capfox: (Serious Chipp)
[personal profile] capfox
Going about and trying to change the past? That always goes well, right?

Book #59: The Revisionists
Author: Thomas Mullen
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

Sometimes, when we look back at history, we can see a clear line of a chain of events that comes up to some climactic point, and people wonder, well, what if we had stopped this, or changed that? Could we have avoided the whole thing, if we had managed to save that guy's life, or broke the code sooner, or something? But however it is, you get the world the way it is now.

But if you have time travel, well, why not go back and change it? Although... maybe you like the way things ended up, even if it was horrible to get there. Maybe if you have time travel, you try to make sure the bad things in the chain happen, so you can get to the shining future you want. It's a hell of a job to have, probably. But that's our Zed's job. He's come back from the future into modern-day DC to make sure things play out the way the future utopia needed them to play out, even if that means a magnificent cataclysm that will require people to learn the multiple of decimate to count all the dead, in the end.

That's our setup for Mullen's book, a multiple POV piece where one of the viewpoints is our future fixer Zed, with the others taken up by a young lawyer, an immigrant maid in a diplomat's residence, and a contractor who's just been cut off from the government. For all of the science-fiction trappings, they basically sit mostly within Zed's viewpoint; he has to keep a low cover to not disrupt the timelines further, after all. The rest of the book is more of a story of modern government, diplomats and bureaucracy and small projects of skulduggery, all connecting our characters together.

In many ways, really, this is a government thriller, a story that asks about the power of an individual against the bureaucracy and the systems of the world, against history. It's a story of alienation, with all of our characters feeling out of place, geographically, temperamentally, temporally. These are themes straight out of Kafka, but it's not like the world's changed that much since then. Even world-shaking events can't break the hold the idea of systems have on us, after all.

But as I say, this is science-fiction, and a character piece, and a DC thriller, rolled into one. They should clash more than they actually do, all the different modes, but Mullen actually does a pretty good job of holding them all together. The characters have clear, different voices, and there's a good amount of world-building on Zed's side, to get a real sense of the future, and the way he looks at the present. But the SF-ness of it goes away somewhat over the course of the book. Mullen had a good run of it, and there's a lot to recommend it, but I can't say he totally stuck the ending. Still, it actually all comes together well enough, and that's pretty impressive.

In the end, I don't think this quite came together as cleanly as I'd have liked, but it actually works well enough, down to some nice, real ambiguity about some of the narration. And it grapples with the consequences of doing bad things to try to keep your shining future ahead of you, along a number of different axes, and that's a rich theme to explore. I can't recommend it totally unreservedly, but it's definitely worth a try if you like some time travel in your reading diet, or some low-key piecing-it-together informational thrills. Mullen's an inventive guy; I should try more of him. But this isn't a bad place to start. Zed's a good place to end, though.

Next up: Sigh. Maybe actually Paper Towns. Maybe that Jim Holt book.
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