(2008/2011) Felix J. Palma, Harper Collins, £12.99, trdpbk, 514pp, ISBN 978-0-007-34412-3
The Map of Time was initially published in Spanish in 2008 but has its first airing in English in 2011. The story is set in Victorian London of 1896 when young Andrew Harrington from a well-to-do family has been slumming it with working lady of the night Marie Kelly from Whitechapel. Andrew's infatuation is total, overwhelming his familial responsibility to his class, and so he is disowned and disinherited. Alas his true love was literally cut short when Marie is killed by the notorious Jack the Ripper. Distraught, Andrew has nothing to live for. Fortunately, his best friend comes to the rescue, bizarrely suggesting that he might go back in time to prevent the murder. And so the pair seek to do just that.
Time travel is becoming the rage in Victorian London. The reading classes are devouring a fictional novel on the subject by an up-and-coming writer by the name of Herbert George Wells, while the very wealthy can actually pay to visit the future through some sort of steampunk, science fantasy technology. Yes, dear reader, in this exciting adventure you will be treated to an expedition into the future to the year 2000 where you will witness the legendary battle between humans and automatons. Be warned, however, this story contains scenes of an extremely violent nature – only to be expected of a battle of such enormous consequences for the future of the human race. Mothers of sensitive children may wish to examine the contents of The Map of Time and expurgate certain passages before entrusting the remainder to their little ones.
In the due course of the novel H. G. Wells moves from being very much on the periphery of the plot more towards centre stage as we find out how truly complex is the map of time.
The Map of Time may well be destined to be something of a modern classic: something I say with a little caution. Yet past sequels or paraquels to H. G. wells The Time Machine such as , while initially selling well, have not become long-lasting classics or major award winners even if they are somewhat worthy: Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships (1995) being the obvious example. Yet The Map of Time having been previously published in mainland Europe, has already made its SFnal mark in the author's own country. It quickly picked up Spain's Premio Athenea Prize for 2008 and its Xatafi-Cyberdark Award in 2009, and I can see why. This is a beautifully crafted story that does adequately convey London of the time reasonably well: especially so considering Palma is not to my knowledge a Londoner. Furthermore – and this is rare indeed – the translation from the Spanish into English is extremely good and this, combined with the appropriate Victorian writing style, makes one wonder whether Felix Palma is in fact English? He is not and the credit has to be shared between the author and his translator for the English edition, Nick Caistor.
The publishers in their promotional release do say that the novel will appeal to those who enjoy Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and though publishers are prone to hype, in this case it is not that unfair a comparison. Though not a fantasy (as is Jonathan Strange), The Map of Time continually teases the reader as to whether it is fantasy, science fantasy or science fiction. To find out which you will just have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that many scientists who have wrestled with the concept of time travel would enjoy this story. I am sure the late Hugh Everett III would have been enthralled with this novel.
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