Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Review: 1632 by Eric Flint1632 (Ring of Fire #1) by Eric Flint
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, time travel
Series: Ring of Fire #1
Pages: 597
Published by Baen Books on 2-1-2000
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

FREEDOM AND JUSTICE -- AMERICAN STYLE 1632 And in northern Germany things couldn't get much worse. Famine. Disease. Religous war laying waste the cities. Only the aristocrats remained relatively unscathed; for the peasants, death was a mercy. 2000 Things are going OK in Grantville, West Virginia, and everybody attending the wedding of Mike Stearn's sister (including the entire local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America, which Mike leads) is having a good time. THEN, EVERYTHING CHANGED.... When the dust settles, Mike leads a group of armed miners to find out what happened and finds the road into town is cut, as with a sword. On the other side, a scene out of Hell: a man nailed to a farmhouse door, his wife and daughter attacked by men in steel vests. Faced with this, Mike and his friends don't have to ask who to shoot. At that moment Freedom and Justice, American style, are introduced to the middle of the Thirty Years' War.

My Review:

What if? That’s often the central question in science fiction. In the case of alternate history, as 1632 most definitely is, the question is just a bit more specific. What if history went down a different leg of the trousers of time than it did in the world we know?

When this book and this series, 1632, opens, it’s the year 2000 in Grantville, West Virginia. The entire town has turned out, along with quite a few selected and/or important guests, to see Rita Stearns, hometown hero Mike Stearns’ sister, get married to an out-of-towner whose parents most definitely do not approve.

Time and history, at least as far as the residents of Grantville knew it, gets knocked off the rails during the wedding reception, when what they later refer to as “The Ring of Fire” slices a 6 mile wide – and deep – circle in the earth with Grantville at its center, picks up that slice of the just barely 21st century U.S. and switches it with a corresponding slice of earth in the middle of the Holy Roman Empire in 1632 during the height of the mess that history refers to as the Thirty Years’ War.

The story in this book and the series that grew out of it, is not about the aliens. Nor is it about the mechanism of that time travel. It’s about what happens next. In 1632. Where a complete town of 3,000 people with late 20th century ideas and ideals has suddenly dropped into the midst of chaos.

No one even thinks about Star Trek’s Prime Directive. They can’t reverse what happened. They don’t even know how it happened. They can’t leave. And there are far, far too many of them to either hide that they are there or attempt to blend into the local population. Where they are, which turns out to be the middle of the Thuringian Forest, is where they are staying. And where their children, and grandchildren, etc., will be born and raised.

This is the story of who they decide to be and how they decide to make that happen in a world that isn’t ready for either what they think or what they know. They see two options laid out before them. The first is to batten down the hatches and fend off anyone from the outside who tries to get in. The second is to throw open the doors and let everyone in – as long as they are willing to abide by the conditions laid out in documents that won’t be written for another century and a half.

Can the United States of Europe get enough people to accept democracy, civil rights and American-style prosperity fast enough to change enough history to make a new, good life for themselves and everyone willing to join them?

Or will the powers-that-be of 17th century Europe wipe them out and grind them under before they have firm enough ground to stand on?

Escape Rating A: I read 1632 way back when it was originally published in 2000 and absolutely fell in love with it – and several of the subsequent volumes of the Ring of Fire series. The author and originator, Eric Flint, passed away last week and it reminded me just how much I loved this at the time. I decided to see if it held up over the intervening decades – and here we are. The answer is pretty obvious from the rating. I loved it then and I love it still and I’ll probably read more of the series – again or for the first time – as time permits.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws along with its terrific points – but I still loved it. For one thing, this is very much competence porn. The group of folks who end up as the “Founding Fathers and Mothers” are all utterly excellent at doing the jobs that have been thrust upon them.

Probably more excellent – and more cohesively – than would happen if this were real. Or if it happened now. It did feel like they came together much faster in 2000 than might occur today after the last two decades of extreme political divisiveness in the U.S.

The wedding reception also created a rather convenient excuse for a lot of people to be in this small and already dying town than would have been true on a typical Sunday. It is particularly notable that the only black people in town – a much needed doctor and his paramedic daughter – are only there for the wedding. Otherwise the town would be almost entirely monochromatic.

If there are any LGBTQ+ folks in Grantville – we certainly don’t meet them in this first book. (That being said, this was not atypical of publishing at the time this book came out. The series kept on going, 32 books and counting, with the most recent, 1636: The China Venture, published in 2019. I imagine the books got more diverse in all ways as the series continued, but I can’t prove it from here.)

What fascinated me the first time I read this, and continues to do so, was the history and the directions that the author – and his later collaborators – chose to take that history. Their initial decisions in this first book seem reasonable, especially that all-important decision to gear their technology down to the level of the Industrial Revolution. It’s a level they can reach and maintain with the knowledge they have and the level of technology they can get their neighbors to reach. And it’s still way ahead of where central Europe is when they “landed”.

This book doesn’t so much end as it does lead immediately to the next book in the series, 1633. But it still feels like it stops on a triumphant note. Not because they just won an important military victory – although they certainly did. It’s what that victory is in service of that makes the ending a high note.

First, the victory is a victory of alliance – not of Grantville using its technical superiority to turn itself into a fortress nation. They form an alliance with King Gustav II Adolphus of Sweden, who in the history that was but will not be, a very forward thinking monarch who might have changed real history – if he hadn’t died in late 1632.

Second, the victory on their home ground, protects the most dangerous thing that Grantville brought back with it – the high school library and the students studying at the school. The powers-that-be, including Cardinal Richelieu of France (the villainous mastermind in The Three Musketeers) knew that the knowledge and information that Grantville brought to the 17th century was infinitely more dangerous than any of their weapons – and they wanted it destroyed at all costs.

And I have to admit that that acknowledgement, that libraries are dangerous because they expose people to knowledge and information, warmed the cockles of my librarian’s heart. Because it is and because we are. Not because of any of the specific things that are being protested today, but because libraries open people’s minds to what is possible – and that is what reactionary forces always fear above all else. Libraries, and librarians, teach people to ask questions that no tyrant, whether of government or of thought, wants to answer.

So I had fun. I had a lot of thoughts re-reading this book, but I also had a lot of fun. Even if things were a lot easier than I expect they would have been or should have been, I enjoyed watching these highly competent people doing their best to not just survive but to make a real life for themselves, their neighbors AND their posterity in a place where none of them could ever have expected to be.

I’ll be back – again or for the first time – the next time I need a competence porn pick-me-up or just want to watch a whole bunch of people play silly buggers with history. 1633 here I come!

Review: One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review: One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian TchaikovskyOne Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction, time travel
Pages: 144
Published by Solaris on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The bold new work from award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky  - a smart, funny tale of time-travel and paradox
Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.
Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.
I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

My Review:

The problem with wanting to change things is that, well, things change. The problem with time travel – or at least scientifically-based time travel – is that the things that change are fundamental to the reason you time travelled in the first place.

In other words, it makes a mess. And going back to fix the first mess makes an even bigger mess. And so on and so on, ad infinitum, until history and facts and even ordinary causality are totally FUBAR’d beyond all recognition or possibility of repair.

In a way, that’s the premise behind One Day All This Will Be Yours, that the war to end all wars was a time war, and that all of the combatants – along with the governments and organizations that sent them – lost complete track of what they were fighting for, who sent them, why they were sent, and even, to some extent, who they were, because all of those antecedents had been lost in the continued fracturing and refracturing of time.

The past can’t be changed. Well, it can, but the result is just an increasing level of chaos. Which leads our unnamed and unreliable narrator in the Last Lonely House at the End of Time to his resolve to make sure that no one can ever restart the endless cycling chaos of time travel by sitting in that house with all of the best stuff that he has taken from all the best of all the fractured eras, watching and waiting for any errant time travelers to land their time machines in his backyard.

So he can kill them and prevent the time and place that they came from from ever developing time travel. It’s a lonely job, but this veteran of the Causality War has decided that someone has to do it and that someone is him.

It’s all going just fine until a time machine slips through his net from the one time and place he never expected to receive time travelers, because he believed he’d guaranteed that it would never exist.

They’re from the future. His future. The future he’s sworn to prevent at all costs – although admittedly those costs are mostly to other times, places, and people.

The worst part of this invasion from the future is that his descendants are perky. And determined. Downright compelled to make sure that he creates the future that gives rise to their perky, perfect utopia.

This means war.

Escape Rating A-: The surprising thing about this book, considering that it’s the ultimate post-apocalypse story, is just how much fun it turns out to be. Because in the end, this is a buddy story. It’s an enemies-into-besties story where the protagonists are absolutely determined that it not become an enemies to lovers story.

Because neither of them like the rest of humanity nearly enough to want to make more of it. Especially because that other side wants them to do it – literally – just so damn badly.

So the fun in the story is in the time bonding, as these two misanthropes who are supposed to repopulate the world exercise their determination to just say no, all while having a fantastic time time-tripping through all the best eras that fractured history ever had to offer.

Time travel can be handled any number of ways in fiction, all of them equally valid because we just don’t know – although it’s a fair guess that if humanity ever manages to make it happen we’ll probably screw it up somehow. This story treats history as one big ball that is endlessly mutable – then sits back at the end of the time stream to observe just how badly it’s been mutated.

Another book that did something similar, with more romance and less snark, is last year’s This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I wasn’t as big a fan of Time War as most of my reading circle, however I thought One Day was a really fun read. Last year’s book was less straightforward and more lyrical, while this one tells a similar story with a lot of gallows humor and it just worked better for me.

Also this is a more straightforward story – in spite of the time travel. There’s that fixed point at the end of everything that the characters keep returning to that helps to anchor the story. Any time travel they do together or separately is treated as tourism. Time is so screwed up that while they don’t have to worry about whether or not they change anything, they also aren’t interested in changing anything in particular. If the butterfly flaps its wings differently in the wake of their passing, they’re not going to be affected by it in their little cul-de-sac at the end of time.

But as much fun as this was to read – after all it’s a story about two people at the end of the universe essentially pranking each other into eternity – after all the laughs it’s kind of sad at the end. Because even by not doing the thing – and each other – that they’ve both sworn not to do, the thing they were trying hardest to prevent has happened anyway.

There’s no way to stop it except by starting another one of the thing they vowed to prevent in the first place. Whatever began the original time war, theirs will be powered by, of all things, irony.

Review: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Review: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate HeartfieldAlice Payne Arrives (Alice Payne, #1) by Kate Heartfield
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, steampunk, time travel
Series: Alice Payne #1
Pages: 171
Published by Tor.com on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

My Review:

The problem with wanting to change things is that things change. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions. The problem with humanity is, well, humans.

And wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bits have a way of biting everyone in the ass – every single time.

Time travel has always been an irresistible idea for SF and other genres to play with and things always seem to turn out alright in the end. For values of “alright” that seem to be relatively definable. Or at least reasonably fixable.

The time travel in Alice Payne’s version of history – or rather versions of history – turns out to be not nearly so simple. Or half so easily fixable. And it makes so much sense – in a really, really horrible sort of way.

It all goes back to that road to Hell and those good intentions. Mostly.

Some of the damage is already present. From the perspective of the future, global warming and a whole bunch of other crap that we’re already dealing with has sent the planet into a state of anarchy by the time that time travel is invented.

And then there was bureaucracy – a hell in itself – but a hell created with the noble goal of going back in time to make things better. The problem with that little idea is “who decides”? One person’s meat is another person’s poison. One person’s better is someone else’s worse. Not to mention that there is no universal definition of “better”. We all think we know, but the devil is in those terrible details. Which leads, directly and inexorably, to rival factions of time travelers – or perhaps that should be time meddlers – who are just absolutely certain that their way is the right way.

Also, there’s the issue that every writer of alternate history runs into. Once you flap the butterfly’s wings in a different direction or a different rhythm, the changes ripple out forever and in ways that were never expected. A change that looks good at the outset may lead to terrible consequences later.

“Millions will die who did not die in what would have been our history.” If that line sounds familiar, it’s what Spock tells Kirk in the TOS episode The City on the Edge of Forever when he realizes that the woman Kirk loves, the woman at the foundation of a peace movement, has to die so that her peace movement doesn’t delay the entry of the U.S. into World War II – allowing Hitler to rise to global dominion. The peace movement looked like a wonderful thing – and in another time and another place it might have been. But there and then the immediate good thing led to a terrible consequence. And the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few or of the one.

Prudence Zuniga in 2070 believes that it all has to end. That every attempt to change history “for the better” is only making things worse and rippling that worse further back into history. That it’s time to end the tinkering, let the chips fall where they may, and move forward and only forward into a single future – whatever it might be.

Not that she’s not going to make one last play to make sure that her faction of the history changers wins the “History Wars”. She just needs one person in 1788 to fix a few last minute details.

She plans to involve a tinkerer, but ends up with a highwayman – or rather a highwaywoman, Alice Payne. So Prudence changes her plans – just a bit. And finds herself in the midst of that old dilemma, the one about the problem with changing things is that things change.

And change, and change, and change.

Escape Rating B: Alice Payne’s ride has echoes and origins in many time travel stories, from Doctor Who to The Chronicles of St. Mary’s to The Anubis Gates to The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. But Alice Payne isn’t nearly so lighthearted as that dog.

The difference is that most of those stories try their damnedest not to change the history they explore. They kind of operate on a temporal version of the Prime Directive – to add in another Star Trek reference. They are trying NOT to change things and they do worry very much about the ‘grandfather paradox’.

What makes Alice Payne’s, or rather Prudence Zuniga’s, story feel so probable in its improbability is that no one is careful. It feels all too true to human nature that if the capability of time travel existed that it would be abused and only make things worse.

The story feels like it is set up to parallel the situations of Alice Payne and Prudence Zuniga. While the series is named after Alice, it feels like it is as much Prudence’s story – and more about Prudence’s time(s) and the mess that the world has gotten itself into than it is about Alice.

At the same time – so to speak – as a character Alice has more drive and ambition. And we get more inside her head – possibly because it’s a much less convoluted place that Prudence’s. After all, Alice knows who she is and what she’s doing and as far as she knows that doesn’t change. She’s in the late 1800s doing the best she can to hide her love for her friend Jane, dodge the amorous attentions of several disgusting men AND keep her family’s house halfway livable and her father out of debtor’s prison by posing as a highwayman and robbing the coaches of the aforementioned disgusting men.

Prudence is trying to stop time travel. Alice’s story is easy. It takes the reader a while to understand why Prudence feels like she needs to essentially commit treason – and we get enough to grasp what’s wrong by the tip of our reading fingernails without understanding it in quite as much depth as I’d like. The ending felt both a bit rushed and a bit of a tease for the next book in the series.

I’m quite teased. I’ll definitely be back to see where Alice Payne Rides take her – and us – next.

Review: Permafrost by Alistair Reynolds

Review: Permafrost by Alistair ReynoldsPermafrost by Alastair Reynolds
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 182
Published by Tor.com on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future. Master of science fiction Alastair Reynolds unfolds a time-traveling climate fiction adventure in Permafrost.

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist ... or become a collaborator?

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

If you cross “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff” with the Skynet, and add just a splash of Station Eleven, you get something like Permafrost. Unless there’s a time paradox in there somewhere – or maybe because there’s a time paradox in there somewhere.

Like I said, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

I want to say that perhaps a bit of the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, but there’s very little funny going on here. Actually nothing at all. More like some of The Chaos Function, where all the choices are bad and the only question is finding the least bad choice.

I know the above description feels like a paradox of some kind in and of itself, but Permafrost is that kind of book. The kind where you reel around afterwards, trying to reconcile everything that happened. Much as the characters within the story do, trying to figure out which of their choices went astray – whether they were led by the nose into those choices – and whether there is a least bad way out of the mess in which they find themselves.

Because making good choices seems to have gone by the wayside long before anyone even knew that there were choices to be made.

At first, the story seems not only simple, but actually a bit familiar. Earth is suffering under a global extinction event that no one wanted to acknowledge until it was too late to stop. Sometime around 2050 the Scouring happened, after the sudden extinction of all insect life started a cascade that led to the end of pretty much everything and everyone else.

As this story opens in 2080, we’re caught up in what seems to be a heroic last-ditch scientific effort to fix the mess – or really just make it a little less bad so it can be survived – by sending people back in time.

Not physically, but mentally. A select group goes back and hijacks the brains and bodies of a few people in the past, just enough to get a viable seed vault into a place where it can survive intact until 2080 and restart vegetation and everything else that follows.

The experiment both succeeds and fails at the same time – and the two versions of history seem to be fighting it out in everyone’s head. Especially the head being shared by the “pilot” from the future and “vessel” in the past.

Unless there’s someone behind the scenes pushing everyone into even worse choices than anyone thought.

Escape Rating A-: Okay, so the time travel is a bit handwavium. Time travel usually works better if the author hand waves the mechanism and does their level best to explore the meat of the story that results once that hand has been waved – and that’s the way it works in Permafrost.

At first the reader thinks the story is about the big project to change the past. There’s been a terrible disaster, one that can only be solved in the past – not unlike Star Trek: The Voyage Home, come to think of it. So a story about the plucky scientists trying to fix the problem would be very much on point. But that’s not this story.

Instead it’s very intimate. Valentina’s consciousness is sent back in the past. She’s supposed to take over the person she’s piloting, Tatiana. The scientists have never managed to make the experiment work until Valentina succeeds. But when she does, success doesn’t look anything like anybody thought it would. Especially poor Valentina, who is having conversations with Tatiana in their shared head – and Tatiana is not very happy about the whole thing. Then it all goes pear-shaped – well, even more pear-shaped than the situation in the world of 2080 has already gone.

And that’s where the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bits come in. Because Tatiana was the first person to successfully go back. But she isn’t. And she is. And the others who started out after her but “landed” before her are describing both a different past and a different future than the one she left. To the point where everyone begins to question who is really driving events and exactly what direction they are being driven in. And whether it’s too late, too early, or just in time to fix at least some of what’s broken – before it’s too late to fix anything at all.

In the end, Permafrost struck the same note as the utterly awesome but completely different story in To Be Taught, If Fortunate. It asks big SFnal questions but provides a tiny but exceedingly human answer. An answer that is still giving me the shivers.

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 201
Published by Saga Press on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

My Review:

If Kage Baker’s Novels of the Company and Good Omens had a book baby, it would be This Is How You Lose the Time War. Including the implied queer romance between Aziraphale and Crowley being realized and not merely implied. Just completely gender-swapped. At least, in as much as Red and Blue have gender as we understand it.

Howsomever, while I loved Kage Baker’s series, especially the first dozen books or so – start with In the Garden of Iden and be prepared to disappear for a few weeks – and Good Omens the book was even better than the TV series, which was awesome in its own way, I’m not sure I actually liked This Is How You Lose the Time War.

It’s fascinating in some ways. And it’s a quick read. But “like” is much too pale and wishy-washy a word. I feel like I’m sitting on a fence with this book, in the sense that all that sitting on a fence usually gets you is splinters up your arse.

Let me attempt an explanation.

What Time War has in common with The Company is the concept of two factions seeding themselves through time, both attempting to control the outcome of history for their own ends. And both having agents in place – or rather in time – in various successful and unsuccessful efforts to change history.

And the concepts of “good” and “evil” in both series end up being far from clear cut. From our limited 21st century perspective it is impossible to know whether history would “better” – for very undefined meanings of “good”, “evil” and “better”, whether Red’s mecha-cyber future is superior to Blue’s “Garden”.

But, even though Time War eschews any concepts of absolute good or absolute evil, even in the watered down and corrupted versions of both that are exposed in Good Omens, what this book does borrow from Gaiman and Pratchett is, in part, the same thing that they borrowed from Cold War era spy fiction – that sometimes, in the midst of a long, long war, the agents from the opposing forces have more in common with each other than either does with their respective home teams.

They have both “been in the long grass and seen the elephant” in ways that no one can understand – unless they been in there with them in a way that only their opposite number has done.

At the same time, the friendly-but-opposing protagonists of This is How You Lose the Time War do come to the same conclusion that Aziraphale and Crowley do – that they are together on their own side, and if need be, alone against the cosmos.

Escape Rating B-: I am still not sure how I feel about this book. I’m baffled and a bit confused.

There’s a part that is fascinated by how the story is told. It doesn’t begin and the beginning, tell a story, and end at the end. Instead, the story is told through a series of letters written between Red and Blue. It’s not just the letter itself, but also the circumstances surrounding the discovery of each letter.

We get bits and pieces of who these two are, what they are, and the neverending war that they were born to fight. We’re also supposed to see them fall in love with each other through their correspondence, but I’m not sure I see how it happens. I mean, I see that it does, but without them ever meeting face to face, I’m not quite sure I buy the romance.

I’m equally fascinated by the way that the story ends, because it doesn’t. It comes full circle and then kind of fades to black. We’re left hoping that they found a way, but we don’t see it.

In the end, I found This is How You Lose the Time War to be more interesting than it was satisfying. A lot of people seem to have absolutely adored it. I think I wanted more plot to sink my teeth into.

Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack SkillingsteadThe Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, thriller, time travel
Pages: 304
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For readers of the best‑selling novels Sleeping Giants and Dark Matter, an intense, high‑stakes thriller with a science‑fiction twist that asks: If technology enabled you to save the life of someone you love, would you do so even if it might doom millions?   Olivia Nikitas, a hardened journalist whose specialty is war zones, has been reporting from the front lines of the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. When Brian, an aid worker she reluctantly fell in love with, dies while following her into danger, she’ll do anything to bring him back. In a makeshift death chamber beneath an ancient, sacred site, a strange technology is revealed to Olivia: the power to remake the future by changing the past.    Following her heart and not her head, Olivia brings Brian back, accidentally shifting the world to the brink of nuclear and biological disaster. Now she must stay steps ahead of the guardians of this technology, who will kill her to reclaim it, in order to save not just herself and her love, but the whole world.

My Review:

There’s a quote from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that goes,

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

This is a story about what happens when someone has the power to lure that Moving Finger back to cancel more than half a line – but does not – as no human does – have the wisdom to determine whether that cancellation was, or was not, the right thing to do.

This book was simply a wow.

Of course, it’s also just a bit more complicated than that. Also just saying it’s a wow isn’t really an informative review – although it certainly is succinct.

At first, this seems like a near-future dystopian novel, until it isn’t. And then it is again. And then it isn’t.

Still confused? I think it’s intentional – at least on the part of the story.

Olivia is an investigative journalist chasing a story in Aleppo, Syria, just a little more than a decade from now. Her world doesn’t feel much different from ours in time, only in place. The seemingly permanent, perpetual civil war/uprising/revolution/counterinsurgency/whatever that she is covering is worlds away from the comfortable life that still very much exists back in the US.

But Olivia makes her living covering what she calls the “Disaster”. A disaster that could be anywhere, and often is – just not back home. Also a disaster that seems to be a direct consequence of actions taken in our present, as the Syrian conflict that she is covering is the war to overthrow Assad, which has its roots in our now.

She’s attempting to cover violations of the current, tentative peace agreement when she, her guide and her aid worker-lover get caught in the crossfire – and the world changes.

And changes again. And again. And it’s all Olivia’s fault… Really, it is.

Brian is killed in that crossfire, and Olivia finds herself in the basement of the building she was trying to investigate, his blood still on her hands, when she finds an old man who has been tortured taking his last breaths. Something jumps from his corpse to her living body, and burrows itself into her brain.

When she makes a wish that Brian hadn’t died – he isn’t dead. But the world has changed, and not for the better.

That’s the point where things get very, very hairy. And then they get worse.

Since it’s all Olivia’s fault, it’s up to her to fix it if she can. Because the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the few or of the one – even if that one is someone she loves.

Escape Rating A+: This is still a wow.

I believe that the reason this is such a wow is that there are multiple ways to look at the story, all of them equally valid – as they should be. This is, after all, a story about the butterfly effect – for a butterfly with extremely large wings.

From the very beginning, I saw multiple connections to this story. Something about the atmosphere in war-torn Aleppo recalled for me the atmosphere of The Children of Men by P.D. James. The stories aren’t actually alike, but the worlds felt similar.

Once Olivia discovers her ability to change the future, the way that it worked was extremely similar to Ia’s ability in the military SF series Theirs Not to Reason Why. Like Ia, Olivia is trying to find the best of all possible outcomes, no matter how slim a chance it is, and make it happen. The difference is that Ia knows how to use her power, and Olivia most definitely does not.

But it’s the different, and all equally awful, portraits of the way that the world goes mad that push the story forward at breakneck speed. Each of Olivia’s attempts to save Brian results in greater and greater disasters. A weaponized smallpox epidemic. Nuclear powers, blaming each other, fingers on too many triggers, wiping out each other’s major cities and food producing regions. And it gets worse from there.

(I haven’t seen the world go so far past hell in a handbasket so fast since the early books in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse)

The source of Olivia’s new-found power throws in a cult of conspiracy theorists as well as a chase around the world. The ability to control the future is a power that has been closely guarded – and extremely contested – for centuries. And no one’s vision of “better” remotely resembles anyone else’s.

But there’s a reason why I started with Omar Khayyam and ended with Spock. Because the story in The Chaos Function is also, writ large and with even more deadly consequences, the story of the classic Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever. And the ending is just as necessary, and just as heartbreaking.

Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

Review: The Show by John A. HeldtThe Show (Northwest Passage #3) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #3
Pages: 293
Published by John A. Heldt on February 16th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

My Review:

While The Show is the third book in the author’s Northwest Passage series, it is much more of a direct sequel to The Mine, the awesome first book in the series, than the second book in the series, the marvelous The Journey, turned out to be.

In the Northwest Passage series, at least so far, the protagonists accidentally, or in the case of The Show, accidentally-on-purpose, discover methods of traveling in time. The time travel is complete handwavium – it’s purely a plot device and nothing more. And no more or less believable than the methods used in Outlander.

Not that the time period is the same as Outlander, or even the same from one book in the Northwest Passage series to another. In The Journey, the heroine travels within her own lifetime, and makes changes to her life in the past. Definitely changes for the better from her perspective, but one wonders about the butterfly, its flapping wings, and the effects on the futures of all of the other people who were within her original orbit.

That’s a question that raises its hand and waves vigorously by the end of The Show.

Because both Joel Smith in The Mine and Grace Vandenberg in The Show travel outside of their own lifespans. And then more.

In The Mine, Joel travels from 2000 to the summer of 1941, and leaves on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. He leaves, at least in part, because he knows about WWII and fears that if he finds himself in the Army there is the possibility that he will save someone who should have died, or kill someone who should have lived. He’s worried about that butterfly quite a bit.

But he didn’t worry about it enough not to fall in love back in 1941, and not to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs that allows someone to follow him to the future. That someone is Grace, the woman he loves and would have married if he had stayed in 1941.

So she comes forward to the future, to him.

It’s all sunshine and roses – not to mention marriage and children, until yet another portal whisks her away from 2002 to 1918. Her journey is just as accidental as Joel’s original trip to the past – but the consequences are even more devastating.

When Joel left 2000 for 1941, he was a young man, fresh out of college, with no dependents and relatively few cares in the world or hostages to fortune. When Grace leaves 2002 for 1918, she’s a wife and mother of two little girls. She leaves everything behind – and can’t figure out how to get back.

Just as Joel did in 1941, Grace manages to make a life back in the past, with relatives that would become hers in the fullness of a time that she has already lived but they haven’t yet experienced.

She has her parents again, this time as contemporaries. She has a front row seat on their courtship. She even manages to fall in love again. It’s not the same, but it’s a life that could be sweet.

And then she discovers that she has one last chance, and it is the last chance, to go back to her real life in 2002 – if she’s willing to leave behind everything she’s found in 1918 to take the chance that this time she can go home.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed The Show, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well as my memory of The Mine – which you really need to read before going to The Show. Nor did it grab at my heartstrings in the way that The Journey did.

I think that one of the reasons this didn’t grab me quite as hard was that the blurb for the book gives the big plot twist away. We know from the opening pages that Grace is going to travel back in time – and it hangs over the story like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Grace’s advent into 2000 was way too easy, and I just wanted the story to get to the interesting – and hard – parts.

Grace’s life in the 21st century also raises questions that Joel’s life in 1941 didn’t. How did Grace and Joel even manage to get married in 2000 without Grace having a birth certificate? How did she get a driver’s license – which she definitely did. It’s a detail that niggles at me.

Joel was rightfully worried in 1941 about what would happen if he turned up at an Army recruiter’s office after Pearl Harbor with no birth certificate or ID of any kind. But in the rush to get bodies in uniform he would have had a way easier time than Grace should have had even in the pre-9-11 21st century.

Grace’s story in 1918 was much more tightly focused on Grace, her dilemma and her once and future family than Joel’s was in The Mine. We don’t see nearly as much of the era in which she finds herself as we did with his story. That may also reflect that Grace, as a young woman, would have had fewer opportunities to engage with the wider world in 1918 than Joel did in 1941. Part of the reason that The Journey got to me so much was that I identified with Michelle’s choices very strongly, while Grace’s don’t resonate with me in the same way.

However, one of Grace’s choices that I did empathize with was her eventual decision to move forward in 1918. A choice that some readers seem to have been appalled by. As far as Grace knows, she’s stuck in the past. She doesn’t believe that she has any hope of returning to 2002. She mourns her life there and misses her husband and children desperately, but she came back to the past already pregnant and needs to make some kind of future for herself and her child.

One final thought about that butterfly flapping its wings. Joel worried about changing the past and thereby changing his future. Grace, on the other hand, when the opportunity arises, rushes to change the past in a way that should prevent the future that gave birth to herself. It’s the ultimate paradox of time travel, and it bothers me that it isn’t addressed in any way.

Then again, this series feels as if its intended as historical fiction mixed with romance and not SF – where the time paradox would get done to death. I’m considering it as much handwavium as the time travel mechanism itself.

And I’ll be back for the next book in the series, The Fire, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: The Journey by John A. Heldt

Review: The Journey by John A. HeldtThe Journey (Northwest Passage #2) Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Northwest Passage #2
Pages: 231
on November 4th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Seattle, 2010. When her entrepreneur husband dies in an accident, Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and directionless. She yearns for the simpler days of her youth, before she followed her high school sweetheart down a road that led to limitless riches but little fulfillment, and jumps at a chance to reconnect with her past at a class reunion. But when Michelle returns to Unionville, Oregon, and joins three classmates on a spur-of-the-moment tour of an abandoned mansion, she gets more than she asked for. She enters a mysterious room and is thrown back to 1979.

Distraught and destitute, Michelle finds a job as a secretary at Unionville High, where she guides her spirited younger self, Shelly Preston, and childhood friends through their tumultuous senior year. Along the way, she meets widowed teacher Robert Land and finds the love and happiness she had always sought. But that happiness is threatened when history intervenes and Michelle must act quickly to save those she loves from deadly fates. Filled with humor and heartbreak, THE JOURNEY gives new meaning to friendship, courage, and commitment as it follows an unfulfilled soul through her second shot at life.

My Review:

We went to a Bob Seger concert over the weekend. It relates to this book on two levels. The first is that sense that I get from the best of his music, like Night Moves, Against the Wind, Main Street and Like a Rock, of someone older looking back at their life with both reminiscence and regret. It truly is “strange how the night moves, with autumn closing in.”

The song Night Moves was released in late 1976, and would have still been playing on the radio, at least occasionally, when widowed Shelly Preston slips back in time from 2010 to 1979. I remember because I was listening to the radio too during the 1970s. In 1979, when the heart of this story takes place, I was 22 to the original Shelly’s 18. I made some of her choices then, and some of the choices she made later as well.

But I managed my life do-over much less dramatically than Shelly does when she goes down that dark stairwell in the old abandoned mansion and finds herself back home again, in 1979, watching herself go through the trials and tribulations of her senior year in high school. She does not “become” the young Shelly, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead, she takes a job at the local high school, becoming the adult friend and mentor that Shelly needed but didn’t have during her first go around.

The older Shelly, calling herself Michelle, does not choose the Star Trek “Prime Directive” as her modus operandi for her second trip through 1979. She is determined to do what she can to save whomever she can, and to give the younger Shelly the chance for a happier life.

That she gets to experience her own slice of happiness is a joy and a wonder. Even if it isn’t meant to be.

Escape Rating A+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, and sometimes I talk about how the story made me feel. If you haven’t already guessed, this is definitely one of those reviews that’s all about the feels.

At the beginning, I actually felt too close to the older Shelly. Her reflection on her life and the choices that led her to them hit way too close to home, to the point where I actually had to step back for an evening to get some distance from those feelings.

That a story made me reflect that much and feel that deeply is a testament to the writer. I absolutely loved his first book, The Mine, when I read it back in 2012. I have all the others but never went back to his writing – caught up in the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. I will not make that mistake again. This is a writer that seriously speaks to me.

Speaking of The Mine, do not let the description of The Journey as #2 in the Northwest Passage series keep you from reading this book, whether first or second. Although Joel Smith’s and Shelly Preston’s paths do cross in The Journey, it’s a very brief meeting and has no effect on either story.

These are both time travel stories with a hint of romance, and both are very powerful stories, but they’re not really tied to each other in the way that series sometimes are.

Also the time travel in both stories is fairly simple handwavium, as it should be. The time travel isn’t the point. It’s what the protagonists do with their new lives that’s the point. And it’s marvelous and beautiful and heartbreaking.

If you’re looking for a book to sweep you up, make you reflect, and possibly even make you ugly cry just a bit, take your own trip back in time with The Journey. Bring tissues.

Review: The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

Review: The Scribe of Siena by Melodie WinawerThe Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 464
Published by Touchstone on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Equal parts transporting love story and gripping historical conspiracy—think The Girl with a Pearl Earring meets Outlander—debut author Melodie Winawer takes readers deep into medieval Italy, where the past and present blur and a twenty-first century woman will discover a plot to destroy Siena.
Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.
After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.
Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.
The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.

My Review:

The Scribe of Siena is a time-travel whodunnit, or possibly howdunnit, wrapped inside a romance, and filled with plenty of scrumptious details on life in Medieval Italy, just before it all went pear-shaped.

Beatrice Trovato begins the story as a 21st century neurosurgeon, and ends it as a 14th century scribe. That’s quite a journey, and the beauty of the story is all in how she gets there.

We begin with Beatrice at her home in New York, just beginning to think that her career, while it has its compensations, is also consuming her life. She seems to be on 24/7, because even when she gets a rare day off, there’s always someone who desperately needs her life-saving skills.

Beatrice has a gift, not just for neurosurgery, but also for empathy. She occasionally just “knows” what’s wrong with a patient before the alarms start going off. She’s also more than a little too wrapped up in her work.

And then everything changes. Her beloved brother dies in Siena, Italy, of a heart attack. She’s always known that Ben had a congenital condition, but she also thought they’d have more time. Time she never seemed to make because of her demanding calling.

But Ben was in the middle of his own calling. He was a scholar who tracked the course of medieval epidemics. And he was looking at something potentially groundbreaking about the spread of the Black Death in Siena in the 1300s.

Now he’s dead, and Beatrice finally takes that often imagined trip to Siena to deal with his estate, and possibly pick up the pieces of his research.

The chase enthralls her. Beatrice, who almost followed Ben into historical research, revives long-abandoned skills, and finds herself caught up in the hunt. She falls in love, both with the city of Siena and with its storied, and possibly contentious, past.

And on the hunt for Ben’s elusive quarry, she finds the diary of a 14th century painter who lived at the time of Ben’s research, and may have left behind clues to the mystery. But more than anything else, Gabriele Accorsi imbued his diary with a sense of himself. A sense that Beatrice’s empathy grabs onto and uses to propel her back through time, to Gabriele’s side.

There she must make a life for herself, a lone woman in a medieval city, while she desperately hopes that she can find a way back to her own time before the quite literal oncoming Plague reaches Siena.

But instead of finding a way out, she finds a way of life that fulfills her as the 21st century never has. As she falls in love with both the man and the place, she fears that all is already lost. The Black Death is coming for Siena, and there is nothing she can do to stop it, or to protect those she loves.

Escape Rating A-: If you put Somewhere in Time, Outlander, The Girl With a Pearl Earring, Doomsday Book and Household Gods into a blender, you’d get something like The Scribe of Siena. You might also need to add a bit of Brother Cadfael or Crispin Guest for a bit of spice (and bodies).

Time travel always involves a bit of handwavium, and this book is no exception. That aspect of the story reminded me of Household Gods, where a commonplace object facilitates the time travel back. And also a bit of Somewhere in Time, where a common object of the modern era draws the protagonist forward again.

But the harrowing description of the time travel experience itself feels drawn straight from Outlander, as do the romantic aspects of the story. Beatrice, like Clare, is accidentally pulled back into the past and forced to make a way for herself against seemingly impossible odds. Where Clare marries to provide herself safety, Beatrice finds work as a scribe. It’s a career that both provides a reasonable living and causes trouble. Much as Clare does.

Beatrice also falls in love, but the relationship between Gabriele and Beatrice is very slow-building. She may be a 21st century woman, but he is a man of his times. He loves and respects her, and therefore wants things done properly, even if they must wait for all of the ceremonies to finally take place.

Ironically, even though both Doomsday Book and Scribe of Siena feature a heroine who goes back to the time of the Black Death, the way that the plague is handled is very different. In the Doomsday Book the heroine lives through the Plague in all its heartbreaking detail, and that’s where a lot of the empathy in that story comes from. In Scribe, the heroine escapes the Plague by accidentally sending herself back to the future where modern medicine can cure her. She returns to 14th century Siena in the winter after the Plague has temporarily passed, and is now immune. But she doesn’t experience the cataclysmic deaths first-hand.

The other piece of the puzzle in this story is the historical mystery, which is more of a historical conspiracy theory. The Black Death hit Siena especially hard, even for an epidemic which cut the population of Europe in half. The theory that Ben Trovato was attempting to prove was that political forces deliberately sent Plague carriers to Siena in an attempt to break the back of this ascendant city and let a different one rise in its place. It’s a fascinating idea, and Beatrice finds herself on the wrong side of powerful figures in both the 14th and 21st centuries as she strives to prove what happened. It gives us a glimpse of both 14th century power politics and 21st century academic politics, and while both are fascinating, neither are pretty.

In the end, whether readers will fall in love with this story rests with Beatrice. It is her perspective that we follow from the 21st century to the 14th, and it is through her eyes that we see this brave, old world. I felt for her journey, and in the end I believed I understood why she made the choices that she did. If you do too, you will love this book.

Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. FlynnThe Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Perennial on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world's most celebrated and beloved authors: two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel.
London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.
Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.
But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.
 
 

My Review:

It’s a very big butterfly, and it is impossible to keep it from flapping its wings for an entire year.

The problem with time travel is that it is incredibly difficult to spend any time at all in the past and not change something – possibly even something significant. But that’s the dilemma that faces researchers Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane. Their job, which they have chosen to accept, is to go back to the England of 1815 and quite seriously meddle with the life of Jane Austen – but leave no trace of their meddling.

This is truly an impossible mission. And so it proves. But the story isn’t in what Rachel and Liam change about Jane Austen, it’s what changes about themselves in the process.

Time travel always involves a bit of handwavium. In this case, it’s a scientific process that sends them back to a specific place and time, armed with the knowledge (and the money) that it is hoped are necessary to inveigle their way into Jane Austen’s circle, her life, and wherever she stashed her unpublished manuscript. Oh, and by the way, discover what mysterious ailment killed her.

That last bit is Rachel’s job. In her own time (possibly the late 21st or early 22nd century), Rachel is a doctor. But in 1815, all she can be is Liam’s spinster sister, while he pretends to be the doctor. Lucky for both of them if not for Jane, medicine was not all that far advanced. As a well educated man, with a little bit of coaching from Rachel, Liam can fake it. And he does. While Liam is faking being a well-to-do doctor and man about town, Rachel has the much harder task of pretending to be a woman of the early 19th century, shy, retiring, unambitious and unintelligent. She is not very good at it, and wonders just how smart women managed not to go completely insane.

In spite of many, many roadblocks, both expected and otherwise, Rachel and Liam do manage to accomplish their task. Mostly. Only to discover that it wasn’t quite what they thought it was. And now that they are back in their own time, neither are they.

Escape Rating A-: For anyone who enjoys time travel stories, this one is an absolute treat. It will also remind some readers of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. There is a bit of that sense of madcap adventure, but not too much, as well as the difficulty of determining what about the past can be meddled with and what can’t. At the same time, the stakes don’t feel too high, or the situation too dire, as it was in Willis’ Doomsday Book.

In some ways, the task before Rachel and Liam seems like a fool’s errand, or an absolutely impossibly unresolvable conflict. To get close enough to the somewhat reclusive Jane Austen to have access to a document she kept well-hidden without affecting the lives of anyone around her is improbable from the outset. It seems impossible to get that close and not change something, and also not to leave evidence of themselves somewhere in the Austen family correspondence.

It is also beyond imagining to live an entire year of one’s life in the circumstances that Rachel and Liam insert themselves into without their coming out of it changed, whether the world they left behind (ahead?) changes or not. And so it proves. And that’s a big part of what I can’t stop thinking about.

The world is what the world is because of what has happened before we came into it. While we may discover documentation of history that we did not previously know, the moving finger has already writ that history, and the effects of whatever happened have already been built into our world. If there are effects of discovering the formerly hidden information (the recent discovery of Richard III’s body comes to mind) that discovery doesn’t change anything written or believed or assumed about Richard III in the past. Shakespeare still used him as the epitome of evil. Future biographies will be affected, but past ones won’t re-write themselves.

That’s not the case in Rachel and Liam’s world. When the past changes, everything between then and their now re-writes itself. In that world, history is a shared delusion, just like paper money. It is so because we all believe it is so, and not because the piece of paper has an intrinsic value. In their world, history changes and everything adapts around it. That particular aspect reminds me more of The Eyre Affair than time-travel. Change the source and everything that derives from the source shifts to match – no matter how disruptive those shifts might be.

There’s also an attitude that it is possible to change the past and know, more or less, what the effects will be. I end up wondering about that. While there are some cases in their history that seem like there’s nowhere to go but up, how can one be certain? One of the short stories in John Scalzi’s Miniatures deals with this theme, as does Elleander Morning by Jerry Yulsman, a book I read long ago and have never been able to forget.

One part of the story that seems all-too-real and heartbreaking concerns the relationship between Rachel and Liam and the changes wrought both to themselves and to their past by their actions in 1815. We are the sum total of our experiences. The child, and everything that happens to that child, makes the man, or the woman. But they go back in time and experience a year together that does not happen for anyone else. They are both forced to play a part, and of necessity become some of that part in order to survive. At the same time, they are aware, and they are the only people aware, of the nature and the sheer magnitude of the lies that they are living.

But when they come back, the world they return to is not the same. They may be the sum total of their experiences, but the world they return to produced different versions of them than the ones they actually are. How does a person reconcile that? Is it better to remember, or is it better to conform and be, as a consequence, comfortable? And how does one decide which reality to accept, and which to reject?

This is the question that continues to haunt me, long after I closed the final page.