It was inevitable.
It only happens a couple times a year but it does happen. I couldn’t make it thought The Map of Time by Felix J Palma.
I really don’t have much more of a lead in than that, so let’s go right to the Back of the Book, what little there is.
Characters real and imaginary come vividly to life in this whimsical triple play of interwined plots, in which a skeptical HG Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.
What hapens if we change history?
Felix J Palma explores this provocative question, weaving a historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting – a story full of love and adventure that transports readers from a haunting setting in Victorian London to a magical reality.
So there’s really not a lot going on with this Back of the Book. But hey! It’s got time travel. Victorian time travel. There’s some shades of Jasper Fford going on with that too. Most of the back cover was filled with acolades and apparently the author is a big deal in Spain. Spoilers ahead, if you’re worried about spoilers in a book I didn’t care for. I know sometimes I tend to get vague about books when I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but I feel when being critical, specifics need to be cited or it comes off as ranty.
First impression? Skip the first 80 pages. They’re completely unnessicary. Map starts out with Andrew, a wealthy Victorian 20-something who wants to kill himself. It’s a very maudlin opening. Chapters two through page 80 are the backstory leading up to where he is in the slums with the gun to his chin. The backstory plants some promising seeds though. Remember, it’s 1880s London, we’ve got some Jack the Ripper stuff going on here.
So ok, this Andrew is still way too overdramatic and it’s hard to identify with a super rich kid. But between Jack the Ripper and time travel, I’m still working with this. It’s not easy. There’s a very weird tone to it. I think this comes from a combination of trying to sound like it’s old timey and the fact that Map isn’t native to English. I couldn’t help but feel that it was a lot less awkward in Spanish, but I’m not about to get all Rosetta Stone on this. I’m saving Rosetta Stone so I can achieve my goal of telling dirty limericks in near-dead languages like Welch. The odd tone, ok I can get over that. The narrator however, is a different story.
I didn’t mind an extra narrator in Railsea because it felt like part of the story. The narrator showed up right on page one and kept a consistant tone and presence with the rest of the tale. This one didn’t. I don’t know if it’s a cultrual thing. Maybe in Madrid they’d eat that stuff up but it absolutely didn’t work here. The narrator would jump into the middle of a paragraph with things like “Andrew couldn’t have possibley known what I’m about to tell you but my nature is all seeing and all knowing, nothing can hide from me so we’re going to change points of view because Charles knows all about this stuff that’s going down so I’m going to move the perspective over to him because I know you would rather listen to him than me.” Middle of the paragraph, seroiusly.
But I can get over all these things if the story delivers. These dandys plan on traveling through time to throw down with Jack the Ripper and they need HG Wells to do it. After twenty pages of biography of Wells, which really didn’t have much to do with what was actually going on, there’s finally some time travel. Jack the Ripper is killed and Andrew saves his lady friend, who just happens to be the Ripper’s last victim. When he gets back, they use the branching world theory so Andrew can get out of his funk. His version of Marie Kelly is still dead, but there was another version of the universe where they were happily married. On the way out, Charles goes back to Wells’ house and FOOLED YOU! No time travel, they were just fucking with Andrew to cheer him up and keep him from being suicidal.
Wait what? Fooled you?? The time travel was all a hoax, and completely out of the blue too. There were no clues leading up to it. People who read science fiction books are perfectly ok with the fact that someone is traveling through time. The fact that it was all a hoax came off as very condencending to the reader.
So I’m bristled by this. 400 pages to go though and Part Two gives us a new character, a young woman who doesn’t really like being a young woman in Victorian times. They’re gearing up to do the one way travel to the future adventure. Out in the year 2000 there’s a ruined London and a battle between the human rebels and an automaton army. Cool. We’re back to something I can get behind. This woman, Claire, is getting onto the time traveling tram where the whole crowd is told “oh we’re going to keep aaaaaall the windows closed so you can’t see outside becaus big lizards.”
Seriously? Again? You’re fucking with me again aren’t you book? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, what the fuck am I doing then?
I’m not being ranty, but that did deserve swears. I feel like this book is sci-fi written for people that don’t like sci-fi. Which really doesn’t make sence to me but there must people people out there who like it because it was a NY Times best seller. This book was not my cup of tea at all, but I really did try. 300 pages was half of this book and as long as some of the other novels I’ve read. What this comes down to is that I’m not the type of reader that appreciates a ‘Fooled you!” moment. All those other faults I could have slogged my way through, but not that.