(2022) A. G. Riddle, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £16.99 / Can$33.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, 453pp, ISBN 978-1-804-54176-0
It is the very near future (2027AD) and time travel of a sorts has been developed. 'Of a sorts' because it is possible to transport someone back in time, but not to an earlier time in our space-time continuum but a parallel continuum.
The technology has been developed by a company called Absolom which is now based in Absolom city in a remote part of Nevada. The technology was a fortuitous discovery – they were actually seeking to develop a transportation (teleportation) technology.
This not being Back to the Future or an H. G. Wells The Time Machine set up, there are few practical or commercial purposes to the technology. The team had thought of using it to transport nuclear waste back to the Jurassic, but decided against it on ethical grounds: it would be wrong to pollute a parallel time line and possibly affect evolution in that continuum. However, they did sell the idea to governments as a more humane way of punishing convicts that would otherwise be sentenced to death row.
Sam Anderson was part of the small, core team behind the technology and is with his daughter and son visiting the grave of his wife when he is arrested for the murder of another colleague of the core team behind the quasi time travel technology.
To cut a long story short, the evidence against Sam is circumstantial but Sam is informed by an unknown source that there is hard evidence against his daughter and that this will go to the authorities unless he confesses to the crime. This he does and is sentenced to a one-way trip to a parallel Jurassic…
This then is the set-up with the story dealing with somehow rescuing Sam and identifying the real killer.
So what we have with Lost in Time is a confounding mystery mashed with a solid time travel story.
Is it any good?
Well, those who follow my reviews may recall that I really was not at all satisfied with Riddle's Winter World (it was a pot-boiler of many SF tropes – AI, apocalyptic SF, space opera and alien invasion – whose underpinning science was lamentable and plot logic limp). And so, as with SF² Concatenation book review policy for negative reviews, the next Riddle book that came to us, The Lost Colony, went to a different reviewer, one without a science background. However, when Lost in Time came in, and I was having my morning tea break, I dipped in and found myself sufficiently absorbed to find out what happened next.
First up, the science. Well, of course time travel, in the SFnal sense, is fiction: though obviously not in the in the Einsteinian sense and you yourself are travelling through time at a rate of one second per second, even if I choose to do so at one minute per minute. Having said that, SFnal time travel has been hypothesised by theoretical physics and though Riddle does not go into the physics (he is not that sort of hard SF writer) here we have what is actually a form of time travel contemplated by the physicist Kip Thorne in which a time traveller goes back to a previous time in a parallel continuum (brane) within the 'bulk'. This form of time travel came up early on and caught my attention: perhaps the author was learning to do some research. Anyway, though this form of time travel has been used in SF before (ex: Last Year and Agency) it kept me reading.
In terms of plot context, the time travel elements were handled well and everything fitted together: indeed, in SFnal terms, the novel gets more engrossing as it progresses. There were a couple of weak points, notably on the DNA profiling front, but I wont go into this as it’s a bit of a plot spoiler, but I generally allow an author a couple of free passes for the sake of the story. (Even in the excellent The Martian at one point Andy muddled his moles and masses, and also at its start had the Martian storm uproot a radio antenna and cause havoc to the expedition: Mars' atmosphere is way too thin but, as the author himself said, he had to let Mars get in the first punch.)
This is by far the best thing I have read by Riddle and this is a solid SF adventure-thriller. He seems to be far better at standalone novels (which Lost in Time is) and I will certainly see if any new ones are coming out.
So, in brief, where is Lost in Time within the time travel SF landscape? OK, so it is not The Time Machine, McAuley's Cowboy Angels, Gibson's Agency nor The Tourist, but does give the likes of multi-award-winning Wilson's Last Year and Kennedy's Dare to Know a run for their money and, make no mistake, that's no mean feat.
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