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Killing Time / Sensing Others
Frank Tallis
Hamish Hamilton, Penguin, 218 and 296 pages

Killing Time
Sensing Others
Frank Tallis
Frank Tallis, B.Sc., M.Sc. Ph.D. (Univ. London) is a consulting clinical psychologist at the Charter Nightingale Hospital in London, UK. Tallis spent his early years in the commercial record industry. His Ph.D., Worry: A Cognitive Analysis (1989), dealt with his research on Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He also co-edited Worrying: Perspectives on Theory, Assessment and Treatment (1994). Some of his other titles include Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Cognitive and Neuropsychological Perspective (1995), Changing Minds: The History of Psychotherapy as an Answer to Human Suffering (1998), as well as a series of self-help books: How to Stop Worrying (1995), Understanding Obsessions and Compulsions. A Self-Help Manual, and Coping with Schizophrenia with Steven Jones. Dr. Tallis is one of Britain's leading experts on obsessional states. On the basis of his first novel, Killing Time, Tallis received the London Arts Board "New London Writers Award."

ISFDB Bibliography
Review: Killing Time
Review: Killing Time

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Frank Tallis' Killing Time and Sensing Others are both novels of the urban underbelly set in modern day London. Both are very marginally science fiction... scientist-fiction might be a better term, particularly for Killing Time, given Tallis' other career. Both are certainly not juvenile material, with graphic though not gratuitous sex and violence. Similarly, the atheistic ideas discussed in Killing Time might not be to everyone's taste. However, this isn't why I'd pass on both titles.

I might describe either title as a painless way to pass the time, certainly not boring or poorly written from a technical or logical standpoint, but both left me fairly indifferent -- and in some senses "indifferent" is one of the worst things I can say about a novel. Having read them, I've pondered what genre they belong to: science fiction, psychological thriller, noir, or realistic novels of the urban underbelly?

To address this question a short synopsis of each title is in order. In Killing Time, Tom, the archetypal genius-mathematician-nerd working on his Ph.D., finally finds love and sex and jealousy with Anna the cellist. Tom also has a drinking buddy Dave, a molecular biochemist, with whom he discusses everything from sex to theism. When a trans-temporal camera Tom has built reveals a very troubling secret, the cause of Anna's disappearance is elucidated.

In Sensing Others, Nick, keyboardist for a retro-rock band, participates in a drug testing trial to shore up his finances. The drug allows him to sense or read other people's minds, and it becomes unclear to Nick whether his impression that a brutal homosexual rapist-murderer is after him is a side-effect of the drug or a reality. All this occurs in the context of a pharmaceutical company with dubious motives, Eric the friend and former 70s rock star turned eco-terrorist, Nick's band being fleeced by a Swedish con-artist record producer, as well as Cairo, the older woman-lover.

Are they science-fiction? Well, Killing Time might be termed as such given the development of a trans-temporal camera, but as for this being "an intriguing ending" as one critic put it, the idea of such a device appears as far back as John Taine's 1934 novel Before the Dawn (and probably long before that), so the idea is hardly original. Certainly Tallis captures the sorts of discussions and intellectual snobbishness that occurs between doctoral students in the sciences, so it is more fiction about scientists than science fiction. In Sensing Others the science-fiction element, the development of a psi-drug for counter-intelligence purposes, is even weaker and less central to the novel than in Killing Time.

So are these psychological thrillers? In terms of the British psychological thriller, my expectations rest on John Franklin Bardin's late 40s trilogy The Deadly Percheron, The Last of Philip Banter, and Devil Take the Blue Tail Fly. While this perhaps sets the bar too high for a new author, I don't sense that Tallis' work would ever approach Bardin's. Certainly, given Tallis' credentials, I'm willing to accept that he's gotten the psychology of his characters right. However, they're just not that weird, interesting or entertaining. While the broad psychological caricatures represented by the characters in William Browning Spencer's Résumé with Monsters and Zod Wallop may not be psychologically realistic, at least they are vibrantly different and thought-provoking.

In Killing Time the means and motive of Anna's disappearance were fairly transparent to me half-way through the book, and while some tension was developed surrounding the disposal of the body, overall the novel could certainly not be termed suspenseful. Similarly, in Sensing Others, so much information about relationships, and other characters and situations intervened between events threatening Nick, that, with the possible exception of Nick, powerless in the hands of the rapist, there was no sustained excitement or suspense.

Glancing at some of the reviews on the back of Killing Time I see words like "smooth elegance of film noir" and "dark tale." Well that explains some things; it's supposed to be a modern noir novel... except that if it is, my noir standards of Cornell Woolrich's Rendezvous in Black and Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me make Killing Time and Sensing Others look like material for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (or for my British readers, "like material for Teletubbies").

This leads me to the conclusion that these two titles are simply a pair of stories about the underbelly of urban life in London. Since I've not read any literature of this genre past the Dickensian era, I'm really not in a position to say much about it, although it does seem significantly less hard-hitting than something like Trainspotting. However, I'll let those of you better versed in this genre read these two titles and form your own opinions. But as science-fiction, suspense or noir you needn't worry or obsess about missing them.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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