Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Fun, But Sometimes Bumpy, Ride

I’ve loved time travel stories ever since I was a little kid. From the cheesy but clever t.v. show Voyagers to the pulpy-but fun Time Wars series by Simon Hawke, all the way to the time-spanning fiction of John Crowley, they usually come with a wonderfully sense of plotting and a clever mixture of historical facts and fabricated plot lines. I even, lord help me, enjoy the entire Back to the Future series. And yes, I even mean the one that sent Doc and Marty to the old west. With all that, not to mention some glowing reviews from Michael Moorcock and John Grant, I went into Chris Roberson’s Here, There and Everywhere expecting a fun little ride. It is that, although the ride comes with a few bumps on the way.

HTAE stars Roxanne Bonaventure, a smart and precocious eleven year old who walks out from school one day to find a woman sprawled on the sidewalk. This strange woman gives Roxanne a shining silver bracelet she calls “the Sofia” and dies. Although shaken and puzzled by the encounter, Roxanne goes on living her life of classes, peer pressure, and school yard crushes. But one day she accidentally discovers that the Sofia grants its wearer the ability to travel through space and time. With the aid of her scientist father, she learns to control the power and soon pops across both history and future alike. Being young her first experiments center on jumping back in time to find information on that cute boy in class, and then returning to the present day to use the information to win him over.

As she gets older, Roxanne uses the Sofia to explore some of her favorite points in time. On her journeys she meets many fun characters of history and pop culture: H.G. Wells, Sandford Blank; a real life adventurer-detective Sherlock Holmes was based on, and the Beatles. These develop into fun little adventures for Roxanne, mixing fiction and historical fact in some inventive ways. Unfortunately, her journeys are surprisingly Euro-centric, rarely moving her beyond the boundaries of Britain. Explorations of other parts of the world could have brought more variety to her adventures.

As her skill develops, Roxanne also learns to travel into possible worlds, worlds in which history took very different paths from our own. These include variances in her own life, as well as post-apocalyptic and utopian futures for Britain. Unfortunately, the most clever of these come to us in a second-hand fashion. Roberson missed some opportunities here to really flex his creative muscles. I would have enjoyed reading more directly about worlds in which dogs developed into the dominant, intelligent species instead of primates, but we get it as a casual aside without any details.

Most time travel stories rely on detailed, often convoluted plots to explain the complicated “science” of time travel. Roberson wisely simplifies a number of the current theories, but he also takes particular delight in poking a little fun at the more complicated tales. These satirical romps often take the form of bumbling, keystone-style time-cops. These self-styled protectors of the timeline who seek to stop Roxanne’s adventures because they (mistakenly) believe them to be dangerous.

Each chapter works as a separate adventure, giving the book an episodic feel. This style can be either good or bad, depending upon the reader. Those readers who crave detailed, multi-layered intersections of varying plotlines will probably be bored with Roberson’s approach, but those with a shorter attention span or who enjoy short stories might find it appealing. The different sections range from action-oriented stories of fights with Nazis to more elegiac ones, such as her attempts to use time travel to find a cure for her father’s illness.

Roxanne, particularly as a child and young adult, is a fun, free-wheeling character that readers will connect with easily. As she gets older Roxanne becomes wiser, a little more reserved and perhaps a little harder for the reader to connect with. After all she learns Roxanne still searches for the secrets of her own life as well as the enigmatic source of the Sofia. The novel concludes by circling back in some surprising ways, finally giving her the elusive answers she longs for. While it suffers from problems that some readers will not like, these problems are pretty much outweighed by the clever, irreverent, and at times even touching, approach. Keep a watch for Roberson. With a little growth, his next ride is sure to have better twists, better turns, and run even more smoothly.


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