The Map of Time
By Felix J. Palma
This review will contain some spoilers because I can't really discuss what I didn't like without revealing some of them, and because you might enjoy the book if you go into it with your eyes wide open. The first is that although The Map of Time -- the first novel by the (apparently) acclaimed
Spanish novelist Felix J. Palma to be translated into English -- is
marketed as science fiction (I bought my copy through the Science
Fiction Book Club), it isn't really. If you go into it taking most of the science fictional elements at face value, you'll be disappointed.
It also purports to be a metafiction involving Jack
Ripper, H.G. Wells and time travel, told in three interconnecting
stories, and I suppose that is true.
It could as easily have
been marketed as fantasy, but other than in the sense that any work of
is a fantasy, it's not really that either. And despite its Victorian setting and rave review quotes from two popular
steampunk authors (though not favorites of mine), it isn't steampunk or even
The reason I was so severely disappointed is that one seemingly science fictional element is introduced early on: Jack the Ripper is apprehended after
killing one of his victims, and so his identity does not remain a mystery for more
than a century. Since in our world Jack the Ripper was never caught, that puts The Map of Time in the category of alternate history. The introduction of time travel suggests history has been changed by someone traveling in time.
There is another possibly science fictional element in the third and final section, but it is so nonsensical that it could be a hoax.
One reason I suspect -- hope, really -- it could be a hoax is that !!!SPOILER ALERT !!!! every other science fictional element in the book turns out to be a hoax.
Regardless of whether it should be considered
science fiction or fantasy, The Map of Time has a more serious
problem: it is deathly dull and long-winded.
First, there is an omniscient narrator who doesn't have
the good grace to fade into the background. He doesn't just know everything; he
wants you to know that he knows everything. He frequently intrudes in such a
way as to remind you that you're reading a book, and not a very subtle one.
Second, the book takes a long time to get to the pseudo-science fictional elements. The first and second stories are really romances with a tiny amount of SF mixed in.
Third, it's not
over yet. The dust jacket announces that this is the first book of a trilogy
(noooooo!!!), and the second volume is scheduled for English publication later this year: The Map of the Sky. Two of Palma's invented characters will
re-appear, and possibly H.G. Wells again, too, as this book has something to do
with The War of the Worlds.
What will the third book concern? There
are many H.G. Wells books from which to choose -- The Island of Dr.
Moreau, The Food of the Gods, The Invisible Man (though that's already been referenced in Map of Time), The
First Men in the Moon, When the Sleeper Wakes -- and even more short stories -- "The Country of the Blind," "The Truth about
Pyecraft," etc. I don't plan to read
Let me say one thing in defense of Map of
: It is an attractive looking book. It has a nice cover illustration,
with distinctive endpapers (in the hardcover, that is; I don't know if they will appear on the paperback, due
this summer). You can download wallpapers of them here
If it were written at
250 pages instead of more than 650, I might cut it some slack. As is, I
can't recommend it.
If you want a more fun tale of H.G Wells, Jack the Ripper
and a real time machine, look for the reissue of Karl Alexander's novel Time After
, the basis for the 1979 film starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen.