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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Philip K. Dick Award Nominees, Part 2 - Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, by K. A. Bedford (reviewed by Fabio Fernandes)

I had never heard of K. A. Bedford before. Reading Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait was a pleasant surprise.

Time travel stories are dangerous clichés. It´s like trying to travel in one of those (pardon the pun) time-honored contraptions: one small deviation from the previously calculated course and you can find yourself stranded in the Cretaceous - or in the Dying Earth, a billion years from now. A good writer must balance carefully all the clichés available in the giant megatext of the genre (as proposed by Damien Broderick) if he/she wants to create something really fresh, if not necessarily original.

K. A. Bedford does a good job in Time Machines... ; the novel tells the story of Aloysius "Spider" Webb, a master repairmen of time machines of all kinds and brands in a near future where time travel is almost as common as travelling by car or airplane, and what´s best - it´s affordable. You can have your own portable time machine!

Evidently, time travel is controlled (aren´t they all?). Every government has its own DOTAS, or Department of Time and Space, a regulatory agency that controls time travel equipment and monitors (sort of) travels. They do have a number of clever failsafes to avoid paradoxes of tampering with the space-time continuum, as the "ghost mode", that is, you can´t go to the Crucifixion and try to save Christ, for instance, so you can´t be seen ou touched by anyone at that time period.

But you can get away with murder. That is what happens when Spider and his assistant find a corpse inside a defective time machine (in fact, two time machines overlapping - one of the hardest and cleverest ways of hiding a body as far as time machines are concerned). Obviously, there is no coincidences in time travel: years ago, Spider had been a police officer on the Major Crimes Squad. He fell down in disgrace, and since then he´s been itching to come back to the action (even though if he doesn´t admit it not even to himself).

Spider ends up uncovering a conspiracy at the End of Time (as usual) to...

To what? The ultimate goal is never made clear to us. One of the main antagonists, a fatter, funnier version of Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock, keeps talking something about a kind of religious revelation, but we never get to see ir after all. All we know are different versions of the story, by different future versions of Spider himself, who come back in time to warn him - even if some of them end up dying in the process.

The story is fast-paced and funny in its own way, but near the end it loses some momentum. Maybe the novel could have benefited from a small edition. Closing to the end, the story becomes too confused even for a crotchety old fan of time travel stories. Not so confused that I can´t understand what happens in the end, but the whole metalinguistics of pretzel logic in the narrative to illustrate the twisted inner workings of time travel is too much tiresome.

All in all, however, Time Machines Repaires While-U-Wait reads like a good, old 1950s story by Fredric Brown or William Tenn story. I´m a huge fan of those master writers, so I enjoyed reading this homage to a long lost (but never forgotten) past.


Liviu said...

While I have not read this one I read and enjoyed a lot Mr. Bedford's second novel Eclipse which is a great combination of military space opera and horror tropes set in the same universe as his debut Orbital Burn which I plan to finish at some point.

I read his third novel Hydrogen Steel but did not enjoy it so much - started great but then it had too much of a retro feel to it that it stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

Fabio Fernandes said...

You know, reading this novel made me want reading more of Mr. Bedford´s work. That always amounts to something, I suppose. :-)

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