Skip to main content

Hard Time (SF) - Jodi Taylor ****

Jodi Taylor has had a lot of success with her Chronicles of St Mary's series, time travel adventures with a quirky sense of humour. Those books feature St Mary's, a sort of standalone university history department with no teaching that investigates through time travel, but whose staff are more like the inhabitants of Hogwarts than any real university. 

I enjoyed Plan for the Worst in that series, but found the constant juvenile jokey behaviour of the staff irritating. Here, in the second of a spin-off series, Taylor switches focus to the Time Police, an organisation that are to some extent the enemy of St Mary's, even though both are technically good guys. Although there is still far too much banter between characters, the more serious setting lifts the book to a higher level, allowing Taylor's skill at putting her characters in danger to shine through with gripping adventure.

The Time Police are responsible for preserving the timeline - in this adventure they rescue a privileged time tourist and come up against a criminal organisation attempting to make a fortune from the capabilities of time travel. Once we get past the bantering and the ridiculously childish antagonistic relationship between the Time Police and St Mary's (the staff of which still get a small role in the plot) we get some quality action - which makes a fair amount of the chunky 528 page book a page turner - a few clever twists and as always with Taylor a considerable amount of interesting historical context. 

On the whole Taylor's characters are lifted straight from the stock personalities list, but another improvement here was that, for example, the rich privileged playboy character Luke managed to develop more light and shade. And there is one lovely hat tip to 2001, A Space Odyssey when someone orders 'Open the pod bay doors, Dal.' You can guess the response.

There still is a strange mix of writing that appears to be for an adult audience with juvenile behaviour by the characters in Taylor's style. The humour is rarely as sophisticated as the 2001 reference, and a good example is the way that the term 'fire truck' is widely used as a euphemistic swear word. Most of all this reminded of a US kid's movie franchise that used 'Shiitake mushrooms' as an expletive the same way - it just feels out of place in an adult novel. Even so, moving to the Time Police viewpoint has tightened up Taylor's drama and this book definitely left me wanting more.

Hardback:    
Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence - John Zerilli et al ****

The cover of this book set off a couple of alarm bells. Not only does that 'Citizen's Guide' part of the title raise the spectre of a pompous book-length moan, the list of seven authors gives the feel of a thesis written by committee. It was a real pleasure, then, to discover that this is actually a very good book. I ought to say straight away what it isn't - despite that title, it isn't a book written in a style that's necessarily ideal for a general audience. Although the approach is often surprisingly warm and human, it is an academic piece of writing. As a result, in places it's a bit of a trudge to get through it. Despite this, though, the topic is important enough - and, to be fair, the way it is approached is good enough - that it deserves to be widely read. John Zerilli et al give an effective, very balanced exploration of artificial intelligence. Although not structured as such, it's a SWOT analysis, giving us the strengths, weaknesses, opportun

Grace Lindsay - Four Way Interview

Grace Lindsay is a computational neuroscientist currently based at University College, London. She completed her PhD at the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University, where her research focused on building mathematical models of how the brain controls its own sensory processing. Before that, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh and received a research fellowship to study at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Freiburg, Germany. She was awarded a Google PhD Fellowship in Computational Neuroscience in 2016 and has spoken at several international conferences. She is also the producer and co-host of Unsupervised Thinking , a podcast covering topics in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Her first book is Models of the Mind . Why science? I started my undergraduate degree as a neuroscience and philosophy double major and I think what drew me to both topics was the idea that if we just think rigorously enou

The Science of Can and Can't - Chiara Marletto *****

Without doubt, Chiara Marletto has achieved something remarkable here, though the nature of the topic does not make for an easy read. The book is an attempt to popularise constructor theory - a very different approach to physics, which Oxford quantum physicist David Deutsch has developed with Marletto. Somewhat oddly, the book doesn't use the term constructor theory, but rather the distinctly clumsier 'science of can and can't'. The idea is that physics is formulated in a way that is inherently limited because it depends on using mechanisms that follows the progress of dynamic systems using the laws of physics. This method isn't applicable in circumstances where either something may happen, but won't necessarily, nor where something isn't allowed to happen (hence the science of can and can't, which probably should be the science of could and can't if we are going to be picky). Deutsch and Marletto have proposed a way of using 'counterfactuals'