the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘time travel

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

published in 1992

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve read this book before, and I mean that both figuratively, and literally.  This is my or second or third time reading The Doomsday Book, and it’s a book about time travel that asks the question “what could possibly go wrong?”, which is a story trope I’ve read before.  Not a spoiler, but everything goes wrong. Oh, the name of the book sounds familiar?

 

And since this book was written in 1992, I don’t feel bad about spoiling certain plot points. Click here for my spoiler-free, original book review of this title.   Because this blog post? It rambles. It has mild spoilers. And it gets a little personal.

 

In late January, I found myself in a reading slump. I had a lot going on, and I was struggling to relax and just fall into a book. I needed a book that would grab me on page 1, throw me about, transport me, allow me to escape into someone else’s life for a few hundred pages, and then not break my heart into a million little pieces at the end, because damnit, i wanted something with a happy ending for once.  I did cry at the end of The Doomsday Book, but not from a broken heart.

 

If you’ve never read this book before, it’s got a lot of death. A lot of people die, a lot of people are helpless in the face of death, some people lose hope.  I’m not gonna lie, there is a lot of sadness and a lot of fear of dying in this book. You might cry. But oh, this book is full of so much hope! So many people who are doing everything they can to save their friends, people who refuse to be helpless, people whose compassion knows no bounds, characters who spend every waking moment caring deeply about other people, even if they don’t quite know how to show it.  There are scenes that are sad, but this is not a grim book. What is the opposite of grimdark? Hopebright? The Doomsday Book is hopebright.

 

In the near future, we’ve discovered how to travel into the past. The technology is mostly utilized at universities, and they send historians back in time, with the goal of avoiding the most dangerous times in history.  Kivrin will be the first historian at Oxford who is sent to the Middle Ages. She’s been working towards this moment for the last 2 years. Her advisor James Dunworthy has never been so worried in his entire life.

 

Something I love about this novel is how Willis starts the book when the action starts. There is no preamble, hardly any character introduction, plenty of British banter, and before page twenty you know the characters are anxious about sending a historian back to the thirteen hundreds, you know people are nervous and vulnerable and worried.  By page 30 you know something has gone horribly wrong. And that’s when the character development starts – after you’ve been hooked.

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Time Was, by Ian McDonald

published April 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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Stories tell us who we are, but books are the vehicle. Physical books are vehicle, medium, and method,  a metaphor unto themselves, they are both particle and wave.

 

I’ve read Time Was by Ian McDonald twice now, both times started out exactly the same: A quick glance at cover art that communicates nothing, a quick skim of the back cover copy, a quick shrug. A few pages in an immediate annoyance with Emmett, who speaks quickly and with little context, a man who isn’t ready to let anyone in. Then I meet Tom, who I immediately feel protective over as I imagine his quiet smile and puppy-dog eyes.  In the moment that Tom’s eyes meet Ben’s, I feel honored just to be in the same room with that beautiful blossoming emotion of their immediate chemistry.

 

When Emmett stumbles upon a battered and slim volume of poetry at the death of a local bookstore, he find a folded and faded love letter inside.  Entitled “Time Was”, the book has no copyright date, no publisher information. Used bookstores lucky enough to have a copy appear to be under strict instructions to never sell the book, only to always have it on the shelf.

 

Emmett has grazed the edge of the mystery of Ben and Tom,  two men who were forced to discover a means of communicating across time by leaving letters in specific books in specific bookstores. To sully something beautiful, a particular book was their dead drop. But it’s been decades since the war, why are the instructions still being followed to the letter?

 

Whoever is writing Doctor Who these days could do a lot worse than writing an episode based on Time Was.

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Open Road Media is publishing the complete short fiction of Clifford Simak’s short fiction, so far there are twelve volumes. From what I can tell, the first three volumes are available in print, and right now the rest are only e-book.  The short fiction isn’t in chronological order, for example, this first volume, titled I Am Crying All Inside and other stories showcases fiction from as early as 1939’s “Madness from Mars” to “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” that was written in 1973, but hasn’t been actually published until 2015.

 

I bopped around the table of contents in this collection, and read whatever caught my fancy. Some stories really grabbed my attention, and others were great fun, but forgettable.

 

I quite enjoyed “Small Deer”, in which a mathematical genius and an engineer create a time machine, and the engineer goes back to the days of the Dinosaurs. He discovers something horrifying about the history of life on Earth. What he learns is so outlandish, who would possibly believe him?  Can a horror story be gentle? This one is.  I always get a kick out of time travel stories, especially when weird Kage Baker or Ijon Tichy stuff starts happening.

 

“I Am Crying All Inside”, is well worth a read, and deserving of being the title track. What will happen, generations from now, when we’ve all left Earth for somewhere better? What will happen to the people and robots who get left behind? What kind of society will they build? Told from an obsolete robot’s point of view, this poignant story feels a little like the movie Wall-E, only much, much sadder.

 

“Ogres” was a super fun, and super smart story about what a vegetable society might be like. We’ve landed on a planet and are trying to figure out what we can exploit, sort of “Little Fuzzy” style. The intelligent species on this planet are all plants. No bones, no vertebrae, no central nervous system, no wheel, no invention of fire. Lots of telepathy and strange music. Maybe we can export the musical trees!  Nothing is what it seems, and the human explorers eventually figure out something fishy is going on. But what threats could we possibly make that would scare a planet full of trees and vegetables? Hmmm…   I loved the evolutionary ideas in this story, and I got a laugh out loud chuckle out of the end.

 

Usually fun, smart, and gentle, Simak stories always feel timeless. Give him a try if you haven’t.

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The Tourist, by Robert Dickinson

published June 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the published (Thanks Hachette!)

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Welcome to the 24th century, where the most exotic vacation a person can take is to a 21st century mall.  Experience germs and cell phones, risk mild food poisoning and interactions with sullen gothy teenagers, and then spend the night safely ensconced in a resort hotel.   There are tons of travel companies that offer these types of tours.  The companies and their employees choose to ignore all the smuggling that often takes place right under their noses. Time travel has become so easy and common, it’s not even called “time travel” anymore, it’s just called “travel”,  and you get to your destination via a high energy technology called translation.

 

“It’s the logic of travel: the past is just another country, and, if you can afford the translation, you can always go back. Nothing is lost, nobody really dies. You die, of course: but, if they have the right resources, other people can always come back and see you. You remain alive.”

                                The Tourist, page 310

 

The opening chapters of The Tourist fall somewhere between Kage Baker’s Company novels and the movie Twelve Monkeys, complete with a shadowy future century no one is allowed to see, rumors of a genocide in recent history, a near extinction event, and the challenges of how to tell someone you are from the past or the future.  There is a “map” of sorts in the front of the book, that on first glance looks like a map of a shopping mall, but then you realize it’s a chart of a time line. The time line is U shaped, with the character’s lives jumping back and forth all over the place. Ahh, the tricks you can play in a time travel book!

 

Spens is a rep with one of the travel agencies, his job is to shepherd his charges to the mall, show them how paper money works, and warn them against 21st-ers who know how to trick naive idiots.  For shock value, he buys a muffin at a coffee stand and eats it.  This is just a job for Spens, he lives at the resort and gets together for drinks with the other reps at night to share stories of their idiot clients.   He’ll work at the resort forever if it means he never has to work the tunnels again.

 

And then one day he loses a client.

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Pilot X by Tom Merritt

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Do you like Doctor Who?

 

Have you never seen Doctor Who but you’re curious to know what all the fuss is about?

 

If you answered Yes to either of those questions, Tom Merritt’s novel Pilot X might be for you.  I say “might”, because there isn’t much to Pilot X, and if you go into looking for deep characterization or a memorable plot, you’ll come out disappointed. This is a weird little book to review, because plot and character wise, there isn’t much to it. But there are these fun little other things going on that have nothing to do with X’s story that I enjoyed. There is a lot under the surface of the text, and had Merritt explored and expanded on what lies just under the surface, the style of this book would have been very, very different.   I think the trick to enjoying this novel is knowing what it is, and knowing what it isn’t.

 

X is a time traveler.  He starts out as an apprentice, becomes a pilot, and holds other titles during his career as well.  In his culture, everyone has a unique name, with their “first name” being their title or occupation. He was born the first year that single character names became allowed. (Fun thing number one: does the length of someone’s name tell you what era they are from?). This is a society of timelords time travelers, so it’s easy for X to go on a mission that might take him weeks or years, and be able to report back to his superiors twenty minutes after he was given the assignment.

 

As first, I was annoyed by the episode nature of the plot of the book, and much of the actual missions that X  goes on were rather forgettable.  (fun thing number two: This is a non-linear story, so the episodic nature actually makes some sense. When you’re a time traveler, does the order in which things happen even matter?)  As X gets more missions and spends more time with the man who gives the orders, he starts questioning if he’s actually on the right side of the Dimensional War. X doesn’t even know if he’s made contact with a secret operative or not.  If he is successful in his final mission, he will be the only survivor of a race that has been erased from memory.

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Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve been trying (and not always succeeding) to read Kage Baker’s Company books in the order of publication.   Which meant next up was Gods and Pawns, which was  published in 2007.   The series starts with In The Garden of Iden, a novel that completely broke my heart into a billion little pieces. Then came Sky Coyote, in which I fell a little bit in love with Joseph even though he is a complete asshole. Or at least, I thought he was an asshole until I met Porfirio, now that guy is a piece of work.  The Company books get darker and darker the further you read in the series, and yet Baker’s writing style is full of humor and wit, so you’re laughing at the same time.  With all the research that went into these novels and short stories much of her work reads a little bit like Tim Powers, that of course these crazy things didn’t happen . . . but no one can prove that they didn’t….

 

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories that take place in the Company world. Similar to her collection In The Company of Thieves, these mostly light-hearted short stories are excellent entry points into Baker’s Company world.

 

What is The Company? In the future, time travel is discovered. However, you can only travel backwards in time, and recorded history can not be changed. The owner(?) of The Company sends operatives back in time, where they take in orphaned children and turn the children into immortal cyborgs who are now employees of The Company.  For the cyborgs, it’s a post-scarcity life – they never need to worry about money, or a job, or a roof over their heads. The job security is great because they are immortal. But what are they working towards? What is the point of finding and then hiding all the valuable paintings and manuscripts and gems in the world for some future you may never see? Is this a good gig? Is it slavery?  What’s the retirement policy like?

 

I have condensed and vastly oversimplified Baker’s amazingly complex world. If you enjoy long running space opera series with fantastic writing, time paraxodes (paradoxii?) horrible secrets, lots of dark humor, all written by an author who is a genius at playing the long game, this is a great series for you.  If you’re not sure if that is something you’d like, the short stories are a great place to start.  For more information, and possibly epic spoilers, checkout the Company reread that Stefan Raets did at Tor.com last year.

 

While I was disappointed that Mendoza doesn’t star in a larger portion of the stories in Gods and Pawns, I was happy to see my favorite side character, Lewis, get the spotlight.

 

Surprising nobody, my favorite short story in Gods and Pawns is the Lewis/Mendoza story, “To The Land Beyond the Sunset”, in which our two immortal operatives act as mortal guests of a family of supposed gods.  Mendoza is excited about the rare plants she finds on their property, and Lewis is trying to figure out how exactly these people are related to each other, and why they seem so ignorant. There’s also the whisperings in the walls of a secret family member who keeps getting moved around the villa so the “visiting mortals” can’t see him. There’s the expected humor in this story, Mendoza and Lewis are immortal, and do have what could be construed as godly power. And this lonesome family appears to be underfed, ill-informed, living in a ramshackle villa, and not godly at all.  Everyone is playing a role, it seems.  Mendoza’s first discovery makes me hope these people die a horrible death for what they are doing. The next discovery makes me feel so terribly sorry for them.

I always imagine Lewis looking like Cyril from Archer.

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time-salvager-book-coverTime Salvager, by Wesley Chu

published 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

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I do like me some time travel books. And a time travel story where objects and people are brought into other times, and you have to go. . . . back to the future?  Great Scott, sign me up! Seriously though,  I’m a sucker for a good time travel.  That movie Looper? It made no sense and all, and I loved it.   So, it makes sense that Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager would be right up my alley.  The gist of the plot is in a few hundred years, Earth is in shambles. Chronmen go into the past to get resources, batteries, energy sources, valuable minerals, just about anything that’s worth anything.  ChronoCom uses the time travel technology to give Earth a few more years of existence. Anyone who can afford to left Earth long ago to live on a colony elsewhere.

 

Chronman James Griffin-Mars self medicates his way through too many dangerous missions. He’s left too many ghosts behind, too many people he couldn’t save, too many people he had to let die, because the history books said they died. You can’t rewrite history, you can’t change the future, everyone knows that.  When James brings a woman back into the future, he breaks every law of time travel, and he seals his own fate as a traitor to everything he thought he believed in.

 

Cinematic action sequences and high octane pacing,  this sounds pretty intense, right?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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