Graham Storrs, TimeSplash. Lyrical Press, 2010. Pp. 261. ISBN 9781616501235. E-book $5.50.Reviewed by Keith Lawrence
A crime thriller set in the near future, TimeSplash centres on a new form of terrorism, a destructive form of time-travel, and the efforts of the two young protagonists to prevent a catastrophe that will devastate a European city. Graham Storrs’s previous published works have been thoughtful short stories in magazines such as Concept and Bewildering Stories (and indeed here in TFF), but this is his first published novel. The publishers, Lyrical Press, deal mainly in ebooks, and their stable encompasses works from a wide range of genres. Although this novel is marketed both by Lyrical Press and Storrs himself as science fiction, the plot more closely resembles the sort of cold-war spy thriller beloved of beach-readers.
The core of any time-travel story is the nature of time. Is time a mutable thing, a flow of cause and effect which can be altered by time travellers to affect their own present (as in Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant); is it a fait accompli, in which travellers can only observe or at most become part of a preordained chain of events (as in the film Twelve Monkeys); or is it something in between? In TimeSplash, time is envisioned as closer to the latter, something like a glass of water into the depths of which bubbles can be pushed through a scientific straw. The bubbles rush back to the surface and behind them the waters of time heal up just as they were, but the ripples they leave on the surface are devastating.
This attitude towards time neatly avoids excessive complication, but does mean that the time-travel scenes of the book are essentially exotic backdrops before which the action can occur. They perform this role as handily as any foreign port or exclusive casino in a Bond film, and the descriptions of the localised disruptions that dog the time-travellers are engaging.
The plot is not especially complicated, but suits the book well—the pace of the story proceeds evenly and without dragging at any point. It’s interesting, though, that TimeSplash resembles a modern crime thriller not only in its strengths but also in its weaknesses. Some of the dialogue seems clunky, and although the characterisation of the main protagonist (Jay) is relatively even and unremarkable, the two most important supporting characters are rather two-dimensional.
Sandra, the female protagonist, is a woman out for vengeance whose fatal attraction to cruel men seems to be miraculously cured by Jay’s clean-cut niceness. There are very few female characters who appear as more than an adjunct to the men in this novel, and although Sandra’s part is more substantial it appears to be little more than a simple morality play—Sandra’s failings are sexual and her redemption tied to the love of a good man. In many ways the future of TimeSplash is a bit of a Parson’s Egg—the technology of the mid-twenty-first century, the sexual politics of the mid-twentieth. Although Sandra finally prevails, the middle of her story (in which she is effectively punished for consorting with Sniper, the story’s antagonist) seems more pointed than its conclusion. This progression is echoed in the misfortunes of the only other woman of note: Camilla, a handler put in place in Sniper’s organisation by his terrorist backers.
Sniper himself is potentially an interesting character—his motivation for making the devastating timesplash which Jay and Sandra must work together to foil is actually much more plausible than that of many fictional villains. Sadly, particularly towards the latter half of the book, he rarely appears in any scene without it being used to demonstrate that he is milled from a block of solid evil.
I read the e-book version of TimeSplash. At the time of writing this was the only way to get hold of the book, although it had just been picked up by Big Bad Media for publishing in both physical and audiobook formats, enhancing Storrs’s already thorough work at making the book available and supporting readers and potential readers. The TimeSplash website features links to reviews, vendors, and even fan fiction. For the technically-minded, Storrs helpfully provides a list explaining which formats you will receive if you buy the ebook from any particular vendor, including whether or not they are sold with DRM. Buying from Lyrical Press directly gets you access to 7 different DRM-free formats of ebook, hopefully catering nicely for all forms of hardware—I saw both the EPUB and PDF formats, and apart from a few niggles with the formatting of the EPUB, they were both made to a high standard. This is all extremely laudable, and something I hope other writers and publishing houses will emulate.
I had mixed feelings about TimeSplash: I liked it less than I wanted to, and in particular I would find it difficult to recommend it to my female SF-loving acquaintances. I found it thought-provoking only in a sense that I suspect Storrs did not intend (i.e. regarding the characterisation of women)—a shame, since Storrs’s short stories have tended to be deeper. As a straightforward terrorism thriller in which the time-travel elements are clever window-dressing, TimeSplash works well; it is a competent story and although the plot is nothing special it is a pleasant read.
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