Time travel with all the usual paradoxes and anachronisms
Jan 11, 2010
David Zachary Murphy is a NASA scientist but he's also a sci-fi lover and a wannabe fiction writer. Repeated attempts have come to naught and, sadly, Murphy realizes that his story-telling skills will never come up to scratch and compare with the likes of his idols such as Isaac Asimov or Gregory Benford. But, he is a good writer and, In spite of his shortcomings with respect to fiction, he successfully publishes a speculative non-fiction story in which he postulates that UFOs are not alien starships at all. He suggests they're time machines traveling from earth's own future and piloted by human historians examining their own past. His bureaucratic superiors are not pleased that he has drawn attention to the UFO phenomenon which NASA would prefer lie buried at rest and have called him onto the carpet for publishing such a story without their permission.
Whether or not the top brass at NASA like it, Murphy's speculations happen to be right on the money. Franc Lu and Lea Oschner are time travelers from the 24th century. They've returned to 1930s Germany, the era that saw Hitler's post-WWI rise to power, in order to witness the destruction of the Hindenburg dirigible when it docked in New Jersey after a trans-Atlantic crossing. Something goes dreadfully wrong when Franc and Lea somehow become part of the events they are only supposed to observe. This interrupts the natural timeline, diverts history onto a new path and the Hindenburg fails to crash and burn in a devastating ball of fire. The pilot of their time machine makes a unilateral command decision to retreat but instead of returning to their own time in 2314 they "crash" land in 1998, the world in which David Zachary Murphy has just been blasted for his untoward speculations on time travel.
First the good news ... in "Chronospace", Steele has converted his Hugo award winning novella "Where Angels Fear to Tread" into a full length novel jam-packed with non-stop action. The usual collection of paradoxes and anachronisms associated with time travel novels will keep readers pleasantly scratching their heads and musing over the possibilities throughout the length of the novel. His descriptions of 1930s Germany, the encounters with the newly formed Gestapo and the magic of the Hindenburg's luxury crossing have that compelling feel of realism about them that lovers of historical fiction are always looking for.
But there are also a number of problems that hold a potential four- or five-star rating back to a rather average two- or three-star rating at best.
First, is the rather jerky scene switches that, of course, amount to not only time switches but sometimes, "time-line" switches. That is to say, for example, that 1998 could represent two or three entirely different sets of events and characters depending on whether you're participating in Timeline A, B or C. This takes considerable mental effort to juggle and Steele hasn't done a particularly good job in facilitating the mental gymnastics required.
Second, Steele seems to want to have his cake and eat it too! He's obviously a believer in the Many Worlds Theory in that he has allowed the creation of new branched time lines because of the occurrence of different events. But my limited imagination sees that as both a problem for potential visitors from the future and a logic problem for this novel. Assuming it is possible at all, of course, their visit from the future to a moment in the past would by its very occurrence create a new timeline. This (I speculate) would preclude the visitors returning to their own original present because their real elapsed time is no longer occurring on that original time line. If they now make a trip to the "future", it will be to a set of events that have not yet happened. Clear as mud? I thought so!
Finally, Steele has injected a sub-plot which actually does include alien visitors from outer space. Frankly, it's unnecessary, intrusive, undeveloped and unresolved. It's a distraction that serves no purpose in this novel.
That said, "Chronospace" can still be recommended as a lightweight sci-fi romp with an enjoyable plot that sci-fi lovers will easily breeze through and be pleased to have done so. Recommended.