The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Map of Time is a Victorian-age time travel adventure that follows three or four different small tales, each bouncing off H.G. Wells and ultimately weaving together. It’s well-written and enjoyable, but ultimately it didn’t grab me as much as many of the critics seem to have been grabbed. A few thoughts:
- It’s always interesting when an author uses an historical figure as a character. In this case, H.G. Wells becomes a central figure in the narrative, and I can’t help but wonder how much of the author’s characterizations stem from biographical information–but the question doesn’t push me enough to pursue the question myself. If I were to write a story that used a real person, I would feel strange about it, I think. Given the personal musing and nature of much of the story, I’d be particularly uncomfortable doing so.
- The narrating voice is a quirky character throughout the book, often explaining its decision to tell the story a certain way based on the fact that it knows everything but only wants to include the interesting bits for us to read. It reminds me of the narrative voice Andrew Kozma uses in one of his as-yet unpublished novels, something that undermines the reader’s easy place as anonymous imbiber of the story.
- Palma does a good job of creating characters with a variety of motives and personalities. In particular, one character named Tom is driven mostly by his lust, but he afterward comes to love and thereby to act nobly. That said, I don’t like him very much and feel bad for the woman he pursued.
- I expected for the adventure and historical characters to be much more like The Arcanum, in which A.C. Doyle, Houdini, and H.P. Lovecraft work together to stop Alastair Crowley doing bad stuff, or even The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The cover also gave me the impression that this would be steampunk time travel adventure. Instead, the narrative is much tighter, less fantastical, and less adventurous.
Spoiler alert – detailed discussion of the book below:
- If you see a film about con men, you know the filmmaker is going to be pulling a fast one on the audience while the con men are pulling fast ones on their marks. If you read a book where it turns out that someone, early in the novel, is a fraud, it’s hard not to see later frauds coming a mile away. What I really want to know is whether the author intended us to foresee the fraud in later episodes or not. Anyone else who has read the book, did you see the later frauds coming?
- I was actually pretty annoyed at how little time travel this novel actually has. When I read a time travel novel, I want to ponder the weirdness of the idea of time travel. I want to see the characters discover the nature of predestination and so on. Instead, this novel uses the parallel universe theory (I think that’s the one) in which a new universe spawns with each decision, so making a change to the timeline spawns a new timeline. But he doesn’t really explain how those universes connect together, nor how one would choose one over another. (To be very spoilery — it’s unclear to me, but I think the last time traveler we see in the novel is actually stranded in another universe by her own actions, which she performed at someone else’s behalf.)