BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Thomas Mullen
2011, Mulholland Books
Filed Under: Thriller, Sci-Fi.
I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been reading time travel books lately, but so far I’ve benefited nicely. Much like The Map of Time–though it is a very different book–The Revisionists mixes just the right amounts of elements from different genres to make for an exciting and compelling read.
Zed is from the future, a future that purposefully obfuscates its own history. Books are only allowed in print for so long before being utterly obliterated from the record. When a person dies, the government scrubs all trace of their existence down to seizing photographs and belongings from the their loved ones’ possession. Faced with such a situation and left with nothing to lose, Zed, who works as an investigator for the government, accepts an assignment to travel back in time in order to protect the Perfect Present.
Zed’s world came about through a chain of terror events (which stemmed from unregulated defense contracting and privatized espionage in the early 2000’s) that resulted in a world war. Years later when society was rebuilt with tighter government control, time travel was invented. Despite the governments best efforts at an iron fist, it fell into rebel hands. These rebels (known as “hags”) travel through time to pivotal moments in the human timeline in the hope of righting a former wrong–stopping an assassination, derailing the 9/11 plot, preventing the Holocaust. It’s the job of operatives like Zed to make sure these events still occur, to keep history from being rewritten and thus preserving the Perfect Present.
It’s damn near impossible to talk about a book like this without spoiling anything, so be warned there’s possible spoilers ahead. I’ve tried not too, but I’m sure there’s some minor points that might be considered spoiler-y, so if you want to avoid that, this is where the review ends for you: exciting political thriller that incorporates time travel is worth your time.
The key to fiction that involves time travel is all in the handling. I imagine it’s pretty easy to get into a plot only to find you’ve written yourself into a paradox that can’t be explained away in the story. Here, time traveling is treated smartly, in that it doesn’t ever really happen on the page. This is not a leap-around-time adventure like Back to the Future. Instead it’s more like Terminator: time travelers from different factions are sent to our present with the purpose of affecting world events in order to steer the future to their designs.
What I liked so much about this book was how much this works in the periphery. Sure, Zed is an agent sent from the future, but the most immediate consequence lies in the present. His job is to make sure a catastrophic event occurs in Washington DC in our era. So we are introduced to the various characters involved (mostly unbeknownst to them) in the cataclysm that’s yet to transpire.
We know what the players don’t. They’re going to die. But Mullen offers a delicious twist on dramatic irony–through the actions of Zed and the hags, that outcome can be altered. And that, really, is why this book works so well: tightly knotted plot lines full of whistleblowers, double agents, treasonous ambassadors, scumbag defense contractors and oblivious lawyers. It’d be a solid political thriller without all the sci-fi stuff. Like any good piece of science fiction, its extraordinary elements work to enhance the book, rather than buckle when asked to support the work without much help.
Mullen shifts perspectives between a few characters (relating their stories or the event in question isn’t necessary for this review so I’ve left them fresh for you) and does a nice job of patiently drawing the different pieces and players together. Slowly Zed moves from the primary character to another player in the game, his story ultimately enmeshing with the others’ to make for a fine cohesive whole. This book went from piquing my interest in the first two chapters to having me riveted. It’s a solid thriller.
Similar Reads: Flashback (Simmons), The Thousand (Guilfoile) The Map of Time (Palma), How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Yu)