bookrev: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
A self-correcting space-time continuum meets British sarcasm and pomposity, with a little love thrown in.
Winner of the Hugo award in 1997, Ms. Willis’ novel had been recommended to me from several different people for reasons of good science, humor and time travel. When it finally popped off the reading stack, I now know why it won and has gotten such rave reviews (to which I will enjoin mine own!).
The idea of a self-correcting space-time continuum, vs. the multiverse/multiworld or “time travel is impossible” theories is one that begs a lot of plot twists, which this novel takes full advantage of.
In this world, the people of the future have figured out how to time travel, but they’ve also learned that you can’t bring anything back from the past, and that there are certain inflection points that you cannot travel to….for instance, you can’t go back and keep Lincoln from being assassinated, the time continuum won’t let you as that event has a large impact on subsequent events. So the “net” (time continuum) protects itself and thus time travel has been relegated to the realm of historians and deep-pocketed sponsorers.
“A Grand Design we couldn’t see because we were part of it. A Grand Design we only got occasional, fleeting glimpses of. A Grand Design involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason chose to work out it’s designs with cats and croquet mallets and penwipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork. And us.”
The “hideous piece…of artwork” is the bishop’s bird stump, which Ned Henry is trying to find for the restoration of the Coventry cathedral, destroyed in Nazi bombing in WWII but being rebuilt in 2057 through a benefactor. Ned gets a little “time-lagged” going back and forth through time looking for it, so he is supposedly set back to the Victorian era for some R&R….only to find that he has been given a task to take back an object that Verity Kindle, another member of the historian time traveler team, “accidentally” brought back with her…which is not supposed to be possible. But Ned is so time lagged he can’t truly remember what he was supposed to do.
One of my other favorite parts of this book is that is plays with insight, or what I like to call clarity of thought. From Ned’s time-lagged adled state to the point where he almost sees the mental path to figure out where the bishop’s bird stump is are all well described.
“I almost had it, and if I didn’t jar it with any sudden movements or distractions, I would see the whole thing.”
The rest of the story revolves around Ned and Verity trying hard to put things back the way they think they are supposed to be based on clues researched from the future, while the “net” responds itself by repairing time with little coincidences that Ned starts to put together along the way.
Great descriptions of chaos theory, time travel, and Victorian snobbery (to say nothing of the cat and the dog). A very enjoyable read. It did take me a bit to get into it, but once Ned starts to realize he was really sent back to the Victorian era with a mission, I could not put it down.
Buy it at BOOKS, Inc.
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