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From the Files of the Time Rangers
Richard Bowes
Golden Gryphon Press, 268 pages

From the Files of the Time Rangers
Richard Bowes
Richard Bowes is part of a big Irish family in Boston and on Long Island, and has the usual odd juxtapositions of life: compulsory ROTC and fashion copywriting. He claims his fiction is quite personal -- not autobiographical, but from it anyone with a strange interest in the mundane details can figure out pretty much his time, place and circumstance.

Richard Bowes Website
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SF Site Review: Minions of the Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

There is a long tradition of novels created from interlinked short stories, and though this tradition is particularly strong within the science fiction field (think The Martian Chronicles), it has plenty of roots outside of SF -- it was, for instance, a form William Faulkner used a few times (think Go Down, Moses). In an afterword to From the Files of the Time Rangers, Richard Bowes calls this form a "mosaic novel," a term he borrowed from Jeff VanderMeer, who borrowed it from elsewhere. It's a fine description of this particular creature, suggesting, as it does, individual tiles overlapping to create a shimmering whole.

Bowes is a particularly skilled artist of the mosaic, and he has shattered and rearranged tiles that first appeared in such publications as SciFiction and Fantasy & Science Fiction to create a whole that not only shimmers, but astounds. The stories, when originally published, were interesting and engaging, but they were thin shadows of what they would become when rearranged across the imaginative plane of From the Files of the Time Rangers.

The titular Time Rangers are a band of people orphaned from the Timestream, plucked from the loneliness of their particular circumstances by the Fagins of an almost-eternity ruled by the Titans of the Greek pantheon. The job of the Time Rangers is to maintain the multiverse, to prevent events and eruptions that could lead to, among other things, a future death of the gods. The universe of the book is a mix of myth and quantum physics, and though it's unclear why the Greeks are the gods of choice, it's also irrelevant, because they are distant, unknowable, unpredictable, and so without clear identity: they are forces, not characters. The characters in the book are human and mortal: the Time Rangers themselves, and we meet many of them, as well as their families, their enemies, and their gods, as we skip across the tiles of time. Though at first the sheer oddity of Bowes's imaginings makes it difficult to get a sense of what is going on, suddenly it all begins to cohere -- or not cohere so much as correlate. It's a thrilling performance, because each shard of story suggests others, and the structure begins to resemble the structure of the world within the book.

There are perils to the mosaic novel form, and they are inextricably linked, like yin and yang and now and then, to its joys. If a writer creates characters who capture your interest, it can be frustrating when suddenly those characters are abandoned for a different set twenty or forty or eighty pages later, with no promise of returning to the first group. This frustration is tied to the joy of experiencing stories across multiple points of view, settings, and styles -- the joy of a buffet rather than a feast. Another peril is that of dissipation: ideas and themes, characters and stories, events and settings can grow thin from a lack of support, as the different facets of the mosaic scatter light across multiple directions. There is a thrill, though, to trying to see it all.

Richard Bowes doesn't escape any of these perils, and therefore he provides nearly all of the joys a mosaic novel can provide. The last section of the book begins to tie all of the strands together, and the mosaic loses some of its perfect balance, and so for me, the last one hundred pages sagged under the weight of the perils, and the joys diminished. But the first one hundred fifty pages raised those joys so high that diminishment is no great criticism; it means, simply, that this is a work of sustained skill and artistry, with moments of extraordinary accomplishment.

Epic stories of time travel, particularly ones that try to roam through various parallel universes, are doomed to failure almost from the outset, because in trying to capture so much they highlight all that is, inevitably, left out. I couldn't help but wonder while reading From the Files of the Time Rangers, for instance, why the characters were so focused on the United States, why their world was one essentially created by Europe, why the few references to the Middle East were all of threat and strife, why Africa and South America seemed to lie outside the timestream. These thoughts are unfair to use as criticisms, because a writer can only write so much, and the secret of art is to produce a panorama from a keyhole.

Perhaps failure is the wrong word -- certainly, doom is. Rather, the success of an epic time travel story lies in its ability to make us feel the vast universe beyond us, and that success shows itself in small moments, tiny seconds when the depth of the past seems to open wide, and all the chances of an infinity of beginnings appear, against all odds, to be comprehensible. Such moments occur more than once in From the Files of the Time Rangers, and they are worth savoring.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal,, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.

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