The Reality War: The Slough of Despond

Another retro review, this time from September 23, 2012 …

Review: The Reality War: The Slough of Despond, Tim C. Taylor, 2012.The Reality War

As the title says, this isn’t just a time war. It’s a reality war – one to preserve all of human existence and not just a particular human history.

Now, I don’t usually try to diagram time travel stories out. Playing with paradoxes is, in many time travel stories, the point. And that’s somewhat true here. Taylor — with talk of quantum entanglements, high and low probability universes, time-shielded artifacts and records kept as a reference point for what the characters should remember, and paradoxes likened to flaws incorporated in the crystal of reality – rhetorically shores up my sense of disbelief enough for the story to proceed.

Interestingly, the plot opens and hinges – at least in this, the first installment of a two part story – on that old story chestnut: love at first sight. Time agent Radlan, 1,000 years down time from his own home and stationed in the English village of Elstow in 1992, weirdly falls in love at first sight with local woman Amber who comes to him for financial advice, which is what he ostensibly provides in his cover job. Radlan is less sanguine about the effect of critical time paradoxes than most of his other fellow time travelers, so he doesn’t want to get involved with a local from our time – except he finds out that somebody has been mucking about in her body chemistry and that she will, quite literally, die if he leaves her.

Who has been mucking about in Amber’s life and why? What requires the witness protection services that Radlan and his peers offer to people from the future? Why does the cheerful and manipulative Greyhart, from way down the time line, take such an interest in Radlan? Why does a democratic movement threaten Earth’s future?

Taylor gives an answer to these questions and a lot more mysteries that crop up. We get aliens too and a cliffhanger ending.

One interesting notion that Taylor introduces early on and clearly exposits is the idea that Radlan and his contemporaries have, courtesy of genetic engineering, a high degree of conscious, individual, real-time control over their “autonomic” functions, pheromone production, and brain chemistry. They also have a form of telepathy which is really communication via microwaves. That produces a society with some significant differences in social interactions to those of us abos in their past. It also plays a key role in the story.

Taylor skillfully mixes a plot of temporal paradox, manipulation and mystery, with the psychologically realistic plotting of Amber and Radlan’s attraction to each other and the twists and turns their lives take.

And, yes, the title is a takeoff on Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, but you really don’t have to have read that first. Taylor lays out the connections for you.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.


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