Thursday, June 16, 2011

Musings: The Map of Time

The Map of Time
The Map of Time, by Felix Palma, is a massive novel about H. G. Wells, time machines, the power of suggestion and the desire to change past decisions.  It is really three novellas in one volume, all revolving around H. G. Wells' novel The Time Machine and a man named Gilliam Murray who claims he can transport people to the year 2000 to witness the final battle between the survivors of the human race and the automatons.  The first is about Andrew Harrington, a wealthy young man who falls in love with a Whitechapel prostitute who is then murdered by Jack the Ripper.  The second is about Claire Haggerty, a woman who believes herself to be in love with a hero from the future that she met while time traveling.  The third is about H. G. Wells himself, and the task set for him to save the world from rogue time travelers.

Weighing in at over 600 big pages, there's a lot going on in the plot that I didn't fit neatly into the three sentences above.  There is, in fact, so much plot that I didn't feel much connection to the characters; they seemed dwarfed by the story arc Palma created.


For example, Andrew Harrington spends eight years depressed, thinking about how perfect his life would be if he had just managed to save his lover from murder.  He's so depressed that his faithful cousin finds a way for him to travel back in time and change events.  But for me, this didn't ring true.  We barely ever saw Andrew interact with his lady love, except for two pretty innocuous conversations, and considering the circumstances, I can't imagine that they'd have lived happily ever after the way he imagines.  So it was hard for me to believe that he was so affected by her death, and quite cynically, I think that if she had not died in such a fashion, he would have gotten over his obsession soon enough.

The other characters seemed a bit more realistic- Tom Blunt, a main character in the second part of the story, was much more open with his feelings and motivations.  H. G. Wells was the central character, and while I have no idea if Palma portrayed him realistically, he was also an interesting character to get to know.  I think of all three story arcs, the second one was the one I most enjoyed because the characters were so genuine and easy to like.  It in many ways reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife with all its time-folding and the sense of inevitability the characters felt about their actions.

The third part of the story was by far the most complicated and drawn out.  In it, rogue time travelers (reminiscent of what I remember from the Thursday Next series) are going back and forth in time, changing events and leading to all sorts of modern complications.  It's up to Wells to uncomplicate matters.  At this point in reading the book, I was impatient for the end.  There are so many long passages describing scenes and feelings and scientific possibilities, and long monologues and letters detailing what life is like in the future, and what people in the future have done, and how things are different, etc., that I resorted to skimming several paragraphs.  That said, the premise of this story is very intriguing in that it presents characters with a choice:  if you could go down a different life path, would you do it?

And I think that's what appeals to people about the concept of time travel.  People like the idea that they can go back to earlier days, change key moments in history, and alter the path of the world.  Or not even the world, but change the arc of their own life stories.  It's so tempting to think that you would have been a great inventor/author/politician/scientist if only you lived in different circumstances.  And this book makes clear the power of that suggestion, the ability of people to suspend disbelief if it is a beautiful lie they prefer to their own reality.  It's a powerful idea, and Palma winds and tangles it in an impressive manner.

But the idea itself is so large that the characters fall beneath the pressure of it, and inevitably, this book ended up being one that didn't click on all levels for me.

Note:  This review is based on an advance reader's copy.  I received this book for free to review.

16 comments:

  1. An intriguing premise -- too bad it couldn't be reigned in a little more. Also, great cover. Just sayin'. :)

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  2. I would certainly be interested in trying this book. I have H.G. Wells The Time Machine on my TBR shelf (was thinking of reading it on holiday).

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  3. I keep seeing this book around. I am intrigued by the time travel aspect but now wonder if the concept is too big for the plot and characters.

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  4. I posted my own review of this book just a few minutes ago then noticed yours in my Google Reader! I think my feelings about the book are very much the same as yours - an interesting idea but there's too much going on. I really wanted to love it but overall I was disappointed.

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  5. I do not know about this one. And seriously 8 years when they have just talked o_O

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this book, although I preferred the first two parts to the third. However I did like the character of H.G. Wells. I thought it was a pretty original take on the idea of time travel.

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  7. I love that idea of a beautiful lie being preferable to [quotidian, one presumes] reality. But it does sound like the author had too many ideas, and should have done 3 different books or something instead of one. Of course, then one would have had the whole trilogy thing to deal with!

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  8. I have this book up for review soon as well, and have been kind of curious about what it's about. The title and cover suggest that it will be a really spectacular fantasy read, but from what you say, it sounds like all the pieces don't interlock all that smoothly. I have never read The Time Machine either, but since a copy came with this book, I will be reading it for the first time as well. I think I might actually like this one, but I am going to be holding your reservations in my mind as I read. We often think similarly about books. Great review, Aarti!

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  9. Nice review -- I had no idea it was such a long novel! (The cover made me think it was more YA or something.) Too bad it didn't click -- I'm sometimes frustrated by books that feel like separate novellas linked vaguely by a plot -- it can seem like a cop out.

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  10. Andi - Agreed! The cover is fabulous.

    Tracy - I have The Time Machine on my TBR shelf, too, but haven't read it. It's quite short, actually!

    Vivienne - I definitely thought it should have been edited a bit more, or split into more books, but it does have a great premise, I agree.

    Helen - I saw it! I was pretty disappointed, too.

    Blodeuedd - Well, they did more than talk, to be fair. Actually, there was very little talking, which is what made it hard to believe.

    chasingbawa - I'm glad you liked it! I liked Wells, too, but I didn't really love anyone in the story.

    rhapsody - I like that idea, too, though I wonder if people use it a lot to cover up something they are ashamed of.

    ZIbilee - Ooh, I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts! I want to read The Time Machine now, too.

    Audra - Yes, it's a HUGE book. I wasn't expecting that, either!

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  11. Hm. Too bad this isn't as awesome as it looks. A friend of mine at work got a copy of this from some program she is part of? That gives her free books? It's not clear to me when or why this happens. Anyway, I thought the book looked cool, but I didn't realize it was tied to H. G. Wells. I think a lot of that would fly over my head, since I know nothing about Wells and never read The Time Machine.

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  12. I just started reading this one today. And I know what you mean about the language. I keep looking for the end of the chapter. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

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  13. Hmm... I like the premise a lot, but being a character-oriented reader like I am I wonder if it would work for me.

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  14. Ugh! I have a copy of this and was going to read it but after reading your review I'll pass. Great review.

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  15. I do love time travel novels but....all these sweeping novels are exhausting me. Plus the automatons won in 2000. Knowing the ending ruins it. ;)

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  16. I still want to read this one, but I may take it very slowly. Thanks for the review!

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