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Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

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Heroes

GUEST POST–PARALLEL LINES: On Heroes by ADAM SHAW

Parallel Lines_high res Name: STEVEN SAVILE

Author of: PARALLEL LINES (2017)

On the web: www.stevensavile.com

On Twitter: @StevenSavile

Steven Savile’s latest novel, PARALLEL LINES, is published in the UK on 14th March by Titan Books. To celebrate the launch, Reader Dad is very pleased to welcome the book’s protagonist, Adam Shaw, to talk about heroes.

I find heroes strange beasts. I’ve always had trouble with the square-jawed Dan Dare, Roy Race type. They’re inherently dull. The heroine might shout Flash, I love you but we only have twenty-four hours to save the earth, but no matter the stakes, Flash is always going to win. The same way that the Lone Ranger is always going to ride into town just in time to save widow at the homestead. I always preferred my heroes broken, probably because I’m broken, too. I think most of us are in one way or another. Me, I grew up thinking ‘everybody leaves me’ and that coloured most of my interactions with women probably until deep into my thirties. Letting someone through those self-erected walls ain’t easy when you’ve been building them for the best part of your life.

I guess for that reason Trainspotting’s Mark Renton was always more fascinating when he asked me to Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and all of those other things right up to the notion of choosing to rot away at the end of it all resonated so strongly. Broken people can’t be counted on to do the right thing when the shit hits the fan. And even if they try, there’s so much personal baggage to overcome there’s no guarantee it’ll work out for the best, or even how they intended.

That said, there’s as much room for Don Quixote and his windmill tilting in the world of heroes as there is for the more mysterious Joseph K marching relentlessly towards his own death.

31865-Parallel-lines-blog-tour#3On a personal level, fresh out of university in the 90s I found myself living the rootless life of Generation X’s Andy Palmer, shuffling from meaningless McJob to meaningless McJob and like him trying to make sense of the world I was stumbling into while everything around me was changing fast. And boy, those jobs… burglar alarm salesman, double glazing salesman, fish packer, mortgage rate advisor, classified ad salesman, the one thing they all had in common, I lasted less than a full day at any of them. I had a glorious habit of saying screw this for a game of soldiers and walking away because I wanted to do something else. Be someone else. I wanted to be the hero of my own life, not a bit part player in someone else’s.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never really been that interested in the hero rides into town stories, come to save the day, screw the dame and move on to the next town. I want flaws. I want a hero who’s afraid of heights walking a tightrope between tower blocks. I want Adam Shaw, a guy with a disease that plays havoc with his muscular control, holding a gun in a high stress situation that just exacerbates his condition. I love the tragic inevitability of it. That gun, once it’s been pulled, is always going to go off. Him being a square-jawed hero, that’s not interesting. Him being broken man, battered by life, realising that hope is a bastard but unable to stop hoping, that’s interesting. Plus it’s much more fun torturing damaged heroes…

Adam Shaw is a family man at heart. Yesterday his world consisted of two things, his disabled son Jake and statistical probabilities. Today his body is his worst enemy. His diagnosis? ALS. Now tomorrow holds no surprises. That’s why he walked into the bank with a gun and a plan. To safeguard Jake’s future.

THE MAP OF TIME by Felix Palma

THE MAP OF TIME

Felix Palma

Translated by Nick Caistor

HarperCollins (www.harpercollins.co.uk)

£12.99

Released: 9 June 2011

I’m a big fan of fiction that uses actual historical figures or events as part of its fabric. Fiction like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist or Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club. So, I was excited when Felix Palma’s The Map of Time landed on my desk and I discovered that H.G. Wells and Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. The Elephant Man, were amongst its seemingly vast cast of characters. The Map of Time is the first of Palma’s novels to be translated into English.

As one reads, it soon becomes clear that The Map of Time is less of a conventional novel, and more a trilogy of interconnected stories, all of which have a number of things in common: they all feature to a lesser or greater degree the author H.G. Wells, and the fictional entrepreneur Gilliam Murray; they are all set in London, 1896; and they are all constructed around the central theme of time travel.

The first part of the novel concerns Andrew Harrington, a man on the verge of suicide, having spent eight years trying to come to terms with the death of his lover, the prostitute Marie Kelly, the last victim of Jack the Ripper. His cousin, sensing his intentions saves him from the fatal self-inflicted bullet, and introduces him to Gilliam Murray, proprietor of Murray’s Time Travel, in the hope that Murray can help Harrington travel back to 1888 and change the course of history. Unable to help, Murray directs the pair to the home of H.G. Wells, a man who recently shot to fame with the publication of his novel The Time Machine. Wells, as it turns out, has an exact replica of the very machine from his novel stashed in his attic – a working copy, no less – and agrees to help young Harrington out.

Part two tells us the story of Claire Haggerty and Tom Blunt, a pair of lovers who, it seems, are trapped in different periods of time. It is also the story of Murray and his time travel company, and begins to reveal something about the relationship that exists between Murray and Wells.

In the closing part of the book, a traveller from the far future summons Wells, Henry James and Bram Stoker to an old abandoned house with a dark history in the centre of London and tells them that their lives are in danger: a man from the future will, within the year, publish three novels under his own name. Those novels are The Invisible Man, The Turn of the Screw and Dracula. And, as Wells soon discovers, the only way this traveller will be able to get away with this is if the original authors are dead.

The novels gets off to a promising start. The Harrington section is concisely told. The language is beautiful, whether because of Palma’s original Spanish or Caistor’s translation – it’s an old-fashioned story told in an old-fashioned tone, by a narrator who has a tendency to break the fourth wall, which makes it almost like listening to one of Grandad’s old yarns.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book fails to live up to this excellent start. The story encapsulated in the middle section is interesting, and well-told, but somewhat overlong. Here, Grandad’s old yarn turns into that story he always tells when he’s in his cups, and everyone rolls their eyes, wishing for him to reach the point so they can talk about something more interesting. What is perhaps most disappointing, though, is that the third section seems totally unrelated to the first two, except that they share some characters and a plot device: namely time travel.

Here’s how it looks to me: Palma saw an interesting device in an early episode of Heroes (you’ll know it when you come across it, if you’ve seen the first season or two of the show), constructed a story around his own version of this device centred around the novelist H.G. Wells, introduced a couple of incidental characters and came up with a neatly-packaged, exciting story that ran about 150 pages. Then, in order to flesh out some of the incidental characters he produced a whopping 350 pages of backstory which had absolutely no bearing on the original story.

Which is not to say The Map of Time is a bad novel. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, a great novel, but it’s not bad. A bit on the long side, and could do with some trimming, but the first and last parts are worth the price of admission alone. Just don’t expect them to be the first and last parts of the same story. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

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