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Tag Archive: Empire of Time


Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s cut to the chase:  Daniel Godfrey’s new novel The Synapse Sequence is not just the leading contender for the best science fiction novel of 2018, it’s the most absorbing, riveting, and thrilling science fiction novel I’ve read since I was first blown away by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990.  Hyperbole?  Maybe just a little, but when you are reading a new book and you’re taken aback by the twists, turns, and surprises as this book provides, it’s a bit like walking out of a big rock concert, wanting everyone else to witness what you just experienced.  Godfrey is relatively new to the genre, with two solid sci-fi books behind him, New Pompeii (reviewed here) and Empire of Time (reviewed here).  But this story is a completely different take on science fiction, and so deftly written, smartly paced, and completely believable in its speculative reach, Godfrey is worth comparison to some of the greats in the genre for it.

Anna Glover is an investigator with an unfortunately troubled and public past for her conclusions in investigating an airplane crash.  She lives in the somewhat distant future–bots serve man, taking on so many functions that personal freedom is limited.  As told from the alternating viewpoint of Glover in the present and looking back on her life, future London is very familiar and steeped in the world that technology is building right now with so much of life absorbed into the digital world.  When we meet our protagonist she is attempting to lie low conducting trials for a company with an emerging technology, a “synapse sequencer,” which allows a person to be tapped into the mind of another, like a witness to a crime, to experience vivid, shared memories as an observer.  She meets with her boss inside this world, where he lives out most of his life, a life better than he would experience in the real world.  The process requires the help of a monitor, and hers sees that she gets in and out of submersion safely.  But we learn there are risks for anyone who participates in this intermingling of brain activity.  If you’ve seen the 1980s sci-fi classic Dreamscape, the modern classic Source Code, the television series Stitchers, or the shared visions of iZombie, you’ll find no suspension of disbelief issue with the wild ride that awaits you.  The method for the journey isn’t as elaborate (or glitch-filled) as Connie Willis’s elaborate time travel tech, but Godfrey provides enough to submerge us into the stress and angst of Glover as she takes journey after journey to learn the who and why of a case involving a boy in a coma and a missing girl.

You can’t predict where Godfrey will take Glover from chapter to chapter in The Synapse Sequence Godfrey has been likened to an emerging Crichton, but Crichton rarely could craft as satisfying an ending as found here.  The story embraces that speculative futurism like many a Philip K. Dick story (Paycheck, Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and Minority Report for starters), while weaving in a plausible future from the seeds of new tech today.  He combines the audacious duplicity of Vincent and Jerome in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca with the foreboding and despair of The Man’s story in Chris Marker’s Le Jetée and Cole’s in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Betrayal.  Duplicity.  Deception.  Intrigue.

Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com).  Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii.  Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians.  And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.

Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world.  In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat.  More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world.  Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration.  Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.”  In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire.  A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.

The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii.  Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day.  He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii.  But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel?  When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline?  And who is sending the messages?

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