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Tag Archive: parallel universe


Review by C.J. Bunce

In After the End of the World, author Jonathan L. Howard pens the second book in a series featuring his two heroes, bookstore owner Emily Lovecraft, fictional descendant of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and ex-cop Daniel Carter, descendant of Randolph Carter, a recurring character in H.P. Lovecraft’s novels that was said to be written into Lovecraft’s works as his alter ego.  The novel continues in a different vein from where Howard’s Carter & Lovecraft left off, taking readers into the realm of alternate histories and speculative fiction.

After the End of the World will be familiar to readers of Harry Turtledove’s dark parallel histories.  Probably no other storyteller has covered a world where Nazi Germany came out on top as frequently as Turtledove in his novels.  Carter and Lovecraft leave the more Lovecraftian monster horror realm when a cataclysmic event splits reality between the Folded World–the real world–and the Unfolded World, a scary surreal parallel world where a change in historical events threw off the course of history, leaving the duo to begin a journey to try to make things right.

The novel takes much by way of concept from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle and the recent popularity of its television adaptation, and the political aura of the recent trend of life reflecting fiction echoing in entertainment like The Handmaid’s Tale.  After the End of the World reads like a variant of Dick’s novel, but in Howard’s story Germany destroyed Moscow early in the war, conquered Russia, and sued for peace with the rest of the world, resulting in its lasting success over the past 70 years as a superpower and technological leader.  So this material has been covered in parallel histories, and the value for the reader will be honing in on Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter as a pair.

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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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New Pompeii cover

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.

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Apollo 13 and President Nixon

Ask anyone who was alive in 1969 what their most vivid memory of a world event was and they’ll likely come up with word of President Kennedy’s assassination or the Apollo 11 moon landing.  To go back in time and replay the mission events that led up to Michael Collins dropping Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface would be nothing but exciting.  This weekend we remember that moon mission that did not result in a lunar landing, Apollo 13, a mission that has been called NASA’s “most successful failure” for the achievement of NASA scientists and three other astronauts:  Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell.

Forty-five years ago the world waited to find out whether these astronauts would make it back to Earth, as chronicled in documentaries like the History Channel’s Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13 – Triumph on the Dark Side of the Moon and Ron Howard’s modern classic blockbuster Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  But what if Apollo 11 had encountered a similar fate?

In the summer of 1969 the Nixon administration contemplated that outcome.  If something, anything happened to the astronauts on Apollo 11, how would America respond to such a disaster?  Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be broadcast if Apollo 11 didn’t make it back–specifically if astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were somehow stranded on the Moon.

Apollo 11 mission control

To promote a news series on famous letters on the BBC, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read Nixon’s speech–a “what if?” that we’re fortunate never was actually read by the President.  Here’s Cumberbatch (affecting an American accent) performing the reading:

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