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Time Past
Maxine McArthur
Warner Aspect, 479 pages

Time Past
Maxine McArthur
Maxine McArthur says:
"I'm a sucker for a hero.
"I like to identify with the strong main character who moves the story.
"Trouble is, the older I get, the less satisfying both literature and media versions of these heroes become. Most of them are male and often they're distressingly one-dimensional. Time Future is my attempt to satisfy that craving for a believable (female) hero in a believable story.
"What an optimist, eh? To think that heroes CAN be believable -- why, could be just like you or I! Like Halley or Murdoch. And if they can try to change their world..."

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Time Past
SF Site Review: Time Future
SF Site Review: Time Future

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

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Commander Halley used to be the head of the space station Jocasta. Whilst testing an FTL drive she finds herself flung ninety nine years into the past where she becomes a refugee on Earth in the year 2023. Forced to abandon her ship, she is trapped in the past, just another down and out in the barrio surrounding Sydney. Luckily for her, however, 2023 is the year the Invendi make contact with humanity. The Invendi are the alien race whose technology Halley has utilised in her prototype jumpship.

So all she needs to do is survive long enough to live through the Invendi's arrival and somehow make contact with them and persuade them to send her back to the future. With the help of Bill Murdoch, her chief of security who has travelled back in time to help her, she manages to do just this, in the slightly preposterous manner that you might expect.

Despite the title, time travel does not actually play much of a role in the novel and is forgotten as soon as the pair are returned to their own time. This is perhaps just as well as Maxine McArthur doesn't have much to say on the subject. Notions of time paradoxes and the like are barely introduced before they are dismissed and forgotten which is pretty much unforgivable when employing the trope in a modern sf novel.

Equally, though McArthur is unusual in touching on contemporary political issues such globalisation and current Australian (and European) hot potato, immigration, she has little to say about them. Her commentary does not go much beyond indignation at the inequity of the policy towards refugees and name checking Naomi Klein as an icon of righteous struggle on a par with Nelson Mandela.

Coupled with this, it is unfortunate that the first couple of hundred of pages Earthbound action are rather dull. Things take a turn for the better when they return to the future but even here it seems to be a case of why use one page when three will do. Usually thick books of intrigue are bursting with multiple labyrinthine plot threads but in Time Past it seems to take an inordinate amount of time to tell a relatively simple story. This main section of the story, concerning a neutrality vote on Jocasta and an attempt to wrestle jumpship technology from the Invendi, lacks the tension that should be the driving force of the novel.

None of this is aided by the earnest and overly rhetorical first person narrative throughout the book. The kitchen sink scope of Halley's inner monologue also sits badly with the wild implausibilities elsewhere in the book. Chief amongst these are the Q'Chn, a genetically engineered alien species designed as killing machines, who are somehow magically invulnerable to all weapons, ballistic or radiation. They are the big bogeymen of the novel but the silliness of their indestructibility dilutes the terror the creatures should invoke.

Time Past is a sequel to McArthur's well-received debut, Time Future. Whilst it works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel, its constant references to events in the earlier book do grate after a while. It is also badly let down by the shallowness of its ideas. Even the most potentially interesting aspect of the book, Commander Halley's dead alien husband, Henoit, is not explored in any depth. Henoit's personality asserts itself in Halley's consciousness whenever she becomes sexually aroused severely complicating her relationship with Murdoch. This intriguing idea, as with the discussion of politics and time travel, simply does not go anywhere.

Copyright © 2002 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in South London; he is originally from Bradford, UK. He writes book reviews for The Telegraph And Argus.


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