he can time travel if he has the genetic predisposition for it. He’s also warned about the butterfly effect (which was explained very nicely) and cautioned that time resists change. This means that the new time that he travels to is not welcoming and will seek to push him out.

I thought that this last point was superb, reminding me a little of the Final Destination movies where nature detects ‘anomalies’ and seeks to remove them.

Time travel is possible via a silk blot. I had no idea what a silk blot was, so I googled it and the first hit was some sort of World of Warcraft weapon called a “bolt of silk” (notice typo)! Anyway, further reading in the novel made it clear that it’s a silk scarf thing. Certainly not so deadly, but much more likely to help you against catching your death of cold. Good job Kyle knew what to expect when a silk blot turned up in his jail cell!

Now that’s an original time machine! The silk blot serves as an entrance (or exit) to a tunnel – complete with ladder and rungs marking the year – which allows exit at a chosen temporal location. Kyle is easily able to make the trip from 2016 back to 1998, whereas Ochoa – who sees a way out of jail and follows Kyle – found it physically exhausting, the implication being that he wasn’t genetically disposed to time travel.

Note that 1998 isn’t when the bus accident happened; it’s earlier. Kyle’s opportunity to change history is more involved than what we might initially think would be the obvious solution.

Despite the warnings, one of them meets themselves and suffers the consequences – a nice (though graphic) nod to the biolocation paradox in time travel, where meeting yourself can cause problems.

We don’t follow Kyle back to the present 2016 but to 2014 when the accident happened to see how the ‘new’ history plays out. At first I thought this was a a bit strange and a cheat (because it’s simply rewriting what has already happened without acknowledgment of what happened the first time around), but actually it struck me that this was really good – often we just read that history was different, but here we’re immersed in it (again).

Back in 2016, parts where history changes are a confusion to Kyle’s eidetic memory which plays up a little and gets fuzzy in places. I thought that using eidetic memory as a tool for comparison between histories was another great idea!

Time of Death

What makes The Tunnel especially interesting is the number of threads and open questions which run through it. Within the novel some are addressed quite quickly, others are more long term before they get resolved. But as I could sense the end of the novel approaching I was facing a rising panic that everything would be resolved in a rushed manner and spewed out.

Thankfully there was no spew, but in its place was the dreaded “TO BE CONTINUED…” ๐Ÿ™

*Growl.*

So the novel died. Completely. Time of death: Page 216. Resuscitation in Book 2.

I really enjoyed The Tunnel – lots of threads to follow and a main character who meets and interacts with other interesting characters, so to stop and plug Book 2 is a huge let down. It drives me insane; it’s only a short novel and with no closure I feel cheated. I’d suggest it should be a Part 1 not a Book 1.

Self incompleteness is my only negative comment – but otherwise it’s excellent!

Rating * * * *

If it wasn’t for the early death of the novel, The Tunnel would have got 5 stars. Indeed, perhaps I should be reviewing the book not as a stand alone novel, but indeed as a Book 1; how does it set the scene for Book 2? Am I eager enough to read the next book in the series? etc.. But I’m not sure. I suppose I could only read and review in such a way in retrospect after reading the entire series, and ultimately I guess that’s the way The Tunnel has been written.

Judging from this book, I’m sure that the Time of Death series will continue onwards to the full 5 stars!

Paul

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Star ratings:

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Review: Bridgevine by John Feldman

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

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

Bridgevine book cover

General

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

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

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

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

The Time Travel Element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something I do particularly like is how multiple versions of the same person at the same time is avoided – Molly won’t allow it; Mike can’t go back to the same time (and place) that he’s already been. Mike checking his coding to see if this is a bug is a brilliant touch! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

Mike

I think the designer of a time machine needs a special section! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ending

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

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

Rating * * *

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

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

Paul

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Star ratings:

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