Fiction Reviews


Here, There & Everywhere

(2005) Chris Roberson, Pyr, US$25 (UK price determined from Amazon UK Feb '05 = 13.36), hrdbk, 285 pp, ISBN 1-591-02310-6.

 

Of course in life one has regrets, probably a few but too few to mention. One also has wishful moments. For those of us of a certain generation, vaguely touched by music, many will have on more than one occasion wondered whether the Beatles would get back together. Then John Lennon was taken from us and we wondered, no 'knew', that we would never know what possible future songs we had lost but that some great tunes and lyrics would now never be penned. For those of us into SF, one trope in particular addresses these concerns: time travel.

Genre tropes are all too often handled poorly. Equally, frequently they can be administered rather well. Occasionally, just occasionally, they are attended to with a certain deftness. Recently, 2003, Robert Charles Wilson's Blind Lake is an example of such a treatment of a 'first contact'' story. 2004 gave us Banks' marvellous space opera, The Algebraist. And now 2005 we have Roberson's charming time travel tale. Let me tell you now it really is a cracker.

Its prelude deals with the afore Beatles situation when a documentary researcher/producer attends a 1995 news conference by the then surviving three of the fab four: Paul, George, and John. Pete, of course, had not survived. Then the producer sees a woman that strangely he recognises from Beatles pictures taken decades earlier but she has hardly aged if at all... And so the stage is set.

Roxanne Bonaventure 'inherits' a wrist attachment-type temporal device that enables her to hop time-lines. We quickly discover/assume that she is given it by an older, dying, version of herself, cf. - for example - Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself (1973) concept. We also quickly address paradoxes and the need for temporal order, so covering ground from - for example - Silverberg's Up the Line (1969). Indeed Roxanne is not slow to discover that there are alternate pasts and futures, cf Moorcock's Rituals of Infinity (1965) (though Moorcock explored parallelism in many of his works) or H. Beam Piper's Paratime (1981). Enter then more recent real physics speculative theory of dimensions, string theory etc, and allow Roxanne to live her life against the backdrop of a hyperspatial 'Myriad'. She does the Indiana Jones thing. Holmsean sleuthing. And she even has a brief run in with a certain Herbert George Wells. Yes, this book has a decided sense of fun especially as Roberson's time travel means you can encounter fictional characters (parallel universes you see) as per Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars (1999).

I liked Here, There & Everywhere for many reasons, and not just its exploration of a core SF trope. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it competently covers a huge amount of ground other writers have addressed. But I also liked it because it is not (unlike too many books today) overly long ('bloat' some call it) and we cover events at a brisk pace. This is as it should be, not just because of good story telling but, if you have a time machine then time is something you do not waste. I also liked the book for its whimsy, though alas Bonaventure could not follow Alice into 'Wonderland' as that would have necessitated a journey back to the inferno of the big bang before finding a timeline weird enough to accommodate an Alice-type space time continuum with vanishing Cheshire cats. However even Bonaventure can dream... Heck, I even liked the book's infinity symbol section-break identifiers. Above all it not unsuccessfully ties things up at the end (so do not get put off by some incidents en route).

I am not sure whether we will be seeing many Roberson novels as, from this book's (welcome) appendix it is clear that Here, There & Everywhere had a long gestation. Nonetheless I will do my best to check for signs of pregnancy, for should he take care and nurture a new story over the next few years, then it will be interesting to see whether his next is as an accomplished treatment of a trope as Here, There, & Everywhere. Even if it is not, Robinson can rest assured that his first novel is a gem.

Sadly this novel is only (currently) available in Europe as an import. I do hope, though, that specialist bookshops will stock it. Better still I hope that a UK publisher will check it. There is no reason why it should not sell over here. Because a fair proportion of the action takes place in the past, it is set in Europe. Though Roberson does not detail the places sufficiently too matter, locals this side of the Pond might wonder why Richmond is considered as south of the City of London (it is really to the west) and there is one section in which Putney's location, being directly between central London and Richmond, is arguably germane to the plot. (I'd hate space-time travellers to get confused, even ones from the rebel colonies.) But such flaws are isolated and inconsequential to the tapestry spun and should not put of European readers. Meanwhile, until a Brit publisher sees the light, we will have to rely on specialist shops and Amazon.

Jonathan Cowie


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