Tag Archives: time travel

Review: “The Rewind Files” by Claire Willett

Title: The Rewind Files
Author: Claire Willett
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Retrofit Publishing, 2015

Time travel stories are the bomb, especially when they’re done well. On that note, you should read this one.

Sometime in the twenty-second century, humanity discovered time travel. Predictably, we set out to undo a lot of history’s more appalling moments. Also predictably, this was a horrible idea. History unraveled, and thus was born the Agency responsible for fixing the timeline. Regina Bellows is perfectly happy being a desk jockey, staying safely in the twenty-second century and watching operations in the late twentieth through her instruments as field agents patch various decaying points in the timeline…until she discovers evidence of a conspiracy deliberately manipulating the timeline for their own ends. Soon she’s on her own, back in the twentieth century, trying to figure out just what’s so important about Richard Nixon, arguably the most boring President our country’s ever had….

This was fun. If you’re at all a history buff, you really ought to read this. Obviously a basic working knowledge of mid-20th century American history would benefit you in understanding what’s going on and where the timelines are differing, but at a pinch anything you need to know can be gleaned from a quick trip to Wikipedia. The book was painstakingly researched, and that degree of care is obvious in all elements of the story. The plot keeps you moving at all times, and there were only a couple points where I saw the next twist coming. Even then, it was a matter of outsmarting the characters, seeing a consequence to their actions that didn’t occur to them at the time. The time travel mechanic is consistently applied all the way through, with only one minor potential plot hole that occurred to me later—something that could probably be explained away fairly easily, but wasn’t actually addressed. My only real complaint is that as a fan of Reagan I was slightly offended by the characterization of his alternate-history self as a warmonger and corporate stooge. For a debut novel, that’s impressive. I would heartily recommend giving this one a read.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated profanity, most of the book falls in the PG-13 range. Mild violence. Mild sexual innuendo.

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Review: “The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents” by Rusty Biesele (LEFT UNFINISHED)

Title: The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents
Author: Rusty Biesele
Series: The Children Of Sophistra #1
Rating: LEFT UNFINISHED
Publisher/Copyright: CreateSpace, 2013

I never leave a book unfinished once I’ve started it. Never. Not intentionally, anyway.* But midway through this book, I had a revelation: Life is too short to waste on books that you have zero interest in. When you find yourself actively avoiding picking up the book you’re currently reading, that’s a bad sign. I’ve suffered through several really poor books on the basis of having won them in a giveaway, and feeling obligated to finish them so as to fulfill the terms of the agreement, but in this case I just can’t do it. Had The Doomsday Diaries or The Tarizon Trilogy come up in my queue following this decision, would I still have finished them? Hard to say. They certainly weren’t good, but they were at least readable. In the case of this particular book, I forged my way through the first third, found myself still completely unengaged, and threw my hands up in submission. The desire to know how the story ends is not at all a factor, since even beyond my disinterest I know I don’t care enough to track down the other three books, and so this serial will end (for me) with a cliffhanger anyway. I received a free copy of the book from the author through the Goodreads FirstReads program, and I’m always grateful for free books. I’m just sorry in this case that he got such a poor return on his investment.

The book opens with a brief chapter in which the book itself tells you how to read it, insults you, and threatens to kill you if you damage it.** See, most of the characters are telepathic, and there are different bullets and typefaces used to indicate whether the text is being transmitted on a private channel, an open channel, is a recorded transmission, or is just plain narrative exposition. This could be cool, I wanted it to be cool, but it turned out to just be distracting. There’s a frame story with a young boy (who is apparently the younger version of the main character) and his mother, who has used her fairy powers to drug her husband so that she can read The Book Of Time to their son. Apparently this is an atrocity, but will somehow fix future events in place in the form she wants them to take, except that “Atreyu” (who I take to be either God or an analog of Him) has already taken steps to prevent this happening. Not creepy at all. Apparently The Book Of Time is a paradox and contains all the stories that will ever happen, because the story that follows is supposedly the future. We cut to the older version of Stephan, the young boy, at age thirteen. He and his lover, the nineteen-year-old Tova2, are just hanging around invisible to observe the beginning of the education of two other boys. Ty is nine, sees “ghosts” who tell him secrets, and has some mysterious connection to Stephan. Tyco is eleven, can fire energy beams from his palms, and was somehow engineered by a group of lizards? I didn’t get far enough for them to explain that. These two are being tutored by Elof2, a Tibetan-American teacher. Oh, and apparently both Elof2 and Tova2 are clones of people that Stephan accidentally killed because he doesn’t have control of his powers. It’s a little jarring to hear someone refer to “the time I killed you” in casual conversation with another character, let me tell you. The world that is constructed here has potential to be interesting, as do the characters, but the writing prevents them from reaching more than a modicum of their potential. Beyond the writing, the off-putting factors go on and on; some I could overlook, others would be harder to do so. There’s a creepy pseudo-sexual (possibly actually sexual as well, between the lines) relationship between the thirteen-year-old protagonist and his nineteen-year-old lover. The numbers by everyone’s names could be tweaked slightly to be less jarring, like in the film The Island–Lincoln Six Echo is much less jarring than Tova2, wouldn’t you agree? The characters themselves, far from being as interesting as they’re supposed to be, just fall flat. Stephan is a whiny little teenager, and we have to be constantly reminded that he’s to be their messianic figure so we don’t hate him. Ty is almost as whiny, and the mystery surrounding his nature is also annoying. You can do mystery well, but that involves actually parceling out information as you go instead of taunting your audience with the fact that they don’t know what’s going on over and over again. The illustrations are supposed to be a selling point, but instead they’re just creepy. Initially I attributed this to the black-and-white copy I have, but after seeing the colorized versions on the website I have to conclude that that just makes it worse–everyone has “Sith eyes!” If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know what I mean by that. I hate to break my record, but I just have zero interest in finishing this book.

CONTENT: Mild language, so far as I read. Some disturbing violence. Disturbing pseudo-sexual content. The metaphysics of this universe lend themselves much more to alien life forms and powers granted by their manipulation than they do to occult explanations, but characters who aren’t aware of what’s going on would probably suspect otherwise.

*There have been a couple books that had to be returned to the library mid-stream, but I always intended to check them back out. It just hasn’t always happened….

**Apparently writing your name inside the cover doesn’t count, because my brain remains un-toasted.

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Review: “The Runestone Incident” by Neve Maslakovic

Title: The Runestone Incident
Author: Neve Maslakovic
Series: The Incident Series #2
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: 47 North, 2014

If you’ll remember, last month I read and reviewed Neve Maslakovic’s The Far Time Incident in an attempt to get my money’s worth out of my Amazon Prime subscription. Fortunately, the second book in the series is likewise available to borrow, and so now I give you a review of The Runestone Incident. Obviously, there will be spoilers for the previous book. Nature of a series and all that. You’ve been warned.

“We…found ten men, red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil.” Unlike Pompeii, I actually had no prior knowledge of the Kensington Runestone. I was most of the way through the book before it even occurred to me that the artifact in question (and thus the debate being explored) really existed. It does, and you can read about it on Wikipedia here. It’s an interesting debate, but since we unfortunately don’t have access to a real-life time machine, one that will likely never be satisfactorily solved.

St. Sunniva University was just getting back to normal, and then this. Last year there was the thing with the missing professor, and the attempted murder-by-time-machine, followed by the shock of the travelers’ return and the revelation that the supposed-culprit was framed. Julia Olsen and her companions returned safely, but they managed to keep one relevant fact out of the news stories that followed–they accidentally brought a young Pompeiian girl home with them when they returned. Now Julia’s not-quite-ex-husband (the divorce papers, like the proverbial check, is “in the mail”) has shown up in town threatening to expose their secret if he’s not allowed the use of the time machine to prove the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone, which his grandfather supposedly helped discover. Being a stubborn sort, he refuses to take no for an answer, and soon disappears into the past with Dr. Holm, who is herself fixated on finding the fabled Vinland. Is Holm a hostage or a fellow conspirator? Julia doesn’t know, but they can’t take any chances….they’re going to have to follow the pair into pre-Columbian America and hope for the best….

As with the previous volume, the author really did a great job with her research. Just as important, she manages to communicate the relevant factual information to the reader in a way that avoids at least the worst brand of info-dumping (i.e. Character 1 telling his friend, “As you know, Ourland has been at war with Daenemy for over a century….”). Most of the relevant information is being learned for the first time by the primary characters, and believably so. Do the secondary characters lecture? Sure, some, but the lectures are required not only by the reader but also by the characters. Anyway, I wasn’t bugged by it. You might be. The story was fun, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly thrilling. The stakes just aren’t all that high. Quinn is going to reveal their secret? Oh darn, the media will pester them. So horrifying! Quinn and Holm have disappeared into the past? We don’t really like Quinn, so if he comes to harm it’s little loss to us. We like Holm somewhat, but Julia (our POV character, and thus our filter for all information) doesn’t trust her completely, nor does she believe Quinn is capable of kidnapping and/or murder, so there’s not really the highest of stakes there either. Of course, she could be wrong, and like I said I was interested all the way through, but it’s not life-or-death for the most part. The most dangerous factor is actually History itself trying to keep them from changing anything. The historical question? Well, I am interested, but a novel is hardly going to actually solve a real-world mystery. Whether the Runestone is real or fake at the end of the book, it’s still a mystery here in the real world. For those of you who complained about the obvious “sequel-bait” ending to the first novel, be forewarned that Ms. Maslakovic has done it again here, but don’t expect me to share your annoyance. It just doesn’t bug me. Some of my favorite authors do that. Jim Butcher put a bullet in his main character’s brain and left him sinking unconscious into the depths of Lake Michigan, for Heaven’s sake! My only reaction to that was to bite my nails until the next book came out….

CONTENT: Mild language. Brief violence, or at least the threat thereof. Mild sexual innuendo, far more subtle than most authors would make the implication.

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Review: “The Far Time Incident” by Neve Maslakovic

Title: The Far Time Incident
Author: Neve Maslakovic
Series: The Incident Series #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: 47 North, 2013

You know how Amazon advertises their Kindle Owners Lending Library as one of the benefits of having a Prime account? Well, I forgot to cancel my free trial in time (“30 Day” is apparently not the same thing as “1 Month”) and so I’m stuck with a $100 membership for the year. Wouldn’t hurt the pocketbook so much if it wasn’t a lump sum….anyway, I figured I should try and get my money’s worth out of it, so I pulled up my truly massive TBR list and started searching Amazon’s KOLL. It took me fifteen minutes of searching before I found one on my list that was available to borrow, but I have to say that I truly enjoyed this book. I first heard of this book when I entered a giveaway over on Goodreads. I didn’t win, but a year or so later I’ve finally got around to reading it anyway.

Julia Olsen’s week just got harder. The tiny campus of St. Sunniva University is thrown into an uproar when the Time Travel Engineering department’s senior scientist, Xavier Mooney, is seemingly lost to one of History’s ghost zones, and as assistant to the Dean of Science, it falls to Julia to deal with a good deal of the fallout. It seems Mooney stepped into the department’s time machine, STEWie, for an unauthorized late-night run, and never returned. His modern clothes and effects were left behind, everything in order and as normal, he simply failed to return with STEWie’s “basket.” When the subsequent investigation points to foul play, the security chief insists on taking a short trip himself to see how a “normal” run goes. Julia, a Shakespearean scholar, and a couple grad students all tag along. Their intended destination is JFK airport, to see the Beatles arrive on US soil. Instead, they find themselves on the slopes of Vesuvius the day it’s traditionally expected to erupt….

Like I said, I thought this was incredibly fun. The early parts of the book are chock-full of academic politics as Julia tries to keep things running in the wake of the tragedy, and it was fun to revisit that world for a while even if I was never a part of that side of it. Once in the past, I also really enjoyed the depth of research into Pompeian culture. I’ve never been there myself, but everything my wife told me about her visit jived with what I read here–right down to the overabundance of phallic symbolism. Like I said, I enjoyed these elements. Other readers/reviewers have found the book a bit slow. Another minor issue: most of the mysteries here were decently easy to figure out. The central mystery remains mysterious until the reveal, but I called that they were in Pompeii way before they figured it out,* and also figured out who trashed Secundus’ garum shop way in advance. This didn’t really detract from my enjoyment, but I know some people are finicky about that stuff. I look forward to reading the sequel soon, as it is also available via the KOLL.

CONTENT: I don’t recall any R-rated language, but there may have been a little. Mild profanity otherwise. Mild violence. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit. No occult content aside from Romans praying to their gods, as you would expect in 79 A.D. Pompeii.

*This may have been residual knowledge from having read the book’s blurb last year, though, or the fact that I watched the movie Pompeii last week. This is so easy to figure out (and revealed in the book’s synopsis to boot) that I don’t feel bad spoiling that particular non-surprise.

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Review: “The Door Into Summer” by Robert A. Heinlein

Title: The Door Into Summer
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Doubleday, 1957

Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer will always hold a special place in my memory. It was one of the first real SF books I ever read, along with Ender’s Game and a couple others that were much less memorable. For a number of reasons, I recently decided to give a reread and refresh my memory–was it as awesome as I remember, or was I just in love with my first look at the genre? I’m pleased to announce that it is at least almost as awesome as I remember it being. I’m also incredibly thankful that my first Heinlein was this one, mostly lacking in his trademark creepy sexuality. I say mostly, and will explain that below, but at least my younger self didn’t pick up on the creepiness. Ah, for a more innocent age….anyway, moving on.

Daniel Boone Davis had it all, at least until he was double-crossed. He and his partner had a small engineering company, beholden to know man and free to tinker to his heart’s content. He built the stuff, and Miles sold it. Belle was just the secretary, until she became Dan’s fiancee. His next project was going to revolutionize everything–an automaton that could be taught to do nearly anything. Then it all came crashing down. Miles and Belle double-crossed him, forcing him out of the company and stealing the prototype for Flexible Frank. When Dan put up a fight, he found himself drugged and placed into cryosleep, awakening penniless thirty years later in the year 2000. Tough breaks, but he’d survive. What is driving him nuts is how many of his ideas he never got around to actually building seem to be everywhere….with patents registered to D.B. Davis….

Like I said, I really enjoyed this both times I read it. In some ways it’s incredibly dated, and I’m pretty sure the limited nuclear war that supposedly happened in the sixties would still have wiped out humanity, but it’s the rare time-travel novel (for what is a thirty-year sleep but a one-way time-travel) that manages to explore two separate futures–the 1970 that was still far in the future for Heinlein writing in 1957, and the still further 2000. Some of the inventions Davis comes up with are positively prescient, including a self-directing little robot vacuum. That’s right, Heinlein created the Roomba way back in 1957. Unlike most of Heinlein’s stuff I’ve read, there wasn’t a lot of waxing philosophical or preaching this time around, just a fun story.

Now, about that creepy sexuality I mentioned. I’ll get to that, but to explain it–and why I think it’s less creepy in practice than it sounds at first glance–I’ll have to disregard my hatred of spoilers. Read on at your own peril! So, the central romance here, as things unfold, is between Dan Davis and the young Frederica “Ricky” Heinicke. In 1970, Dan is in his thirties while Ricky is eleven. So yeah, there’s that. And I agree, this whole thing does earn a raised eyebrow, but I would argue that it is not quite as objectionable as it first seems. The attraction between the two is nothing sexual–Ricky has a schoolgirl’s crush on Dan, and has been coolly informing him that they will one day be married since she was six. While he always assumed this was a private joke between the two of them, once he awakens in the year 2000 he realizes that she’s literally the only friend he has ever had that never screwed him over and starts looking for her as time and resources allow. By this time she would be older than him, subjectively, and he gets a bit obsessed with finding her. When he does, she’s taken a cryosleep herself and is now twenty-one to his thirty-odd. So…still a bit creepy, but no pedophilia here.

CONTENT: Brief language. I think the word “bitch” is used once or twice, possibly several milder profanities, but this was written in the age where the pulps wouldn’t allow that kind of thing. There’s even an occasion of something having the adjective “censorable” applied to it. Mild violence, including the attempted murder of a cat. Some creepy sexual themes, as described above, but not a whole lot of outright innuendo.

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Review: “Odd Apocalypse” by Dean Koontz

Weird….thought I had posted this already. Must have lost it when my computer went wonky a couple months ago. Anyway, I’m in the middle of the next Odd Thomas book (Deeply Odd) right now, so this one had better go up quick!

As we open Odd Apocalypse (*****), Odd and Annamaria have survived their detour in Harmony Corner (Odd Interlude), and we catch up with them on the next stop of their journey. This time they are staying in Roseland, the opulent and pristine home of a rich recluse. Ostensibly built by a Hollywood mogul from the early days of cinema, Roseland is built like a fortress with massive stone walls surrounding it and bars on all the windows. What was the estate built to guard against? Why are the occupants so secretive? Why does Odd keep seeing flashes of an apocalyptic future? And most importantly, who is the boy that Annamaria insists Odd is here to save?

Koontz delivers yet another Odd Thomas adventure that is spot-on. The thrills, chills and mystery never let up from page one as Odd evades weaponized mutants from the future while battling an evil that is all-too-human. This is at least a little better closing than was Odd Hours, which was almost a cliffhanger, but I suppose that doesn’t matter because Deeply Odd is out already, so….

Content: Koontz is making an effort to remove R-rated language from these books, so probably PG-13 on that count. There’s a fair amount of violence, and the outcome of some of this violence is disturbing. There is also some discussion of sexual content, but nothing too explicit.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: Fringe (2008-2013 TV Series)

Created by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, & Alex Kurtzman.

“Endless Impossibilities.” That’s what Fringe (*****) offered, and that’s what it delivered for five straight seasons of programming. If you’re a longtime reader you know of my love for good science fiction, and this series did not disappoint. In fact, it was by far one of my absolute favorite series all the way through its run, and I recently worked through the entire series again so my wife could see it. She loved it as much as I did, so I can confidently tell you that its appeal goes beyond uber-geeks.

Fringe is the spiritual if not actual successor to The X-Files, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have not yet watched all the way through. (Cut me a little slack, I was way too little when it first started! It’s on my to-do list….) In fact, they briefly make reference to the old X-designation” as having been the FBI’s standard practice for dealing with unexplainable phenomena before Fringe Division was created. I’m pretty sure the two mythologies are incompatible, as aliens play little if any role in Fringe, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. Regardless of any ties between the two, the shows have a number of similarities including complicated mythologies. Instead of Scully and Mulder going rogue and investigating things their superiors would rather sweep under the rug, in Fringe the FBI has set up a whole division to investigate “the Pattern,” a series of unexplainable or “fringe” events that have been recently escalating in frequency. To this end, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assisted in her investigations by Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a proverbial mad scientist who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”–or that there is any conundrum an acid trip won’t help him unravel. Walter is mentally and emotionally unstable for reasons it will be far more fun for you to discover yourself than for me to reveal to you here, and is only allowed out of the mental institution where he has lived for twenty years because his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) has agreed to be responsible for him. Peter is a borderline-genius himself, and once conned his way into MIT–he even managed to get a couple papers published before he was found out. Secondary characters include Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who usually gets stuck babysitting Walter in the lab; Agent Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the head of Fringe Division; Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), Dunham’s partner and friend; and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the CEO of the multi-national mega-company Massive Dynamic who always seems to know more than she’s telling (“What do we do here at Massive Dynamic? The better question is, what don’t we do…”). There are a score of wonderful guest appearances as well, from Jared Harris to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. I will also say that the quality of the acting is phenomenal, with several of the castmembers portraying multiple distinct versions of their characters (alternate universes, remember?)

When I watched through this series the first time, I was watching it as it was broadcast over a five-year period. I greatly enjoyed it, but you forget things after that long. Watching it through the second time, knowing where things were headed, I could see so much more depth and interconnectedness. The writers had to have the entire story arc of the show in mind from the beginning, because the entire plot of Season 5 is hinted at and rooted in an episode from Season 1! So watching it the second time and catching all the setup for later things was great. I do wish they would have had longer to set up their endgame–they were kind of forced to just jump into it by the threat of imminent cancelation–but overall it worked out well. Season 1 and to some degree Season 2 are mostly episodic case-of-the-week things, but gradually the show morphs into a serial adventure with most of the cases intimately connected. Major elements involve alternate universes and time travel, which I always find fun.

I jokingly say that one thing I wish they had explored was the origin of the giant floating letters that always set the scene during the show (see example. And no, its not mispelled, that’s how they spell it in the alternate universe….) Another thing I wish had been included was an explanation for how they always manage to get between New York and Boston so quickly. The show bends the laws of physics all the time–just acknowledge the fact and give us a throwaway line!

There are a number of comics based on the show. I reviewed one set of them here, but haven’t managed to get my hands on the rest. I’m a bit sad about this, as the others are by all accounts of a much higher quality than the mediocre ones I did manage to find….

Content: When this was broadcast it was rated TV-14, and I think that’s fair. The show can be fairly violent, and at times quite gruesome with the aftermath of whatever fringe event they are investigating. Mild language, typical for that rating slot. Occasional sexual content, nothing too explicit. This is more prevalent in the first couple episodes….I cynically atribute this to trying to draw people in and grab their attention. They do say sex sells…..

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