Published by 47North on Apr 9, 2013
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Time Travel
Find the book: Amazon, Goodreads
When a professor’s time-travel lab is the scene of a deadly accident, the academic world and the future of St. Sunniva University get thrown into upheaval. As assistant to the dean of science, Julia Olsen is assigned to help Campus Security Chief Nate Kirkland examine this rare mishap…then make it quietly go away!
But when the investigation points toward murder, Julia and Chief Kirkland find themselves caught in a deadly cover-up, one that strands them in ancient Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of the world’s most infamous volcano. With the help of their companions—a Shakespearean scholar and two grad students—Julia and the chief must outwit history itself and expose the school’s saboteur before it’s too late.
I must admit that when I pick up a book that uses time travel as a literary device I get a little nervous. It’s not that fiction can’t use time travel effectively: H.G. Wells began the fascination with time machines in his quintessential The Time Machine (1895); Dan Simmons succeeded brilliantly in weaving together the future and past time travel in the Hyperion Cantos (1989); and if we take the leap to film, Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962) has perhaps one of the most chilling depictions of a protagonist traveling into the past to witness his own death. But then there are failures, and plenty of them. I recall beginning to read a book not long ago, written with a level of seriousness that shouldn’t have been surprising, about time-travelling, super-powered vampires. Let me just say that I didn’t get far. And so comes Neve Maslakovic into the fray with her frolicsome whodunit, The Far Time Incident (47North, 2013), the first in a series of time travel adventures.
When Dr. Xavier Mooney, St. Sunniva Univeristy’s senior professor in the TTE (Time Travel Engineering) lab, goes missing in a time machine mishap, Dean Sunder appoints Campus Security Chief, Nate Kirkland, to investigate the presumptive death. With the help of Julie Olsen, assistant to the dean (and our first person narrator), the two assemble a list of probable suspects. Was it Dr. Gabriel Rojas, also a senior professor the Time Travel Engineering lab, who sent Dr. Mooney into oblivion, or was it one of the lab’s disgruntled graduate students that did him in? Or was it perhaps assistant professor Erika Baumgartner who harbored murderous animosity against the famous scientist? The list goes on.
In order to help the investigation, Dr. Rojas coordinates a short time travel jaunt for Chief Kirkland and a handful of volunteers (our narrator, Julie, included), so the chief can get a better idea of the workings of lab’s SpaceTimE Warper (or STEWie). Instead of a quick jump to visit the Beatles arrival at JFK in 1964, however, they are catapulted to first century Pompeii… only days, or hours, prior to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. By no accident, Dr. Xavier is already there, sunburned and in a tunic and employed as a trader of sorts and getting on rather well. It turns out Dr. Xavier, tired of the daily life of a professor and battling some illness, had planned his exit from St. Sunniva all along. And that’s where I’ll leave it. There’s an eruption, a chaotic dash through history and an arrest of a highly prominent academic back at St. Sunniva.
It’s one thing to cheer on a mad scientist the likes of Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the movie Back to the Future; it’s quite another to drudge up empathy for a cast of uninspiring academics whose daily lives might come off as cloistered and childish. Where Maslakovic succeeded in describing the kinds of cheese spreads that accompany faculty meetings, she stumbled when it came to investing her book with interesting and divergent characters.
There’s another thing that bothered me with The Far Time Incident: it was the author’s reckless approach to the science of time travel. You would think that Maslakovic, a Stanford-trained electrical engineer, would have brought a keen insight into the theoretical science of a working time machine; the paradoxes, the multiverse theories and the modern ideas of space-time manipulation. Instead, we get what came across as a dumbed-down version of time travel. Was Maslakovic giving her profession the middle finger when she laid down the final sentence in this book? I wonder if she has some file on a flash drive somewhere… or some tucked-away thesis on the relationship between light and space, hundreds of pages thick, written in all the arcane symbols of scholarly convention? If so, I wish we could get a peek. Maybe then we could join her at a mid-nineteenth century Parisian café and discuss it over crackers and chevre.