Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Map of Time (El mapa del tiempo) by Felix J. Palma, trans. Nick Caistor

Mr. Palma is apparently an accomplished writer in Spain, but The Map
of Time
is his first book translated into English. It's a mind-bending
story set in Victorian London, which seems to be about time travel,
but will likely completely scramble your notions of time and time travel.

I generally don't like time travel - the paradoxes and parallel
universes bore me, and besides that I find the whole notion
implausible. But there were slim pickings in science fiction books on
the new books shelf at the library, so I spared this a second glance.
Also, the fact that it was translated intrigued me, and the
exaggerated "dear reader" introduction was different from norm. This
impression was borne out by reading - the book's style is one of a
kind, at least in modern science fiction. (As the back cover states,
it harks back to the pioneers of science fiction, Jules Verne and HG
Wells.) The style also seems distinctly Spanish to me - there is a
rhythmic flow to the sentences, and the word choice is more direct
than writers in English would normally use. The narration, however, is
anything but - in a Victorian way, Mr. Palma takes his time getting to
the point. But it's an enjoyable ride because of his jovial tone and
humorous choice of images and analogies. I quickly realized the novel
is laughing at itself the whole time. By the end I understood why -
this isn't an adventure story, but a novel about writing and about
time travel through reading, storytelling, and illusion.

So about the time travel (and the plot). Another reason I didn't mind
reading about time travel is because nothing is as it seems in this
book. Mr. Palma surprises you once and you think you have it figured
out, but he pulls the carpet out from under you again, and again.
Additionally, the plausibility of the various time travel methods
quickly becomes irrelevant, because at their core, the three connected
stories that form the novel are not about grand historical events that
have to be averted or preserved - although the novel does touch on a
few - but about the human bonds that span the abyss of time and are
perhaps our truest measurement of time.

As a writer, I enjoyed the book immensely, mostly due to its humorous,
self-referential style and the commentary on writing through the medium of
HG Wells, who features as a major character. People looking for an
epic adventure may be disappointed, but if you don't mind a change of
pace for the sake of some laughs and mind-bending twists in your
perception of time, this is a gem.

Amazon has a letter from author about the novel, which I have not yet
read, as I don't have a pdf reader on this computer:

The author has another book titled El mapa del cielo; I'm wondering if
this is the sequel and whether it might be translated sometime
soon..hope so.

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