Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: Time Travel: Recent Trips

Time Travel: Recent Trips
Time Travel: Recent Trips by Paula Guran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a pre-publication copy of this book via Netgalley for purposes of review.

Anthologies are usually a mixed bag, and this one is no exception, but, like the same editor's [b:Magic City: Recent Spells|20299673|Magic City Recent Spells|Paula Guran|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391041549s/20299673.jpg|28133245], in this one the good outweighed the bad for me.

The time travel methods varied, from handwavium to technobabble to believing really hard, but I don't go to a time travel anthology looking for hard science.

Personally, I didn't get a lot from the overly academic survey of time travel literature that forms the editor's introduction, mire because of its dry style than because of its content.

Bandana Singh's "With Fate Conspire" is set in a post-apocalyptic (cli-fi) India, where scientists are using the abilities of an illiterate woman to connect to an earlier time in case that will help change history for the better. It's a story more enjoyable for its journey than its destination, a "soft ending" story, but well told.

Steve Rasnic Tem's "Twember" could have done with more polishing (and will hopefully get it before the final version is released); it has a few minor errors and awkward phrases. There's a passage of philosophical musing which doesn't fit the character speaking it at all, and overall I found it one of those dreary stories in which unhappy characters don't do anything.

Ken Liu's "The Man Who Ended History: a Documentary" has all the elements I've come to expect from a Liu story. Not only the East Asian setting and characters, but the importance of family, the heartrending events, and the infodumps. This one was so heartrending that I couldn't read much of it (I have a low tolerance for torture and grimness), but I read enough to encounter an odd moment. It's cast as a documentary, as the title suggests, and one of the things about writing in this format is that you have to show, not tell (even if the characters are telling, they're doing so in dialogue). Yet Liu manages to slip a "tell" passage in anyway. Describing one of the interviewees, he gives us information about the man's motivation for teaching that we could not possibly get by watching a documentary, where all we have is people's appearance and their words. It's a strange slip from such a skilled craftsman, but if Liu has a fault, it's infodumping.

Kage Baker's "The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park" takes an apparently trivial topic - a public park, its decline, and the woman whose passion for it takes over her life - and, observing it through the eyes of a man who has been rendered effectively autistic by an immortality treatment, makes me care. That takes skill, and I applaud it.

Dale Bailey's "Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous" was, I felt, two stories. One was a "literary" story of a woman whose marriage is failing for reasons she can't understand (probably her own selfishness and emotional ineptitude), and which she seems unable to do anything about, and the bad decisions she makes. It wasn't to my taste; such stories aren't. The other is an SF story about a resort in the Late Cretaceous where, for obscene amounts of money, one can see dinosaurs. It wasn't filled out enough to stand on its own, but the two stories, like the couple in them, seemed separated by an unbridged gulf and never really worked together.

Yoon Ha Lee's "Blue Ink" felt, to me, incomplete and inconclusive, a slice of life with little plot. That's not to say I disliked it; it just left me not fully satisfied.

John Shirley's "Two Shots from Fly's Photo Gallery" is one of the "travel in time by believing really hard" stories, but the story itself is well handled. A man who has lost his wife to suicide goes back to the gunfight at the OK Corral to save one of her ancestors, in the hope that this will change her family history for the better, and discovers that ultimately you can't save people.

Tom Purdom's "The Mists of Time", by contrast, provides a counter to the prevailing cynicism of our culture that says that everyone has base motives, no matter what it looks like, and there are no real heroes. It's also a good story in the interesting-plot sense.

Howard Waldrop's "The King of Where-I-Go" surprised me, and not in a good way. I don't expect a story by an old hand like Waldrop to be dull, rambling and confused, but this was. It needed a good cut and polish. I'm reasonably sure it doesn't get the science right, either, in terms of how long it takes for polio vaccine to provide protection.

Genevieve Valentine's "Bespoke" may have had a point, but I didn't notice it. It might have been something about fiddling while Rome burned. Competently written, but landed very softly.

Mary Robinette Kowal's "First Flight" has a good premise: you can only time travel within your own lifetime, so to go back to the Wright Brothers' first sustained flight you need a feisty grandmother. She gets off a great zinger at the end. Needs a few phrases corrected or polished.

Charlie Jane Anders' "The Time Travel Club" is, as I now expect from Anders, clever and funny and about losers. Not hopeless losers, though, not completely. I enjoyed it.

Paul Cornell's "The Ghosts of Christmas", though littered with interrobangs and confusing the terms schizoid and schizophrenic, is a fascinating story about memory, about how we change over our lifetimes, and about how we influence our families (especially at memorable times like holidays). Good premise, too.

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's "The Ile of Dogges" is a new take on the old idea of using time travel to rescue lost art, in this case an Elizabethan satire. The censor who can't quite bring himself to destroy a seditious play because it's so good is a wonderful character.

Kristine Katherine Rush's "September at Wall and Broad" is another piece that needs correction and polishing before publication, to smooth some awkward phrases and correct the mispunctuation of "United State's" and the misspelling of "chauffeur". I usually find that stories that have a lot of copy editing errors don't work well for me in other ways, and this is an example. The mystery ends up only half solved, and neither candidate for protagonist does much that's protagonistic.

Eileen Gunn's "Thought Experiment" is another think-yourself-through-time story. I felt the ending was a touch rushed, but generally enjoyed it.

Suzanne J. Willis's "Number 73 Glad Avenue" is surreal, but in a way I enjoyed. It's the lead-in to a novel, and I'll be watching for that.

Michael Moorcock's "The Lost Canal" is another disappointment from a master from whom I expect better. Full of telling and infodumping and references to stories that aren't this story and probably don't exist, its premise full of absurdities, its prose littered with exclamation points, it wasn't a good way to close the volume. I felt much the same way about the Ian McDonald story from the same retrofuture-Mars anthology ([b:Old Mars|15849699|Old Mars|George R.R. Martin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1360812677s/15849699.jpg|21595902]).

Speaking of sources, this is a reprint anthology. I was initially surprised, given the large number of mentions of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld in the resumes of the authors (and the soft endings of some of them, which I associate with those magazines), to read that more of these stories came from Asimov's than any other source. But then, where would you send a time travel story?

I've been critical of the individual stories in this volume, and some didn't work for me at all, but the collection as a whole I enjoyed. If, like me, you like to explore the idea of time travel, it's a good way to do so.

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