Book review

Dispel Illusion

by Mark Lawrence

Dispel Illusion by Mark  Lawrence

This is the deftly-written conclusion to the excellent Impossible Times trilogy, and I enjoyed it as thoroughly as the first two. This isn’t a book you can read without having read the first two in the trilogy – the plot line is complicated enough as it is, with several different timelines going on in different chapters, and you’re definitely doing well if you don’t need to read the helpful recap at the start of the book.

It’s a book that quite literally begins with a bang – a time-distorted explosion, of course, as it’s a prototype time machine that’s blowing up here.

“The two saving graces of explosions are that from the outside they’re pretty and from the inside they’re quick.”

It’s a book about time travel. Time travel as invented by Nick, the lead character, and the real-world implications of that. (My favourite is still that if you travel through time, you are going to also need to travel through space, otherwise when you reappear in your new time, the Earth’s orbit will have moved it from under your feet!) Time travel is, according to mathematics and the laws of physics, perfectly possible:

“The mathematics of time don’t care about ‘now’, they just ask what value you want to set ‘t’ to. There’s a special connection between consciousness and time. Einstein said, ‘Time is an illusion’, and the great Douglas Adams had even greater doubts about lunchtime.”

That reference to a Douglas Adams line is one of the reasons I loved this book, by the way. I grew up very much in the era in which this book is set, and I love all the references to the culture that Nick grew up with. I also played Dungeons&Dragons enough to get the references there, so this was always going to give this book a +3 in the saving roll against my affections. I also grew up in the early days of the World Wide Web, so references like this make perfect sense to me:
I didn’t have time to write any code but the machine linked into the World Wide Web and the Lynx browser enabled me to navigate through literally hundreds of pages of information held on computers all across the planet. Well, mainly in America.

Of course it’s also a book about friendship, and how that changes through time and space. The group of friends we met in the first book are still together – and still playing the same epic D&D campaign that they started in their youth. But they’ve grown up, and grown into their respective characters. One of the nice things is how the tone of the narration has changed very credibly, as we moved from Nick as a teenager in book 1 through to threads of his adult life in the current volume. Although he’s in many ways the same Nick underneath, he’s definitely grown up in this book, and more able to deal with the situations in which he finds himself. Growing up will do that to you:

“Always the child standing there wearing an old man’s clothes, an old skin hanging from old bones, and wondering where the days went, remembering how marvelous it had been to fritter away so many slow and sunny days. And wanting more.”

It’s also a book about enemies: again, the bad guys follow you through time, both forwards and – if you give them a chance – backwards. Miles Guilder is still funding Nick’s research, and he’s still not a nice man. Charles Rust is still very much present as Guilder’s heavy, and he still very much does not like Nick. The interactions with these two drive much of the plot of the book, in ways that are foreshadowed in the earlier volumes, but still reveal in surprising and clever ways in this book.

And Mr Lawrence writes some beautiful lines, here as in all his books, that do such a great job of revealing our shared humanity, even in very tiny ways.

“The stories of our lives don’t behave themselves; they don’t have clear beginnings, and even death isn’t a clear end. We just do what we can, we take what kindness and joy we find along the way, we ride the rapids as best we’re able.”

I loved this book. I perhaps loved the first in the trilogy even more, because it caught me by surprise, but there was so much of that spirit still in here that it’s a solid five stars all the way for me.

Book review


by John Varley

Millennium by John Varley

I love this book – and not least because it’s an old old copy, dating back from my youth, that has followed me across the years, and I’ve read perhaps a dozen times over that time. I feel re-joined somehow with my younger self.

This is not inappropriate for a book about time travel. Here we find Louise, the heroine, reaching back from the far future to our century. Here, her path crosses with Bill Smith. And here, Bill leads a team of air accident investigators who find themselves investigating an appalling mid-air collision between a DC10 and a 747. In which they start to find some very odd things – digital watches running backwards, for example. What exactly is going on!?

The lead characters are great – Bill is nicely written, deeply flawed man: a functional alcoholic with a relentless streak that doesn’t look like it’s going to save his career. Meanwhile Louise is trying to save humanity, one body at a time. And the plot is suitably time-twisty, without any serious impact for being 35 years old, so I’m not going to share any more of it.

Find an old copy somewhere, sit back, and enjoy the ride!

Book review

Limited Wish

by Mark Lawrence

Limited Wish by Mark  Lawrence

Excellent follow-up to One Word Kill. You should definitely read that first, although if you’ve forgotten a couple of points from it, Mark Lawrence is good enough to put a very brief summary at the start.

This book picks up the action and carries it forwards with great conviction and style. The characters continue to evolve, and they are just as charming, annoying, or threatening as in the first book. As before, one of the main “characters” is the cancer of the main protagonist:

‘The cancer?’ She came right out with it. Most people hesitate when they say the C-word, just a little, as if they still need to convince themselves you don’t get it just by saying it out loud. Like it was one of those demon lords in D&D that are summoned by name. Say Demogorgon too many times and he was pretty much bound to show up, but cancer . . . not so much.

The science is also very thorough, although since we are talking about time travel, it’s not entirely possible to produce all the convincing details! But it’s well done, and includes several interesting points, such as moving things in time – even just by microseconds – causes them to apparently move in space relative to the Earth, as the planet has moved at least some distance through it’s orbit in that time.

I won’t give away any plot – you’ll have to read it! Now I’m looking forward to #3 in the series…

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