Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Review: The Far Time Incident

The Far Time Incident
The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this as an E-ARC from Netgalley, and it says "Uncorrected Proof", although it includes an afterword in which the author mentions (and praises) her copy editor. So I'm not sure whether I should mention the editing issues or not. There are some, most of which could be picked up with a spellcheck (missing letters in words and the like), though there are also partly revised sentences and some pieces of dialogue that don't get a new paragraph for a new speaker or are missing their opening quotation mark. There's the odd homonym or near-homonym issue ("interned" where the author means "interred", "thrashing" for "trashing" and "diffuse" where I'm fairly sure she means "defuse"), "everyday" where it should be "every day" and "month's" as the plural. Overall, though, given that the author didn't grow up speaking English, the English is excellent, better than that of a lot of native speakers.

The characters can be told apart, which is always good, though there is a certain sameness about their reactions. Most of them are academics, who will stand in what are about to be the ruins of Pompeii discussing some abstract question rather than escaping like sensible people. However, even the token sensible people (the viewpoint character, who's the Dean's efficient assistant, and the chief of the campus police) seem to share this lack of urgency. This doesn't help to build a sense of tension in the story.

There's plenty of scope for tension. There's a mystery, which was handled well and solved with clues which we, the readers, had been given, but to which I didn't spot the solution. There's the impending eruption. There's an infection in the days before antibiotics, which I thought definitely warranted a lot more concern being shown about it a lot earlier and a lot more often. Somehow, though, nobody seems that worried about anything.

Like Connie Willis's academic time travellers, these academic time travellers aren't able to do anything that would upset history or cause a paradox. Some sort of force prevents them. Willis tends to go into a lot more detail than she really needs to, and we're spared that here, but she also conveys powerful emotion and high stakes, and that's what I was missing in this book.

If there had been more emotion and more tension, this would be a four-star book (editing issues notwithstanding), but as it is I'm giving it three. It's well done, but it didn't excite me.

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