A SHORTCUT IN TIME
Tor Forge / 304 pages / December 2002
Charles Dickinson’s most recent novel, The Widow’s Adventures has been optioned by no less a studio than TriStar, so you could reasonably expect his next project to be awaited eagerly. Well, it’s been a long ten year wait for that next novel; their reactions to A Shortcut In Time will be interesting to see. Will it prove too genre for mainstream fans or, perhaps, too mainstream for genre fans? From whatever background you approach it, Dickinson’s tale of human frailty and temperamental time-travel is a treasure — so, I’ll tell you it’s really…(whatever is most likely to get you to snap up a copy)…
Josh Winkler is an excellent example of the characters that make Dickinson’s fiction so compelling. Josh calls himself an artist, but his main project is wasting time. That bit of the story may cut a little to close for anyone trying to make it in the arts as they find any interruption more important than the work, itself. It’s a common weakness, and sometimes weaknesses are the very things that human beings can most empathise with, even if it’s an uncomfortable feeling. Those little, too-true characteristics bring a huge dose of credility and immediacy to the story. Josh is uneasy with his existence, but who hasn’t been at some point?
That Josh should be the first person to confess to being taken for a ride on the time mangling footpaths of Euclid, Illinois, is one of those cruel practical jokes fate plays on people. Take the flakiest, least respected member of the community and make him the messenger for an unbelievable secret; of course, that guarantees that even his own family will doubt his story — maybe even especially his own family, in this case. But, it is his own family that has the most to fear from these supposed portals. Now, he must find a way to fine-tune the course of events to avoid personal tragedy without completely rewriting the history we know. The one we know right now, that is.
Forget the fact that Dickinson was an O. Henry Award winner; no such easily aped twist endings appear in A Shortcut In Time. The resolution that finds Josh is altogether more complex and more unsettling than any Gift-of-the-Magi “holy shit!” The positive and the negative are not surgical clean-cut — just like the situations we face and are forced to accept in every day life.
That’s right. Time travel may be the engine that powers this novel, but the lingering impression is one of stark reality, lived through a cast of characters that breathe and feel and make mistakes. Most non-fiction and mainstream literary fiction never comes close to this unflinching examination of the choices we face. Or the factors that are beyond our control. We all suffer mis-steps, but Dickinson can never count A Shortcut In Time as one of his.