RogerBW's Blog

The Cleopatra Crisis, Simon Hawke 26 December 2023

1990 SF, eleventh of its series. The night before Caesar crosses the Rubicon, he's visited by a soothsayer who gives the names of those who will act against him…

No Drakov in this book, which leaves it slightly adrift—just the enemy temporal agents apparently trying to keep Caesar alive through the Ides of March and let him set off on his next campaign, which should certainly change history.

But as before there's this basic failure to recognise that this is a series about time travel. It's not like the Falcon gamebook series where you go to one of a few specific places in The Past, spend an hour there, and return an hour later in your origin's time; you can (as the characters do here) pluck someone out of The Past, spend days or weeks hypnotically conditioning them, and then drop them back a minute after they left. So… when the observer in 49BCE sends in a report saying "hey, we've got this weird soothsayer, what's going on?"… how does that report come to arrive at the Temporal Corps to be acted on in 2627CE, the present day of the series, rather than say 2613 when the first book was set? (See also James Blish's story "Beep", of course.) Why is it that the team sent back to look into it has to arrive only a few weeks before the assassination, and has no idea how it's going to have gone differently?

And when someone says

"You're on assignment? But I thought the covert field section was disbanded."

…well, sure, but just because agents aren't being sent on historical missions any more that doesn't remove them from the historical missions they've already been on!

And I'm talking about this, which to be fair is a problem with a great many time travel stories and not unique to this series, at some length because the rest of the book isn't terribly interesting. There's a lot of infodumping about Caesar's life, both from the agents and from the conspirators telling each other things they already know. There's Roman atmosphere (the layout of a military camp, how the baths work, etc.). There's some question as to who among Cleopatra's retinue might be an enemy agent. But there's an awful lot of this:

Hollister spotted three men moving down the corridor and fired without hesitation. Two of Cooper's men fell dead, one of them the man armed with the disruptor. The third man brought up his stunner and fired, but Hollister quickly ducked behind a column and fired. The third man went down.

That could be an exciting moment of action, but it isn't, in part because the writing plods (and there are more paragraphs like this before and after it), but more significantly because we don't have any particular reason to care about Hollister or Cooper, never mind the nameless soldiers under their command.

This feels to me like the author getting tired of the series, or at least of the pace at which he's having to produce them (1-2 per year out of a total book production of 5-8 per year). Ah well, only one more to go.

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Previous in series: The Hellfire Rebellion | Series: Time Wars | Next in series: The Six-Gun Solution

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 02:26pm on 27 December 2023

    Your comments on time travel are well said, but I imagine that the model of time-travel used by the author bears no connection with physics as understood then or now.

    One could make an argument for closed timelike loops and alternative timelines, but then that should've or needed to be part of the plat, and we come back to the author's understanding of physics.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:38pm on 27 December 2023

    Indeed, I'm not even trying to correlate this with physical models. There's this lovely Big Idea, about how the only thing potentially worse that a timeline split is what might happen if two timelines recombine, but that idea doesn't seem to trickle down to implications for what you can do with your time machine at a tactical level.

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