Sunday, April 29, 2018

Time Was, by Ian McDonald

[Tor Novella]
★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

(Time Travel) Emmett buys an old book at a venerable book store’s going-out-of-business sale and finds a World-War-II-era letter from a young man to his lover. Trying to learn who the author was, he finds one surprise after another. (26,159 words; Time: 1h:27m)

This story may require two complete reads to grasp everything that’s in it. See related articles on

"," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The great strength of this story is the wonderful writing. The author creates vivid images of all the locations and characters, using a mix of elevated language and British slang.

The plot, of course, is about Emmett trying to find Ben and Tom and about Tom trying to find Ben. By the end, they’ve both accomplished that, and Emmett is ready to become a time traveler himself.

There's a subtext that Emmett was born into the wrong time. He's a book lover in an age where physical books are disappearing. For him, this time vortex is exactly what he needs.

Con: The ending is a bit of a let down. Up until then, we had no clue what had happened to Ben, so that news was a bit of a surprise.

A separate problem for me was that I found Tom and Ben unbelievable. Gay men in that age (all the way up to the 1980s) were consumed with self-hate, but these guys have 21st-Century attitudes.

A few things don’t quite add up: Emmett didn’t remark at all on seeing his own initials on the book. Almost as soon as I learned Emmett’s real name, I figured out who E.L. had to be, so the big revelation that Tom already knew Emmett fell flat for me.

Likewise, if it’s so easy for Emmett to join the vortex, why aren’t there thousands of people riding the thing? If it’s random, why did it drop Ben and Tom into so many war zones? And why did they stay in those war zones?

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Ian McDonald Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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