Review by C.J. Bunce
In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books). Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller. Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.
Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read. Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination. The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash. But why are all the survivors now committing suicide? Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years? And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?
Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed. You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader. Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.
Godfrey goes a bit off-target with some unnecessarily brutal and gory scenes in the vein of Bob Guccione’s Caligula toward the story’s end but only for a brief chapter. As a graduate with one of my degrees focused in Ancient Roman History, I was pleased the look at Pompeii and Roman society was well-researched, with enough historical facts to make the characters and setting believable without bogging down the narrative. The story could use more of Nick and company encountering culture clashes with the Pompeiians and been edited down a tad, but these are minor quibbles. New Pompeii is a fun read.
So set up your triclinium and pick up a copy of Daniel Godfrey’s new novel New Pompeii now from Amazon.com here. Its sequel, Empire of Time, is slated for release in June 2017.