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The H-Bomb Girl
Stephen Baxter
Faber and Faber, 268 pages

The H-Bomb Girl
Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and was raised in Liverpool. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and got a PhD from Southampton. He worked in information technology and lives in Buckinghamshire, England. His first story, "The Xeelee Flower," was published in Interzone 19.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The Cuban Missile Crisis was, of course, a major event in the United States and Soviet Union in 1962, but it also affected other countries in the world, a point Stephen Baxter drives home in The H-Bomb Girl, a young adult time-travel/alternate history novel that looks at the crisis from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl in Liverpool. Laura Mann has newly arrived in Liverpool and must deal with the typical relocation issues, as well as an absentee father and parents going through a divorce when her world is really turned upside down.

Starting at a new school, Laura finds herself with a couple of friends, Bernadette, whose alcoholic single mother turns a blind eye to her, and Joel, the only black boy in school who is interested in the peace movement. This mismatched band bonds together and allows Bernadette to lead them to the hotspots of Liverpool, from the Jive-o-Rama to the Cavern Club. During this early part of the novel, the three kids would be leaving a relatively normal life except for the strange key Laura's father gave her.

Laura quickly becomes convinced that one of her teachers, Miss Wells, is more than she appears. She also harbors concerns about Mort, her mother's live-in-lover, and Agatha, a woman who works at one of the local clubs. Although Joel, Bernadette, and their musician friend Nick initially dismiss her fears as paranoia, eventually the oddities begin to reach a level they can't ignore.

While most time travel stories focus on the chrononauts as protagonists, Baxter uses his indigenous characters, Laura and her friends, to tell the story. As Laura's paranoia proves to have a basis in fact, the characters find them confronting people from not just their future, but from a variety of possible futures, and each one having some connection to Laura and the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is one area where Baxter really sets himself apart from the numerous other time travel or alternate history novels that appear in any given year. Furthermore, the history of this world, from the beginning and as it branches, does not include the world in which we live.

Baxter's characters carry the entire book on their shoulders, and Baxter provides them with everything needed to do so successfully. The reader quickly comes to like Joel, Bernadette, and Laura, who act like fourteen-year-olds who still have the vestiges of their childhood about them while yearning for the freedom according those who are only a few years older.

While many alternate histories seem to attempt to create a utopia, this is something that Baxter avoids. His Liverpool of 1962 is gritty and real. The futures that spring from it are shown as dystopian, and the time travelers plans, utopian in their own eyes, are based on the reality of the worlds in which they live. Although those worlds appear dystopian to the reader's eyes, Laura has to make her own decision, colored by her knowledge of who the various time travelers are.

The H-Bomb Girl raises interesting points about causality, and Baxter doesn't take any of the easy ways out, trying, and generally succeeding, in infusing the book with a sense of realism which is often lacking as authors play to the clichés of the genre.

Copyright © 2008 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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