Seldom does a book surpass your expectations, especially when it arrives at your door with “Winner Of The George Turner Prize” featured prominently on the cover. With that kind of introduction, you expect something above the standard SF fare. With Time Future you get a story heads above the competition.
And, you get the first in what may well be a new sub-genre: the space procedural.
Just as police procedurals offer authentic portrayals of official investigations, Time Future gives readers a realistic depiction of what life might be like aboard a space station in crisis. It’s possible that McArthur is the first author to achieve that minute-by-minute atmosphere is deep space.
Jocasta is a space station on the verge of ruin. A blockade by the alien Seouras has kept the station and its inhabitants isolated from the Confederacy of Allied Worlds for months. Without contact, fresh materials, and supplies, conditions have rapidly worsened; soon the station may be unable to support life. Any kind of life. It’s understandable that the Confederacy would not be unduly upset over the loss of a few hundred human lives — humans being one of the underdog races of the alliance — but there are Invidi and other highly-evolved forms on Jocasta. Why allow them to be destroyed?
The way things are going, doesn’t it just figure that the first ship to break through the blockade in months would turn out to be travellers from Earth’s past? Any hopes Station Commander Halley may have entertained about rescue are wiped out by that discovery. But, as long as the most meagre life support systems are still functioning on Jocasta, Halley will keep fighting to save the beings under her protection.
Unfortunately, every new development makes that survival more unlikely.
By compressing the action in Time Future into just a few days, the illusion of reality becomes much stronger. There are no plot- and time-saving leaps to move the plot forward across those difficult and inconvenient gaps in the story. Of course, with annihilation imminent, there is no time for plot lags or “empty air.” Every minute counts — for the residents of Jocasta and the writer working to bring it all together. The deadline is seldom out of mind, thanks to McArthur’s use of specific chronology of scenes, reminding the reader that time and hope are running out.
The time span rings true, the decay around the characters is almost distressingly accurate, and the erosion of trust and morale all intensify the sense of urgency in Time Future. As the crisis reaches a head, the tension stretches almost to the breaking point. The characters we have come to know and care for are in danger and we feel the press of chances running out.
All this, and for a debut novel, too.