Sep 2, 2011

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma


An exercise in never-judging a book by its awesome cover or overwrought hype (based largely in the mistaken idea that any book in translation must be brilliant!), I present my review for Felix J. Palma's The Map of Time, for those of you who might have missed it at Tor.com. 


I once took a course in writing science fiction and fantasy from Canadian fantasy writer Ann Marston. In it, Ann warned against explaining oft-used concepts and tropes, as they no longer required explanation. She focused on post-apocalyptic literature that rambled on about how the world had ended, rather than advancing the story. Her point was that SFF readers have a vast intertextual repository of print and screen antecedents to fill in the gaps. A few hints are sufficient for the savvy speculative reader’s comprehension. Consider Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. How did the world become this burnt out husk? It doesn’t matter – the world burned, a father and son survived, and continue to survive. This is the story. We don’t really give a damn precisely how the world fell apart because we’re wrapped up in that story, no further explanation necessary.

While reading the third and final act of Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time, I wondered if his target audience was someone who had never considered parallel universes, or alternate history, or time travel’s ripple effect. In short, someone who has never read Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. For anyone familiar with possible world theory or Schrödinger’s cat, it feels terribly contrived. It’s like reading the alt history version of The Celestine Prophecy: characters exist only to deliver philosophical exposition. When H.G. Wells utters the words, “Does this mean we are living in . . . a parallel universe?” I couldn’t help myself. I took a red pen and wrote, “Gasp!” in the margin.

The awkward third act of The Map of Time is unfortunate, because there’s some really good writing in the first two acts. The problem is, Palma tried too hard to connect the dots for the reader, instead of letting it be a fragmented narrative involving Jack the Ripper, H.G. Wells, time travel, John Merrick the Elephant Man, and the sudden appearance of Bram Stoker and Henry James. Oh, and there’s a romance or two as well.

Check out the whole article at Tor.com.

4 comments:

  1. Without giving too much offense I tend to disagree. I have not read The Map of Time so I cannot say anything about this work in particular but, as a whole, I think it is completely justified for an author to explain their world to the reader. Not everyone who picks up a book to read is 100% familiar and comfortable with every aspect of the subject matter. And sometimes what the writer is picturing is completely different than what the reader sees in their mind. Actually, I would argue that that is the point of reading. To learn new ideas and concepts. Everyone sees the world (universe) in a different way and your review assumes that we all see it the same. That we all know so much about alternate history and time travel that we would be totally bored, or at least rolling our eyes. Perhaps the author was trying to "dumb it down" for those who needed it? Or so that more than one target audience could enjoy it? Could this be?

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  2. Possibly. But there are artful ways to do an exposition dump, and clumsy ways. I think Palma did it in a clumsy fashion. And no offense taken.

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  3. I read this book -in spanish.

    First of all, we have to understand that the science fiction "made in Spanish" doesn't have the same health than in anglo literature. I mean there are spanish readers people who read science-fiction, but it's something observed like "young literature" -even the hard science-fiction- , something subordinated to the "high culture", and the science-fiction readers are a minority.

    What Félix pretended wasn't writte a book for science-fiction readers, and less for Steampunks, he writte to sell it to any kind of reader, and there are many people who, in their lifes, they haven't read anything from Verne, from Wells, or even from Asimov, Bradbury,... And, of course, they didn't heard in their lifes something about the spanish science-fiction writters. Is for this reason he wrote the book, in first therm, for readers who in their lifes have had any kind of contact with science-fiction literature. I think, knowing as well the situation of science-fiction on Spain, Félix has been valiant to focus it for a more opened public, and it can help to put more importance of sci-fi for Spain. But he has been so valiant as all scifi writters on Spanish, and I think will we nice to understand this :)

    And I've read it, I'm a scifi reader since I was a child, and I find it very... "warm" and charming. I didn't feel as a fool -probably because I know how it is the situation, as I said :)

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  4. Lis - thank you for the insight! I should have factored the original audience in, and you're right - in terms of World SF, Spain is still burgeoning.

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