Caleb Carr, Killing Time. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), Warner Books (USA), 2000. Pp. 310. ISBN 0751530751, £6.99 (UK); ISBN 044661095X , $7.99 (USA).

Reviewed by Djibril

This is a novel (originally written in serialised form) by a non-SF author dabbling in genre themes; C.'s two previous books are detective novels set in the late nineteenth century, a genre and setting that he handles very convincingly. KT is more of a mixed bag: the narrative feels old-fashioned—partly because of the short, almost self-contained episodes and repetitive detail imposed by the serialised medium, partly because the story is straight out of Jules Verne. Instead of Captain Nemo's submarine, the protagonist is on the run after having left the crew of a high-tech airship taht has been evading the world's authorities for some years. The science behind this airship, the weapons and eqipment of its crew, is some what vague, the characterisation and motivation of the characters weak, the plot disjointed in places, full of loose ends and false starts. (In a detective novel these are no bad thing, I suppose, but this is only a detective story for the first few pages.) Particularly dated is the portrayal of the one female character in the story—that twentieth century staple, the 'sexy Amazon'; albeit a sexy Amazon with whom the protagonist establishes a meaningful and fulfilling relationship.

For all the flaws I highlight above, this book is by no means a complete failure on the SF front. The world of the future may be scientifically speaking banal, but it is an incisive parody of our own media/information glutted culture. The narrator's preface gives us the moral of the story: 'information is not knowledge' (3). Since the big media corps and governments control both dissemination and content of information through news, entertainment, and the internet, citizens of the world no longer have any means of confidently verifying 'the truth'.

The crew of the airship try to educate the world to this Orwellian, postmodern reality-crisis by a series of hoaxes involving fakes archive footage of historical events and figures (letters from Churchill 'proving' that English leaders intentionally helped engineer the First World War, for instance). These efforts mostly backfire, however, creating more disinformation rather than opening the eyes of the populace to that which already circulates. This future world and the complexities of the 'information terrorism' are expertly and interestingly protrayed, but sadly there is no real resolution to this dilemma, and the plot has to twist yet again for a climax on another theme altogether. Meanwhile, the ambivalent Nemo-esque figure of Tressalian is conducting sinister experiments into time-travel that might threaten the fabric of our reality altogether.

A very enjoyable and thought-provoking read, even if a somewhat sidelong attempt by C. to enter the genre of speculative fiction.

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