Tag Archives: time travel

Bearing an Hourglass by Piers Anthony

Bearing an Hourglass, the second in the Incarnations of Immortality series, follows the pattern of the first book pretty closely. I liked On a Pale Horse fairly well, so it was nice to return to a set way of writing. I would say that, even though I enjoy Piers Anthony’s stories, I found a bit of the language and attitude a little dated, and, with this one, the time travel a tad confusing.

One of the best things about this series is that you know it’s setting up for something good. As opposed to the last book, where we meet the new Thanatos (death), we this time get to see the story of the origin of Chronos (time). It establishes a pattern of the reader meeting the Incarnations at the beginning of their service time, which will be nice if that’s how the rest of them go.

Norton, our hero, manages to stumble into his new line of work by meeting up with Gawain, a ghost, and serving as a surrogate father for him. This leads to some discomfort on Norton’s part, and, to make up for it, the ghost arranges for Norton to become Chronos, able to go forwards and backwards in time as he pleases.

There’s some love interest for Norton with a couple of women, but he seems to understand that his new life (and, really, his old one, too) doesn’t allow for relationships. His fondness for being on the move, both through time and space, don’t allow for it. Satan takes advantage of these aspects of Norton’s personality to confuse him and to get him out of the way of his plot. This is where having read On a Pale Horse becomes important.

Luna, the beloved of Thanatos, is fated to become a powerful politician who will thwart, once and for all, Satan’s takeover of the world. By playing games with Norton, Satan manages to make Luna’s rise to power disappear. The rest of the book involves Norton setting things right and realizing that the power of manipulating time comes with huge costs.

I liked this book, but I think it’s mainly for the fact that it’s part of a larger story that I’m really interested in. I liked Norton, but he wasn’t the most compelling of characters to me — he’s a drifter, and I’ve always been more interested in those who at least have a goal of settling. And his reaction toward situations in any way sexual were a little embarrassing, although maybe the books were intended for young adults and Anthony didn’t feel it appropriate to make things more explicit.

The one other main problem I had with the book is I got confused with a lot of the time movements. I forgot what some of the more exotic sand colors meant in the hourglass (I had red, blue, and green down, though), and I had a hard time remembering which way was forward and which way was backward.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. Bearing an Hourglass has a lot of entertaining moments, and I’m looking forward to seeing the full story when I read the rest of the books in the series.

Rating: 4/5.

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The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

I have to admit, I’m a little rusty on my Thursday Next.  The last time I read one of the books, it was in 2006, and The Well of Lost Plots was just coming out as a hardcover.  Now, here I am, five years later, and I’m having to do some catching up.  It’s well worth it, though, for the world of Thursday Next is one richly filled with all sorts of literary delights.

We start off pretty close to where Lost in a Good Book leaves off.  Thursday is hiding within the Well of Lost Plots to protect her unborn child, the product of a marriage to a man who never existed.  She finds a place to stay within an unpublished mystery novel, taking the place of one of the secondary characters.  The book is not doing well, and Thursday tries to provide a little help before it gets pulled apart for its words.

Thursday is also being trained, by Miss Havisham, to become a literary enforcement agent.  She goes through some pretty grueling training, which can also be amusing — Miss Havisham leads a group therapy session for the characters from Wuthering Heights, which Thursday tags along to.  We then get to see what happens in between the pages, which, for Wuthering Heights, basically means that everyone spends their time hating Heathcliff.

Here is one of the great things about the Thursday Next series:  it’s for people who love to read.  Not just love to read, but love to read novels.  Not just love to read novels, but love to read those books that are considered great literature.  Fforde takes the characters from big books, like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre, and puts his own take on what their personalities are into his versions of them.  It’s really nice … for those of us who have read the books he’s referencing.

This is, thus, one of the biggest downfalls of Fforde’s books, too — you have to be a complete book nerd to get every little thing he puts in.  Otherwise, the only things you’re going to understand are the puns, and that’s no way to go through a book.  A person’s literary well-being can’t be sustained on puns alone.

Fforde does have a very lovable writing style.  His inner circle of characters are pretty well-rounded, and I enjoy the world he has created where foundering books are in a well far below the library of all fiction created (at least, in English).  I think that many well-exposed readers would really enjoy the Thursday Next series; if one doesn’t, I think The Well of Lost Plots has very limited appeal.  Maybe, though, it’s an incentive to read books that are over ten years old — I know I haven’t read Wuthering Heights, and I think maybe it’s about time I do.

Rating: 4/5.

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Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? by Tom Holt

Tom Holt’s Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? is a silly caper story involving a hidden cache of Norsemen, an archaeology graduate student, and their journey together through Britain while trying not to gather too much attention — and failing.  It’s a story that reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld books, which means that it was an entertaining read involving quirky characters and a kooky plot.  This is a good thing.

The entire thing starts with the discovery of a Norse ship uncovered by a construction crew in Scotland.  A rather naive grad student, Hildy Frederiksen, is sent to check it out.  She’s excited to see that the boat is a complete specimen, goes back to her hotel, and then gets the urge to return to the mound.  Once there, she discovers the crew of the boat awake and walking around, which they most certainly should not be doing, having been buried there for twelve hundred years.

The crew really is a well-honed battle group whose slumber has been in place merely until the time is right to prevent a particularly bad person from doing … well, something particularly bad.  Hildy takes on the responsibility of finding food and clothing for the men, as well as shuttling them around and getting them acquainted with the modern world.  This last task, surprisingly, isn’t as hard as it would seem.  The Norsemen take modern technology in stride, thinking it the same as their magic; most likely it is, seeing as they have brooches they connect to electrically-charged chthonic spirits to make things happen.

Mixed in here is the story of Danny Bennett, a fluff-piece reporter who earnestly wishes to write something more substantial.  He stumbles on the Norse gentlemen, and his future gets entwined with theirs.  Also making an appearance is the enemy’s guy Friday, whose experiences help to fill in a little back story (and provides for some nail-biting).

I think this book is really quite good.  The writing is light, pulling just short of treating the plot as inconsequential.  Holt manages to give us a full story with some endearing characters experiencing something very surreal without it feeling like a fairy tale, which is nice.  The end feels as realistic as possible for a fantasy tale; things aren’t perfect, but they turn up good at the end.

A couple of things were a little off with the book, though.  I didn’t quite get why we needed the chthonic spirits (other than to give the plot something to turn on).  If they’re basically little living batteries, why can’t they use batteries when they discover them missing?  They managed to do that with the other brooch, so that was a little confusing.

I also felt like the book was a little light on substance.  It’s one thing to have a breezy feel.  It’s quite another to whisk the reader by points before they get a chance to sink in.  A slightly slower pace would have made Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? a little better.

The last problem I have with the book is that, without an interest in Norse history and literature, you might be a little lost during some sections of the book.  Sure, the person might know “Viking”, but I’m not sure how many know the mythology, the Eddas, and the sagas well enough to pull out some of the more interesting bits of the story.

Overall, though, Holt put together a delightfully humorous story about Norsemen in modern-day Britain.  This makes him okay in my book.

Rating: 4/5.

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Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy

Looking Backward is not a book that was on my reading list.  I had a book lined up to read, and then realized that I wouldn’t get through it, or, worse, finish it and not be fair to it.  I found myself in a rare situation — I was without a book, and I needed something before I went to the gym the next morning, before the library opened.  Luckily, my fiancé had a book from one of his college classes he thought I might like.  He handed me Looking Backward, and I’m glad he did.  It’s an interesting piece of speculative fiction with a Utopian bent.

Bellamy starts off his book in 1887, telling the story of Julian West, a resident of Boston, in the first person.  He talks about his life as a young man of the upper class, building a house and preparing for marriage.  One night, he goes home and heads down to the basement chamber he’s created for sleep when insomnia is affecting him.  He manages to fall asleep, only to find his chamber opened from above and strange people looking at him.

It turns out West has been asleep for over one hundred years.  Dr. Leete, his wife, and his daughter, Edith, have stumbled upon his room after digging for a construction project.  West originally expects that what Dr. Leete tells him about the date is a joke, but slowly comes to understand that his Boston is gone and that a new one is in its place.

What follows from here is a long exposition on what a socialist utopia would be like.  It was fascinating in the extreme to read what Bellamy planned for almost all aspects of life for future residents of the world.  He had an educational system worked out, a political system set up, international relations figured out, employment was straightened out, and even the (somewhat) equal sharing of labor between the sexes.  He thought of almost everything.

I found it especially intriguing that Bellamy had thought of some things that have come to pass.  He had a credit card system that, while it had more of a chit feature than the magnetic strip we use today, functioned in a similar way to our debit cards.  He also had a radio system with published guides that sounded to me like a mix of our radio and television system.  It’s neat that he hit some things right from so far back.

There were two things about the book that I disliked.  The first was the tendency for Dr. Leete’s dialogue to become paragraph-upon-paragraph description of his own time and criticism of the past.  No actual person, besides college professors, gets to talk at people like that.  The whole point of something being a conversation is that there’s at least two people involved.  As a result, the book is very noticeably a piece of hopeful propaganda.

The second thing I didn’t like was the development of the relationships between the Leetes, and Edith in particular, and West.  It did not feel organic, most likely because they were constructed in order to provide some sort of plot to create a vehicle for the political views Bellamy held.  A more solid fiction would have made it a more compelling and interesting read from a pleasure standpoint.

Overall, I thought Looking Backward was a neat piece of history.  I liked being able to see what people in the Progressive Era were thinking about their society.  I learned a lot, and I am thus grateful to my fiancé for lending it to me.  I almost can’t wait until I run out of reading material again to see what he turns up.

Rating: 3.5/5

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The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a good alternate-history piece of speculative fiction.  There’s nothing like the navel-gazing pleasure a lot of these stories provide.  So what could be better than a book that posits that there are people out there creating new realities and new histories all the time?  As The End of Eternity proves, not a whole heck of a lot.

The story follows Andrew Harlan, a man who is responsible for making some of the changes in the flow of time in Reality.  He and all the other people who work to perform these changes live in what is called Eternity, an outside-time location.  Here people (mostly men) are trained from puberty to study Reality culture, preserve artifacts, decide on how to alter Reality, calculate Changes, and make those Changes.  Harlan is a Technician, which makes him one of the detested and feared group that actually makes the final decision and makes the Change.

Harlan is an isolated and lonely person.  His few interpersonal relationships are solely work-related — his first boss, whom he detests; the esteemed elder who takes him under his wing; the trainee he tutors in Primitive (pre-27th-century) history.  He has no family.  No Eternal does.  They give them up when they start training, and are never allowed to go back.

Thus, when Harlan is introduced to Noÿs, a (gasp!) woman working as a secretary for his former supervisor, he does not understand how his feelings of attraction are supposed to work.  He attempts to suppress them, but fails when he is sent to her time in Reality to do more study before a planned Change.  This is not surprising, seeing as he was sent to stay with her.

His infatuation leads him to take some drastic actions.  I’m not going to outline them here; that would ruin the surprise.  I will say, though, that the ending is not what I suspected, and shows, I think, a rather more nuanced view of the importance of the individual in relation to concerns for the overall good.

I had my misgivings about Asimov when I read I, Robot a couple of months back, and I hesitated in requesting this book by him through inter-library loan.  This, however, is worth it.  Rather than a woman who is overly emotional, Noÿs is feminine but also competent.  She is a rarity in the Eternal world, but is, from the start, capable of being both openly loving and intellectually capable — in other words, she’s like most actual women.

Harlan responds to this, and does some interesting things in response.  He is a good study in the book-smart, experience-dumb bookworms and nerds that exist in sufficient numbers for them to have been a tried and true group for the last century, at least.  While Noÿs’ reactions are real, his are artificial at first.  He can’t trust them, and has to grow through the emotional atrophy his training and occupation impose.  While his decisions, at times, seem to be overreactions, they show that Asimov understood that men are just as capable of letting their emotions get the best of them.

This is a fantastic exploration of both reality and relationships.  It made me surprised every time I looked up at the clock — how could another hour have gone by?  That’s the measure of a good book.

Rating: 4.5/5

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