Many of my reads start on the train and Time Split by Patricia Smith was no different. With the clocks going back an hour the first part of my journey now starts just before sunrise. So here I am reading about the detonation of an atom bomb and the skies being on fire and I pause for a breather and take a look out of the window. As I type, Android spell checks that out as “wildfires”…intuitive? Maybe, because the skies did indeed look like they were on fire.
No breather for me then, and really that reflects the tone of this book – it always kept me on my toes!
The story follows Jason, a research scientist who stumbles upon time travel whilst conducting experiments with teleportation. He decides to use his time machine to go back to the time of his grandmother and save her from a painful future. On his return back to the present Jason finds himself in the fallout of a nuclear war and seeks to put things right. But not everyone wants things to be as they were, leaving Jason facing deadly situations.
Between the lines
Time Split is a short novel at just under 150 pages. Whereas many short stories and novellas are very much to-the-point and leave the reader to interpolate between those points to make a story out of it (or extrapolate to get a meaningful ending), Time Split manages to make a balance between a short story and a full novel by providing enough information and narrative for a full story and yet avoiding the fluffy superfluous padding.
For example, when Jason decides to go back in time his wife is justifiably concerned. Half a page later Jason is in the past. There are no lengthy conversions with Jessica (his wife) or self doubting with the tedious “Should I, shouldn’t I?” monologue when we already know that he’s going to do it. And there are no pages and pages of preparation because this was already taken care of when the methodology of time travel was given due attention during Jason’s experimentation). Time Split is not rushed, it’s short and very sweet. Beautiful and succinct! 🙂
The first point is very easy to make. Jason is a blimming idiot! I mean, Jason!!! Change the future of your grandparent? That’s really asking for trouble! There’s even a paradox named after it!
Admittedly Jason doesn’t seek to kill his grandfather but rather save his grandmother to protect his own mother (who was travelling with her) from a lifetime of trouble and a tortured memory, but the point remains. Don’t mess about with your ancestry! To be fair though, Jason isn’t a time travel expert but a scientist working with teleportation.
I thought it was an interesting angle that including organic matter in experiments lead to an ‘error’ in teleportation, i.e. moving an object in time instead of in space. Quite often in time travel novels it is the transport of organic matter through time which proves to be the final hurdle to jump, but here it’s key.
So teleporting living material causes time travel – what about the (inorganic) newspaper which Jason bought and brought back with him? Or his clothes? Yeah, it’s that old chestnut, and to be honest it’s been hacked to death in many other novels and to be honest I’m glad it wasn’t an issue here.
Still. Jason is a scientist and he doesn’t travel in time without due testing beforehand. His first tests result in mice shifting in space as well as time, and indeed he goes on to develop a formula which takes the Earth’s spin into account. Presumably it would also account for the movement of the Earth around the sun, and the rotation of the Milky Way, etc., but lets not get too bogged down in detail!
Jason also postulates that meeting yourself would causes instant annihilation. Is this true? This idea is often mentioned in time travel fiction (e.g. Exploits in Time) although I don’t really see why? Other ‘objects’ can apparently meet themselves – but what is it about people that we self destruct?
Naturally this brings me onto the atom bomb; there’s a strong human element in Time Split. (Note here that the split in time is what happened after Jason’s trip to the past; it wasn’t caused by the atomic bomb). Patricia describes with startling clarity how life during post-nuclear fallout might be. I really picked up on the forlorn sense of survival, being alone and left to fend for yourself. Lessons on the worse side of human character hadn’t been learned, and groups of self-appointed leaders made life even more miserable and desperate for those ‘lucky’ enough to survive the blast and the time afterwards. Tragic.
Jason on the other hand appears to be largely passionless (which may explain why he didn’t bother talking much to his wife about going back in time…). Perhaps this is the stereotypical scientist who’s out of touch with emotion. He doesn’t seem that well connected with her and barely seems to miss her at all. He’s direct and pragmatic, albeit with a few crying sessions – though these are not always for her. He wished she was dead to avoid the fallout before he actually gets round to missing her.
In this way I didn’t really connect with Jason, and whether he survives or not didn’t really matter to me; it was more whether he’d reach his goal of trying to restore things to how they were. Ironically, I guess this puts me into the same passionless boat as Jason…
Ending / beginning
The ending is done beautifully – reaching a climax in good time, and resolving it in a way which doesn’t beg the reader to rush out and buy Book 2 to find out what happens.
The crux of the matter is that Time Split operates on a single time line. That already ticks boxes for me by not packaging difficulties away in a box and shoving them off into another universe.
Despite the changes brought about by actions in the past and the nuclear bomb, the post-nuclear (alternate) present still has a time machine. I guess this makes sense because Jason was able to ‘return’ to this present after his trip to 1930 and in this way there is no threat of the grandfather paradox where his actions in the past would serve to unmake his time machine in the future thus rendering the backward trip impossible.
Jason tries to reach his time machine so that he can go back in time again and this time around make sure that he doesn’t make the changes which lead to this post-nuclear present. It’s a nice touch that one of the characters realises the threat that an alternate or different present may be one without him in it, and he tries to thwart Jason’s efforts.
I’ve read some reviews which mention that the ending is rushed, but here I must disagree; there’s a chase on which of course speeds things up! Actually this chase plays a crucial part of the novel as it wraps up all aspects – time travel, the relationship between Jason and other survivors, the dark side of human nature and the hope of putting things back to right. In fact what happens to Jason is a really neat way of avoiding a potential time travel paradox…
All in all, I was really impressed with Time Split, especially as Patricia didn’t take the easy way out in creating a new time line – ‘just’ a very good novella! 🙂
There’s only one flaw with Time Split, and it’s the back cover blurb:
“A scientist’s ‘harmless’ tinkering in Germany just before World War II causes a catastrophic change of events which lead to World War III in the present.”
I can’t explain this without a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read the book! (Though I’ve just noticed that the description of Time Split on Patricia’s web page (see below) has it corrected!)
Something to remember?
With 11 November having just passed, thoughts about those who died in the war are likely to still remain in many of our minds. It does raise the question though – are there any time travellers out there whom we should also be remembering?
Rating * * * * *
5 stars. Time Split covers both the journey and the destination aspect of a time travel novel, and manages to both create and avoid time travel paradoxes in only 150 pages.
Time Split by Patricia Smith: a beautifully succinct time travel novella which works on a single time line. Change the future of your grandparent? Now that’s really asking for trouble!
Time Split can be read independently and makes a great novella on it’s own. But I was really pleased to hear that Patricia is currently writing a sequel in response to several reader requests. With permission, I include here the blurb for the upcoming sequel.
Sarah suddenly found herself standing near a town square, the cry still deep in her throat. Her initial shock gave way instantly to surprise when she realised everything Jason had said was true. She had wanted to believe him but, despite this, a small part of her mind had denied it could ever be possible, yet here she was in Jason’s Germany.
A demonstration was taking place and in the commotion nobody had even noticed her unusual arrival.
Quickly she looked around. There was no time to lose. She had to find Jason; she had to find him now. Three minutes, her mind kept screaming, only three minutes, he had said.
She scanned the streets, her senses on high alert, but could not see him anywhere. She started towards the square, then suddenly she was bumped from behind. She glanced at the perpetrator, as they passed, and was shocked to see it was Jason.
She tried to grab him, but missed.
“Jason!” she yelled. “Stop! You must listen!”
He continued through the crowd, the noise of the demonstration drowning out her cries, oblivious to her presence.
Sarah could see the door to a building across the street open; some men in uniform were making their way down the stairs.
As Jason crossed the road towards them, she found herself caught up in the crowd. Pushing against the mass, she forced her way through the demonstrators and was just about to break free when her right arm was abruptly grabbed from behind.
Sarah looked back shocked, then stopped and stared, her mouth open in astonishment. For vital seconds it seemed as if time was no longer fluid, but instead was frozen like ice. The crowd around her blurred as though part of a dream and the only reality was the man who stood before her.
“Briggs,” she said, so quietly she could barely hear her own voice. “How the hell did you get here?”
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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Time Split” to read and provide an honest review. This is it!
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