Aspect / 497 pages / 28 February 2009
Be it Time Past or Time Future, time is the demon that is inexorably stalking Commander Halley of the space station Jocasta. At least, she wishes she was back on the station; she fervently wishes she had never tried to steal a forbidden jump drive from under the… well, noses, for lack of a better word… of the Four to give to the rest of the Confederacy. All her valiant efforts have left her stranded in Earth’s polluted, unenlightened past with only the slimmest chance of every returning to her own time.
If she knew the forces working against her back on Jocasta and on Earth, she would knew just how bleak her prospects really are. Not only do some unknown players not want Halley and her jury-rigged jump drive to return, they are more than willing to kill her and anyone else necessary to make certain no one ever learns of her escapade.
Maxine McArthur’s debut novel Time Future won the George Turner Prize, and with good reason. Along with writing a tight, fast-moving death-race of a novel, she seems to have invented her own genre: the space procedural, and it is the match of any police procedural set here on Earth. Think of it as a procedural with the pace and the tension cranked up to an almost unbearable measure. And Time Past doesn’t let up on the pressure for an instant, either.
Taking Halley to Earth’s past is a brilliant move on McArthur’s part: giving readers both more literal expanse and a solid grounding in many of the things and people mentioned in the debut novel. Plus, the conditions give an added impetus to want Halley safely off the dangerous, diseased planet as soon as humanly(?) possible, even if it is only to the comparative risks of time travel. Always, in Halley’s exploits readers can clearly hear the time ticking away, running out on her.
Even as the breathless pace is push everything before it, McArthur manages her own time to flesh out the characters — human and alien. She doesn’t shrink from showing the negative aspects of a being right along with the more likeable characteristics, either, and there and plenty of flaws in Halley and the people and other creatures around her. Truly alien races are a difficult creation, but McArthur’s Invidi, in particular, are as unfathomable behaviourally and physically as any in science fiction. Their complete lack of connection or empathy is reminiscent of the aliens in Patricia Anthony’s stunning Happy Policeman.
Time Past delivers on every promise Time Future hinted at and solidifies the reputation of an award-winning new author. Exciting, thought-provoking, shocking, heart-breaking — it never disappoints. Now, it only leaves us eager to find out what Maxine McArthur, that Wonder from Down-Under will hit us with next…