Review of Lost in Time by A.G. Riddle
A.G. Riddle's time-travel story centers around reconciling the inability to change what has already occurred, but the necessity of doing so to save loved ones. With a twist!
When we created Absalom, we weren't trying to build a time machine. We were trying to build a machine that saved our families.
I love a time-travel book (see lists of some of my favorites, linked below).
In A.G. Riddle's 450-page multiple-timeline story Lost in Time, a group of scientists have developed a device called Absalom. First intended to revolutionize shipping, its limitations and its vast possibilities lead to a new purpose: to send dangerous criminals back in time.
Deals are made with governments, and criminals thought to be unredeemable are sent back to the time of dinosaurs, presumably to fight for their survival, but certainly never to be heard from again. (The moral responsibility or weight of this process is not deeply examined in the book.)
When Sam, one of the creators of the system, is framed for the murder of another creator, he finds himself about to be sent back in his own creation as punishment. But his physicist friends are determined to try to get him back to the present again somehow.
If only Sam had had time to do more than give himself a crash course in reading about the Triassic Period (weather, Pangea, dinosaur identification) or to hear his friends' ambitious plan for his return--but he is whisked back in time.
When he arrives, he encounters murderous Absolom survivors, carnivorous dinosaurs, earthquakes, and lava flow--meanwhile he's struggling to make fire and keep the flames going for one full day, please. Ultimately, very little of Lost in Time takes place in this distant past. Most of the action occurs in more modern-day timelines.
The protagonists cope with personal difficulties and desperate needs--these are key to their intense motivation to create Absalom--but the book feels more plot-driven rather than focused on character development. The characters move through interesting moments and shift their understanding of previously mysterious events, but they must keep their actions largely the same through timelines in order to avoid ruining the universe.
You think about the outcome, you go search for that result, and if you find it in the past, you conduct the experiment.
The book's resolution involves extensive, long-term manipulation of the past and directly affects many people's lives and deaths. (It also necessitates a gruesome, quite involved and elaborate sideline business that felt intensely creepy.) I was waiting for the characters involved to consider their inevitable squirrelly feelings about playing God or determining who lives and dies, but Riddle didn't really delve into such feelings, and the characters seemed secure in what felt likely to be impossibly morally fraught actions.
I suppose I was uncomfortable with what seemed like the characters' inability to consider that human life always ends, that that is what makes it precious, and that actively manipulating outcomes related to life and death on the scale presented in the story might be problematic and irresponsible.
I did not see the fascinating twist of the book coming, and it's laid bare for the reader relatively early. I spent much of the rest of the book trying to wrap my head around one of the book's key concepts, that only what has occurred in the past can occur again (but but but...characters have clearly tampered with the past, so how did that first occur without destroying the universe?). I don't pretend to have succeeded in comprehending the heart of the time-travel premise here, but it was all interesting to contemplate.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
A.G. Riddle is also the author of Departure and Winter World.
If you like books that play with time, you might also like the books on my Greedy Reading Lists Six Riveting Time-Travel Stories to Explore and Six Second-Chance, Do-Over, Reliving-Life Stories--or you can search this site for other Bossy reviews of books that involve time travel.