Tuesday, August 06, 2013

What We're Reading: Time Travel

I found this book a few weeks ago on the New Books shelf, and was delighted to discover that it was about time travel. I love time travel books, flawed premises and all, and am always interested to see how the author resolves time paradoxes, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgway.

Nick Falcott, soldier and British aristocrat, is on the battlefield, about to die. He sees the weapon coming towards him and then...he wakes up in a hospital bed in present-day London, which is 200 years in his future. He discovers that certain people throughout history have the ability, in the extreme stress of a moment of crisis, to leap through time, and that there is a powerful group called the Guild that monitors, regulates, and supports these people wherever (whenever) they land. The Guild tells him that the future will be his present from now on, that there is no going back. For the most part, Nick is content, although he longs for one girl from his past whom he sees in his dreams...and then he discovers that the Guild didn't quite tell the truth.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” When her repellent cousin (her grandfather's heir) comes around seeking something of value her grandfather owned--a talisman--she discovers that the first thing she must pretend is ignorance of her grandfather's talents. Then her old neighbor, Nick, who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, returns home from the dead, battle-scarred and strangely changed, and Julia begins to suspect that everything depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught in the current of the river of time...

I was rating this book on Goodreads after I read it, and almost gave it a five out of five...and then I hesitated. It was wholeheartedly a five until the last 40 or so pages, when I realized that the book would soon be over and yet so much was left unresolved; it started feeling like the writer was taking her time to craft a beautiful, lyrical novel and then her editor said "Bee! Wrap it up in 40 pages and turn it in NOW!" and so she did.

Once I had gone to her website, I realized that a sequel is planned (but only by exploring some very veiled hints), but the book doesn't really make you feel like a sequel is expected--it feels rather as if the author just decided to leave some things hanging and stop. So I felt puzzled and frustrated when I turned the last page; not in the way one would if one were expecting a sequel and impatient for its execution, but rather because it felt unfinished.

All that set aside...the writing is wonderful, the premise fascinating, the details rich, the characters compelling, and I will (now that I am reassured that this isn't the only one) eagerly look forward to the sequel! I don't know how to explain the experience of an author subtly wrapping up a book so as to let the reader know the story's not over, but this one didn't do that for me, and it cost Ms. Ridgway a star. But not through any fault of the rest of the book, which is marvelous!

Other time travel books that I have read and you might like (and that you can find at Burbank Public Library:

Kindred, by Octavia Butler
Timeline, by Michael Crichton
From Time to Time, by Jack Finney
Outlander (and its many sequels), by Diana Gabaldon
The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman
Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The Map of Time (and sequel) by Feliz J. Palma
Blackout, All Clear, Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, all by Connie Willis!

By the way, when I searched the catalog for "time travel," the results were deceptive: If you search that subject under Location: "Fiction" you get back 50 titles; but if you search it under Location: "Science Fiction" you get back 70, and none of them crosses over! So we actually have at least 120 books at the library somehow involved with time travel (not counting either children's or young adult, which I'm sure would furnish a couple hundred more between them)! My assumption would have been that the common theme of time travel would make them all come up, but it did not. This is a good lesson in being thorough with your catalog searches at the library!

1 comment:

graywave said...

Perhaps the categorisation is correct. I'm a writer of science fiction and I'm very picky about what I include under that heading. The book you've just reviewed I'd have categorised as "timeslip" rather than science fiction - a category where the mechanism of time travel is essentially supernatural and tends to involve magic portals or individual abilities. (Daphne du Maurier's "The House on the Strand" is a good example.) They also usually feature an inter-temporal love story.

True sci-fi time travel depends more on the actual physics of time, typically involves time machines or natural phenomena such as wormholes, block holes, and travel at relativistic speeds, and is open to anybody who cares to risk their neck.