Fiction Reviews


Weaver: Time's Tapestry Book Four

(2008) Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 12.99, trdpbk, 321 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8204-5

 

Well this is it, number four in Baxter's alternative history series seasoned with just a dash of SF and at last we encounter the time travellers, or rather the time message senders. All of which means that this offering has just a little more than a dash of SF but a dollop. The previous offerings in the series so far have been: Emperor , Conqueror and Navigator. All these have been alternate history stories with just a twist of SF in that one or two of the protagonists hypothesis that time may be being manipulated. With Weaver there is no mucking about. Right from the off we are introduced to one of the time signallers and we realise (if the cover was not a giveaway) that it is the early 1940s and one painter from Austria is on the rampage through Europe. Good old blighty herself is under threat from Nazi forces; a threat that shortly realised with a German invasion of Kent. Now clearly this did not happen in reality (or at least our time line) and so it is alternate history time again.

Our time signaller belongs to the allied nations, but as we learn early on the German's are on to the signaller and want to start sending their own messages. Alas the Germans are invading England and soon much of Kent is occupied along with part of East Sussex. Our time messenger is caught and the Germans start to send their own messages back. They have a number of goals depending on to when the messages are sent. For example, if Harold won at Hastings then the ground would be laid for the creation of a northern European empire. This would have given a huge boost to the Nazi ambition of creating a 20th century empire run by the 'master race'.

Of course there have been alternate history novels before whereby Britain was overrun by Germany in WWII. Baxter makes a fair fist of his and on this level alone the novel is very enjoyable. With regards the SF, this is a little muted and seems to take back-stage for much of the novel, but far less so than the earlier books in this series. As the story progresses (but not near the end so this is not a spoiler) it is apparent that there has not only been two parties from WWII sending back messages but a bona fide time traveller from 'a' future physically going back in time too! Whether or not this signals more to come in the series we do not know: there is still ample room for the series' development. Also, and I have said this before, because several of Baxter's SF series of books involve a multiverse, it is still possible for the man to bring all these together. I hope he does but if so it is unlikely that he will do it before near the end of his writing career and so we may have to wait a couple of decades before this happens (if it does at all).

Finally, the mechanism used for sending message in time is loosely based on some genuine science speculation: but note this is highly speculative discussion. Perhaps from an SFnal point of view the least satisfying thing is that the messengers (including those closely associated with the sending of the messages) are aware of changes to the timeline as they occur even though there is no way they employ to artificially seal themselves off from the continuum as it changes). This is recognised as an oddity by the protagonists involved (so Baxter lets us know that he is aware of the problem). We therefore have to live with this logical blemish (unless Baxter explains it should he continue the series). However such stumbling blocks are largely inevitable with time stories and few overcome them.

Perhaps because of its slightly higher SF content I liked Weaver the best of the series to date. Yet I am sure that alternate history fans and readers of fantasy (that has historical tropes even if set in mythical places) will hugely enjoy the series as a whole. Baxter continues to show that he is a varied writer and his production output (two to three novels a year plus short stories) I find quite amazing. He is clearly a formidable figure in Britain's contemporary SF landscape.

Jonathan Cowie


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