Monday, 2 November 2020

Twenty in '20: The Psychology of Time Travel

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty books in 2020. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

11/20: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

The blurb: 1967. Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril...

2017. Ruby knows her Granny Bee was the scientist who went mad, but they never talk about it. Until they receive a message from the future, warning of an elderly woman's violent death...

2018. Odette found the dead women at work – shot in the head, door bolted from the inside. Now she can't get her out of her mind. Who was she? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

The review: I'm a sucker for a well-written or inventive time travel tale, and that's what led me to read a story by an author with whom I was unfamiliar. But maybe I'm in the minority in this respect, because if you just made your purchasing decision based on the blurb, you'd think that this was primarily a murder mystery tale, wouldn't you? Albeit one with a twist.

The thing is, whilst the whodunnit works well enough, without being outstanding, what does stand out in Mascharenas's novel is the inventiveness of imagining a world in which time travel has become routine, a commercial activity, governed with rules and organisations - a world in which "time traveller" is a career choice, a vocation with its own slang, initiation rites, protocols and faux pas. This aspect of the novel is very well realised, not least through the inclusion of two appendices, one a glossary of time travelling terminology and another detailing the psychometric tests that time travellers have to go through.

So, I said I was a sucker for a well-written or inventive time travel tale, and this is certainly inventive ... but is it well written too? Well ... for the most part, yes, it's pretty fair. Having said that, Mascarenhas is a little too prone to making bald statements - she tells, rather than shows. And maybe I just didn't notice it at the start, but it seemed to me that this overt storytelling increased as the novel progressed. It was almost like either the author or her editor got tired of making the subtle changes that would be necessary to remedy the problem (and it did become problematic, at times, for me).

Another point of note with The Psychology of Time Travel is that just about every protagonist is female - I'm trying to think of one significant male character, and am failing. This stands out, and is welcome, though it did make for little variation in the romantic and sexual sub-plots. It is refreshing ... but it feels like it's pushing at the bounds of credulity. Of course I accept that I'm a middle-aged man, with a whole host of subconscious preconceptions and biases ... but I do think that an invention of such global impact and significance, made by four women in the 1960s, would almost certainly have been subsumed by the patriarchy by 2018, sadly...

The bottom line: a decent book that describes a time-travelling world in a very satisfying way, with a serviceable if unremarkable murder-mystery tagged on.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

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