RogerBW's Blog

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor 13 October 2018

2013 science fiction, first in the Chronicles of St Mary's series. St Mary's Institute for Historical Research is rather more hands-on in their observation of history than anyone suspects; Dr Madeleine Maxwell is their newest recruit.

Like Full Dark House, this book almost demands comparison with Blackout/All Clear – but while that one did so for its London Blitz setting, this one does it by being about time-travelling historians. But these historians do actually make notes on what they're observing; more to the point, they seem to enjoy their job, even though an awful lot of them get killed doing it.

He frowned. 'It's a dangerous and difficult job. There's no support structure for what we do. We have to look after each other, hence the welcoming committee; to show support and to talk them down.'

'Down from what?'

'From whatever happened to the crew on this assignment.'

'How do you know something happened?'

He sighed. 'They're historians. Something always happens.'

The book follows suit: among the main characters there's a constant sense of fun, of "wow, we're actually getting to see real history", in spite of the danger. And all this happens at the same time as some much more serious business, the opening shots of what's clearly going to be a time war, with at least three factions and quite possibly more.

(But this isn't one of those plastic-time settings, either. As far as we can tell from this book, time is inflexible, and what happened is what always happened… but what you don't yet know about is still susceptible to change as far as you're concerned. This is a relatively rare kind of setting for a time travel story, and since the series runs to ten books so far I'll be interested to see how Wilson develops it. I very much enjoyed the idea that the easiest way for the universe to reject temporal change about to be caused by a historian is to kill the historian by "accident".)

Regular soft explosions from R & D really didn't help much and, one memorable day, Professor Rapson put his head round the door and said, mildly, 'If it's not too much bother, may I recommend you evacuate the building right now, please.'

Chief Farrell paused from revealing the secrets of the universe and said, 'Right, everyone out. Immediately. No, not the door, Miss Nagley, use the windows. Move!'

That said, it's not perfect. The narrative is surprisingly bitty, being more a series of events than a single story; there are large un-heralded gaps, and a sudden mention of "I'd known him four years" rather than the few months that it feels like. Characterisation is fairly light, though it felt consistent to me. Max rarely seems to get sent to anything involving her own specialist period. But even with all these problems, there's more life and enjoyment here than a dozen Connie Willis books could muster. (And at the same time the writing is much tighter and less overwrought.)

Followed by A Symphony of Echoes.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

See also:
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis

Series: Chronicles of St Mary's | Next in series: A Symphony of Echoes

  1. Posted by Gus at 05:08pm on 18 October 2018

    "there's more life and enjoyment here than a dozen Connie Willis books could muster. (And at the same time the writing is much tighter and less overwrought.)"

    Had I not been forewarned about Connie Willis, this would have put me on my guard. It is perhaps because Jodi Taylor came to me so highly recommended by an, I thought, reliable source that I found this book a bucket of disappointments. Characterisation felt sketchy and unconvincing and the narrative, as you say, is bitty.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 05:10pm on 18 October 2018

    Very sorry to hear it. This certainly isn't making it into my Best Books of the Year, but I plan to read the next one at some point.

  3. Posted by Gus at 07:57pm on 18 October 2018

    I shall await further assessments with interest and, depending, possibly try again. Think of yourself as a canary in the mineshaft of time-travelling fiction. Cuttlebones will be supplied.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:30pm on 18 October 2018

    See also comment 10 to the Blackout/All Clear review, in which I went through some other historical time travel fiction that came to mind. You've just caused the Kage Baker series, which I read in 2010, to be promoted up my priority list.

  5. Posted by Gus at 09:34pm on 18 October 2018

    Off to investigate Kage Baker and hoping that causing a reshuffle of your priorities is a lesser offence than idly picking at the frayed patches in the space-time wossit.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gin gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha men with beards museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1