Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Untimed" - by Andy Gavin (Tribute Books blog tour)

"Charlie’s the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, even his own mother can’t remember his name. And girls? The invisible man gets more dates.

As if that weren’t enough, when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don’t take him seriously.

Still, this isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s this girl, another time traveler, who not only remembers his name, but might even l!ike him! Unfortunately, Yvaine carries more than her share of baggage: like a baby boy and at least two ex-boyfriends! One’s famous, the other’s murderous, and Charlie doesn’t know who is the bigger problem.

When one kills the other — and the other is nineteen year-old Ben Franklin — things get really crazy. Can their relationship survive? Can the future? Charlie and Yvaine are time travelers, they can fix this — theoretically — but the rules are complicated and the stakes are history as we know it. And there's one more wrinkle: he can only travel into the past, and she can only travel into the future."

"Andy Gavin is a serial creative, polymath, novelist, entrepreneur, computer programmer, author, foodie, and video game creator. He co-founded video game developer Naughty Dog and co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. He started numerous companies, has been lead programmer on video games that have sold more than forty million copies, and has written two novels.

His first book, The Darkening Dream, has been well-received by fans and critics alike. Publisher’s Weekly called it “gorgeously creepy, strangely humorous, and sincerely terrifying.” Untimed is an even more ambitious follow-up. It is a lavish production with a cover by acclaimed fantasy artist Cliff Nielsen and twenty-one full page interior illustrations by Dave Phillips."

Time-travel as a topic has fascinated people for eons.  We have all likely been asked the question "if you could go back in time, what/who/when/where..." and who hasn't wanted to jump into the future to finally take a spin on a flying car or find food that is ultimately satisfying and sans calories?  Personally, some have told me that I was born in the wrong decade and should have been alive 60 years ago because I love to cook and clean.  We are obsessed as a culture with time.  But what if we could actually jump back and forth, with limitations, of course...

The Good
While our culture may have a slight obsession with time, books that include elements of time travel always make me nervous.  Maybe it is because as a Trekkie and Stargate fan, I have a deep respect for the "temporal directive" (i.e. observe and don't change, and do not under any circumstances tell people in one time details about another time).  Maybe it is because I know just enough about physics to get myself into a confusing whirlwind of trouble when I try to figure out the physics behind the mere possibility of time travel.  Maybe it is because I've seen time travel as a hookey side effect in too many cheesy movies.  I'll admit, when I first read the blurb for this book, I was nervous that it was going to suck.

I was very pleasantly surprised.  

First, Gavin had created a work that takes pity on a reader who knows about as much about time travel as about how many hairs are on a monkey's uncle.  Readers are not thrown into a world where time travel is the norm and everyone knows what is going on, not to mention everyone knows the rules for such.  Nope, we get to struggle right alongside our hero - Charlie - as he tries to figure out just what the he - double hockey sticks is going on when he discovers that no one knows who he is because he is just slightly out of phase.  There are not long pages devoted to detailing exactly how it happens.  Our knowledge about time travel and its rules as defined in this world grows right alongside that of Charlie and at a realistic rate.  We learn slowly, through vicariously experiencing some trial and error as Charlie makes a mess of temporal reality while meaning well and, meaning just as well, attempts to take a temporal broom to the mess...all the while being head over knickers for a girl whom agents operating just out of phase with time have thrown into his path.  But enough...or I'll have to go back in time a few minutes and slap myself for spoiling the plot.  This plot should not be spoiled.  You should read the book.  'Nuff said?


Second, I like sarcasm.  I like the "well spit on a shingle and call me your fiddle dee dee" kind of humor (that phrase may only make sense in my head).  Sarcastic humor often makes one laugh because it is funny in a "we've all been there" kind of way.  Who hasn't been absolutely chagrined at their plan being foiled?  Sarcastic humor contains those snarky thoughts that we all have but few express.  (Aside: just where does the phrase "bite me" come from?  It has never made sense that one would wish another to inflict physical harm.  Translation problem?  And now, back to our regularly scheduled post (I'm feeling a bit snarky tonight myself, can you tell?))  This book is filled with a fabulous dose of snarky/sarcastic humor. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is from the perspective of a teenage boy - as anyone who has ever worked with that population can tell you, this population is filled with sarcastic snarkiness - and this author has been a teenage boy.  All I know is that it works well here and made me smile a few times...maybe not actually LOL, but certainly smile.  :)  See?  

Third, story: a sign of a good book in my book (see, snarky today...sorryish) is that before finishing the work, I'll ponder it and how the story could work.  I wonder what will happen next.  I want to get back to reading it as soon as my son goes to sleep.  That is how it was with this book.  I wanted to get back into it so that I could know what was going on, so the next little bit of explanation for what was happening could reveal itself, so I could see if Charlie and Yvaine just kiss already!  The plot moves forward at a pretty quick clip, never allowing readers to settle in one place for too long...the main characters would die if they were in one place for too long, the Tocks would find them (Curious?  Read the book!).  While it does feel a little hurried in a few places, it works. 

What about the characters?  They stay true to themselves, which if you've read my previous posts you know I appreciate.  Yvaine has a baby boy (oh hush, I didn't ruin too much - you discover this fairly soon in the book), and as a new mother with a baby boy, I gravitated towards Yvaine more so than perhaps I would have otherwise.  Her thoughts, feelings, and actions regarding her son throughout the book simultaneously elated and pained me as a mother.  I ached for her when she ached regarding her baby boy.  Let's just say this made me want to bear hug my little guy for days. Anyways...

Let's see, what else...this is a thrilling adventure story that is utterly unique - that is a hard mark to hit in this day and age when stories are being done to death...and then done again.  While there are elements that I've seen elsewhere (save someone's life, someone caught up in a weird circumstance, love story, etc) I have not seen them woven together quite like this.  I loved it.  :)  

Oh, and there were lots of fun new words to add to my vocabulary contained within this text.  I love it when that happens (and when the speaker talks about having to look up a word).  :)

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Yeah yeah yeah, I'm such a whiner and my complaints are sooooo nitpicky.  But they are still complaints nonetheless, so here goes:
When the characters are traveling back and forth through time, that travel is seemingly described as spinning through the "in-between", the nothingness that exists between two points in time.  Spinning - that is how a lot of the descriptions here made my brain feel.  In my opinion, Gavin leaves a little too much to reader's imagination when setting a scene.  A few things are described in utter detail, while things that would make those previous things make sense are lacking. For example, there is a church scene with fire.  Where people and things are in that space was never very clear to me.  I know readers need to figure out what the scenes looks like themselves to a certain extent, but the fact that I would have to reread entire pages several times to figure out why people were suddenly in different places, or where something came from, etc detracted from the book itself.  That being said, as a movie this story would be FANTASTIC.  Having to work so hard to locate everything in space (temporal and physical) distracted me from the plot, which was a shame.

While the plot moved quickly, in some places it moved too quickly.  Readers are not allowed to just set and digest their surroundings, and characters making constant temporal jumps meant new characters were constantly being introduced and then either never being seen again or not being seen again for a long time.  Having to re-read pages just to figure out who was who was majorly bothersome to me.  I don't like being confused.

The physics doesn't work.  Yeah yeah, this is sci-fi and to a certain extent sci-fi has a right to ignore the laws of science.  Characters in this book even say they defy the natural laws.  Still, the physics don't work quite right.  Alternate universe, okay.  

I really liked this book.  While I don't like being confused and the confusing settings and a plot that moves a titch too quickly in some places confused me mightily, I was able to look past those flaws and genuinely enjoy this read.  It is a sci-fi love story that feels very steam-punk and has a little something for everyone from rebellious teenagers to young mothers.  

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Untimed by Andy Gavin a 8.  

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