Bonker writes: "When I first picked up 'ChronoSpace', parts of which were published earlier in 'Asimov's Science Fiction', it initially looked like an interesting time-travel thriller-- something we've seen many of, but not a story that gets old due to its variations. Indeed, the story starts out revolving around the central premise that the small percentage of UFO's sighted that can't be explained away as airplanes, comets, or blimps, are in actuality time-travelling ships from the future sent to investigate the past." Read on for Bonker's thoughts on how the book progresses from there.
It's an intriguing concept and one that the author explores with relish. Indeed, one of the two main characters in the story spends a great deal of his time exploring the social climate of pre-World War II Germany during Hitler's rise to power. After the initial concept is explained, however, the story starts to break down.
The author seems infinitely more interested in name-dropping other, more successful sci-fi authors and scientists. Steele has done his research on obscure historical persona, but he can't seem to fix the holes in his own story.
A good example in terms of broken plot is the fictional scientific principle the author uses to drive his time-travel ships. It's called the 'Morris-Thorne' principle in the story, obviously named after the scientists who discovered it. Since this *is* a time-travel story, when a character named Morris is introduced, the observant reader would think that the author is stitching his story together, trying to subtly explain things to the reader. The observant reader would be wrong, because this angle is never touched again. In fact, the author rather absent-mindedly contradicts the possibility later in the story.
Another good example is the date scheme that Steele uses to identify his chapters. After the inevitable 'uhoh, we caused a paradox' event in the middle of the story, one of the dates listed mysteriously jumps from Monday, January 14th, 1998 to Thursday, January 15th, 1998. (The latter is correct. Monday was the 12th in 1998.) In any other kind of story, this kind of discrepancy could be easily dismissed as an editorial oversight. In a time-travel story, it's *supposed* to be a dead giveaway, just like the next date problem, when it jumps from a correct day in 1998 to an incorrect day in 1997. It's not any kind of giveaway. It's an editing mistake, and a painful one at that.
What's really amusing about this is that, earlier in the story, one of the characters makes the case for having to know the exact time and date in order to time-travel correctly. Apparently having the wrong date doesn't make much of a difference to their calculations when they use it to time-travel because it's never mentioned again. Neither are the other limitations on time-travel the author introduces, such as the inability of time-travellers to breach the first millennium or earlier.
The book is ridden with inconsistencies like this. I'm not sure if it's laziness or incompetence on the part of the author or if Mr. Steele was stuck with a rhesus monkey for an editor, but in a story where incidental details matter so much, these otherwise trivial errors are hard to forgive.
The climax of the book is a first-degree act of Deus Ex Machina, perpetrated by judgmental aliens who are super-intelligent and somehow immune to paradox. It's hard to swallow by the time you've already waded through the rest of the story's problems. The cautionary ending is bitter and disappointing. Steele successfully deviates from formula in this respect, but only at the cost of making his painfully static, flat characters seem even more depressive and uninteresting.
I have to conclude that 'ChronoSpace' is simply not worth the time it takes to read, even for the most adamant of sci-fi or time-travel fans. Even if you completely dismiss the amount of smugness the author shows dropping modern and historical names, the story is rife with inconsistencies, errors, and writing blunders. The characters are flat and uninteresting. Any chance they have to grow is brutally crushed by this steam-roller of a plot that Steele's trying to push. The one thing that could redeem a story like this was if it were inspiring or offered some new insight on the philosophy of time travel. Instead, Steele tries to be cautionary. It's hard to convincingly cautionary when the moral of your story is, "Don't mess with time travel, or easily angered super-aliens will destroy your planet's civilization." In fact, if Steele has anything to say about inspiration in ChronoSpace, it's that inspiration is dangerous. Even carefully controlled forward advancement is harmful and should be avoided. I'm not sure if that's what he was trying to accomplish, but it's a major theme in the book nonetheless.
The hell of all this is that even up against the super-cautionary tone of the book, Steele could have easily done a better job with his story, even if it was just a quick read-through of his own work to correct some of the screaming errors he's made. He didn't, and it shows.
Don't waste your time with 'ChronoSpace'.
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