01 March 2014

Books: The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma (2011)

I’m a sucker for time travel stories, as I’ve written about before. But after reading Connie Willis To Say Nothing of the Dog some years ago, I discovered that my time travel stories must be literate as they are entertaining. Another words, an author who actually understands time travel and tries to explain its potential paradoxes and does not use it as a mere prop to their stories.

Part of the enjoyment of Spanish author Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time is how much enjoyment he gets out of making time travel work in 1896 and then pulling the rug out from under his readers. 

The book is essentially three novellas connected by The Time Machine author H.G. Wells. It begins in 1896 with a character named Andrew Harrington –an annoying personality of utter self-pity that made the early chapters tedious to get through-who is planning to kill himself 8 years after his prostitute girlfriend is last victim of Jack the Ripper (even though this is science fiction, I find the idea of some upper crust person that Harrington is supposed to be would’ve fallen in love –and paid again and again- to spend time with a prostitute with a heart of gold not to be that believable). But is prevented by doing so by his cousin Charles, who tells Andrew there is a way to save his beloved. And that way? Time travel via Murray’s Time Travel company.

In the wake of the success of Wells’ The Time Machine, many publishers are trying to capitalize on the fascination of time travel along with a man named Gilliam Murray, who can open a portal to the 4th dimension and travel to the year 2000 and witness the final battle between the humans and the automatons that have enslaved the future. But Murray informs Andrew that his “machine” can only travel to the future –May 10, 2000- and not the past. But while Andrew is disappointed, Charles then hatches an idea that includes a visit to H.G. Wells, who for reasons that will not be explain until later, has that same time machine he described in his book sitting in his attic. 

The second part deals with a woman who feels out of time in Victorian London and dreams of a future where she can choose whom she wants to be –and it’s clear that Palma is riffing on The Time Traveler’s Wife and even the Terminator in this segment. Meanwhile, the third part tells a tale of a Scotland Yard inspector who is trying to find a killer who seems to be offing his victims with something that looks like a heat ray. Which then begs the question, how do you arrest someone who hasn’t been born yet?

Yes, the book is extremely metafictional, which may dissuade hard core science fiction fans, but Palma writes with such zeal and panache, I ended up enjoying the book way too much. I mean, where else can you read a tale where Victorian characters spout off about parallel universe, about how and if you can change the past, and what would you do if you continued to go same time in future, would you eventually meet a version of you? Palma also references Doctor Who, Time Bandits (and Terry Gilliam), Jules Verne and even Planet of the Apes. There was even a part towards the end where I thought Palma was going to drag out a certain Doc Brown and his time traveling car.

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