Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Review: TimeRiders - Alex Scarrow

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: 432 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 4th February 2010

Liam O'Connor should have died at sea in 1912.

Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010.

Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2029.

Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, "Take my hand..."

But Liam, Maddy and Sal aren't rescued. They are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose - to fix broken history. Because time travel is here, and there are those who would go back in time and change the past.

That's why the TimeRiders exist: to protect us. To stop time travel from destroying the world...


When I think about a time travel story, my first instinct is to go straight to the story, pick one of the many points in history that excite me and imagine all the hilarious, awkward and hair-raising situations modern kids would get themselves into. Oh, and then I'd shove in some lame time travelling apparatus and crowbar in a reason for the kids to accidentally fall through a wormhole. And that's probably why I don't have an empire of time travelling novels and Alex Scarrow does. The time travelling element isn't just crowbarred in after the story has been written, it forms the incredibly - and sometimes alarmingly - robust basis of the book. It's scientific, it's clever, it's comprehensive and it's the nearest I have ever been to believing that time travel is actually happening, we neanderthals just aren't aware of it yet.

A good example is the way that the TimeRiders have to be suspended almost naked in a vat of water when they travel in order to prevent contamination but on the other side this leaves them inconveniently wet and, well, almost naked when they arrive. Why would you force this on your characters? Wouldn't you rather gear them up and give them some awesome gadgets? Not if you've actually thought about the mechanics and the risks of time travel and the water vat scheme turns out to be the most practical for non-fiction time travel.

This level of detail and the consequent extreme realism is the foundation of elite science fiction; it's what makes the world of Star Trek so popular and what creates some of the world's most passionate fans and Alex Scarrow has done his utmost to produce the most realistic time travel world I have ever encountered.

And then there's the story itself which I really struggled to find fault with. It trots along at a great pace with an infuriating lack of explanations that keep you turning (or in my case clicking) over to the next page as the narrative snakes from one point of view to another. What I find really impressive is the distinctiveness of each character's voice, it's one of those skills in authors I really admire: to be able to switch seamlessly the tone of the narrative voice to suit the character the story is following.

It is quite a while into the book before any time alteration occurs but the beginning is far from long-winded as it takes you through the mechanics of the time travel and the training of the TimeRiders which helps the reader realise that time travel and timeline alteration is not something to make light of. In fact, as the story builds you'll find that the most threatening bad guy is not the deluded time alterer, it's actually time travel itself. It is very much shown to have a similar effect and threat level on the world as the splitting of the atom. As Dr Oppenheimer aptly quoted, "Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds", the same can be applied to the fictional creator of time travel in TimeRiders, Roald Waldstein. The invention of time travel causes nothing but destruction yet cannot be uninvented and even the good guys, the time cops, are sucked into the devastation, facing the choice of either dying horribly in their own times or sacrificing and risking everything in order to prevent time alteration. The costs of keeping their lives are immense, the responsibility of the world rests on their shoulders yet they are only kids - kids without the choices we take for granted.

So, the observant amongst you may have noticed that I quite liked this book, it has put in place the strong foundations of a fantastic sci-fi series and unfolds a thrilling adventure with quite a serious edge. My only gripe is that the story can drag in a few places, a bit like an adult novel (which is exactly why I don't read grown up books: waffle, waffle, waffle...), but this really is a minor niggle; it certainly won't stop me from reading the rest of the TimeRiders books and I'm really looking forward to many more exciting and intriguing time alterations.


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