RogerBW's Blog

The Khyber Connection, Simon Hawke 08 May 2023

1986 SF, sixth of its series. A soldier sent back to 1897 to fight in the Hindu Kush meets his exact twin…

The terrible thing that everyone's been worrying about since the first book has finally happened: the timestream has split, and there's a whole separate parallel universe out there. And they had the sense to give up fighting their wars in the past. But they're legitimately annoyed with the "original" line, and of course nobody on either side thinks of making peace.

One problem, though, is that with these huge-scale events going on, there isn't much for our heroes to do that engages with them – and a fair bit of time is spent instead with professional deus ex machina Dr Darkness and his own agent in the area. One of the series principals has a twin from the other timeline, but in a wasted opportunity they never meet.

Meanwhile, this is the sort of book that would only have been published before Wikipedia, because we get huge infodumps about the Siege of Malakand, including the general situation in the region. (These days you can get away with that if you make them engaging and personal, but this is really a history lesson, albeit with more of a ground-level emphasis than my experience of school history tended to have.) Also Learoyd, Ortheris and Mulvaney show up, not to mention Gunga Din. And Winston Churchill (slightly tweaked from his historical position, but not much). There's a potentially interesting subplot in that nobody from the future regards him as important, because their implant education of all of history seems to have ignored him, except for Lucas Priest (who actually reads history books rather than relying on the implant)… but rather than absorb this into the doubletalk about split timelines, which might have been rather enjoyable, it ends up having a separate and mundane explanation.

That's the problem, really. If you already know some history (as surely fans of time travel stories might be expected to do) the gosh-wow of the setting falls a bit flat, and the book relies on that for much of its narrative momentum. Take out the infodumps and there'd be a lot less book, and it's not very long to start with.

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