Book Review: Timing

Timing (Far from the Spaceports: Book 2)
by Richard Abbott

There are some sequels we get around to reading, or even purchase enthusiastically, remembering the pleasure experienced from their predecessors. Rarer, however, is the follow-on one prodigiously hopes is being written before they even conclude the first. In this instance, I became a beneficiary of the reality behind that wish when I learned of Timing, second in Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series. Having read and reviewed the first novel last year, I became quite attached to Mitnash Thakur, financial fraud investigator to the Scilly Isles, an asteroid belt near Jupiter, and couldn’t get enough of his prepossessing personality and, dare I say, aura.

This time around I fairly dove into the narrative, enabled by Abbott’s smoother story opening in Frag Rockers, a then nearly-empty Bryher bar in which Mitnash feels “old contentment resurfacing,” an apt manner in which to re-unite previous readers with this protagonist, given the memories re-kindled as we observe Mitnash’s gaze circle around his group and, together, remember. This is not to say one must have read Far from the Spaceports to understand what occurs here. Timing is most definitely a strong standalone, and any reader coming to it first also experiences an order advantage.


Neither of us had considered transferring her to a handheld, or some other portable gadget, since our last experience of that was still too painful.


What I mean by this is that periodically within Timing Abbott references an episode that occurred in the first novel; as a previous reader I feel the satisfaction of recognition. Newer readers have this in store for them as well, even if they read the two novels in reverse order: in the series debut, happening upon full events only referenced in Timing consummates each occasion, resulting in a gratifying sense of completion, an “Ahh, so that’s how it played out!” Mitnash tells his story with an intimate feel, as if he is speaking only to you the reader, so links between the novels as well as those connecting readers to the narrative and real-life society’s imaginings of their own future, link two worlds not only with technological realities and fantasies in common, but also the range of emotions that accompany them. We don’t just care for the characters; we feel a kinship.

Within the narrative, Abbott avoids weighty jargon, relying instead on a writing style that runs as smoothly as water, and an ability to communicate succinctly and economically some layered and otherwise complicated information. In this manner he takes us from Jupiter now to Mars, where a financial scam spirals into terror activity, negatively affecting even Slate, Mitnash’s artificial intelligence (AI) partner, whose own agency as persona is demonstrated in a robust personality, preferences, even bias and occasional snobbery. Her fears, too, play a role in how they navigate their way through the case, for the fallout might be serious indeed. At one point Slate attempts to interact with a set of personas centrally located within the attack directed against a college computer system.

They were still metaphorically limping along very awkwardly, their normal coordinated step disrupted by the trauma. When they did approach the subject, cautiously and with much hesitation, the level of fear they felt was like nothing Slate had witnessed before.

 [T]hey had also been unable to communicate with one another. For a pair whose initial, halting attempts at chat had been with one another, whose awareness had included each other from their very first cold startup, the loss was catastrophic. It was still difficult for them to build a trusting rapport with anything external.

 Slate was, I understood, very gentle with them, and avoided probing too deeply.

Slate’s compassion is tinged with fear for herself as well, and as events escalate with threats and extortion from a new band of outlaws called Robin’s Rebels, the pair must join forces with an unlikely partner, one they are not sure they can trust, even as they know they have to. The author maintains a fine balance with this angle, re-introducing a previous character and keeping us sitting up straight as we journey from spot to spot—experiencing the idiosyncratic nature of each—keeping a close lookout for someone we don’t know. Abbott also splices in details about our protagonist’s relationship with Shayna, back on Earth, and the peculiar weave of time that affects how days are experienced in these parts, on occasion plaiting them together in a brief comment about his poor timing, the utilization of which he would need to execute more efficiently if he is to crack this case. As we move along, Abbott silently teases out the question hovering between the lines about Mitnash and Shayla: Are their own weaves of time, and the manner in which they experience them, compatible? Or does the timing of each exist on planes far too separate for their union to be a success?

These questions and the situation they inhabit, paired with Mitnash’s continuing working relationship with Slate make one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Not that I admire trouble, mind you. In Far from the Spaceports the investigative duo get on well despite the occasional stumble, and carry on nicely. It works and is, as part of the introductory novel to this world, appropriate. In Timing, Mitnash and Slate experience deeper disagreement, some rather more serious as Abbott gives us a more profound view to the nature of the discord, or at least their conflicting perception and opinion. It also solidifies Slate’s role as more than a sidekick, intensifies the pressure of work in space and the stress of a human and AI relating to each other—not to mention humans raised in a number of extremely different environments—and lends questions to where Mitnash’s deeper feelings, preferences and loyalties lie.

As Mitnash struggles to write and dispatch a message to Shayna, partly attempting to explain his excessive amount of time away, we see how relationships affect those within them as well as those who observe. As in so many other passages through the book, Abbott provides insight into how a persona—this particular one, anyway—thinks, even if her logic is flawed, and the influence it has on Mit’s behavior.

“If we did succeed in getting straight back, we’ll still have been away from Earth for about six months. You need a better note than that.”

 An hour later I had crafted something which, I thought, sounded warm and conciliatory rather than just trite … Signal lag was about a quarter of an hour to Earth, and it was morning in Greenwich just now. Shayna would read it before too much longer.

 “Is that why you and Rocky gave up sooner than us?”

 [Slate] was not impressed.

 “Don’t you think that’s rather glib, Mit? On the Lovelace scale, we had the equivalent of nearly ninety years as a couple. And managed some five year separations within that. Do you think you will be together that long? How many human couples do you know who get to ninety years together?”

 Of course I apologised, and she accepted, and I settled down for the night.

Abbott as a science-fiction author, the characters and the plot itself mature as the complexities of all three, plus more, interact and give us a story that provides questions as well as answers, thrill and satisfaction, and an adventure that can’t be beat. The psychology of relationships being a huge theme running through the book follows superbly, in human terms and within a storyline unencumbered by excessive examination to bog down events. As a reader not typically attracted to sci-fi, it enthralled for itself, as well as the awareness that I could be drawn to the genre not once now, but twice, a condition that underlines the author’s ability to captivate readers from inside as well as out of the genre’s general readership.

The asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. In 1596, Johannes Kepler noted the excessive gap in the orbits between the two and believed there must be an undiscovered planet there. There is in fact a dwarf planet, Ceres. By Mdf at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Click image for more information)
So where do we go from here? Interestingly, I find myself contemplating a second reading of both novels—and soon—something I often pass up on other books I unsurprisingly loved because the timing was always off. I feel as if I am the only one Mitnash is telling his story to, and am drawn into the world Abbott builds with such fluidity, a perfect mix of fantasy elements with reality, the differences of the people in his world to us, as well as how similar and ordinary much of it is. (As readers may know, I’m a great lover of the ordinary.) As the story wraps itself around us, we become a part of that world, a magical attachment that lingers even when we step away.

About the author …

Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships. The second area is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His historical fiction books explore events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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The blogger was furnished with a complimentary copy of Timing in order to facilitate an honest review.

For my review of Far from the Spaceports, click here

Stay tuned for my review of Richard Abbott’s latest, Half Sick of Shadows, a guest blog and more!

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Author image courtesy Richard Abbott

 

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Book Review: Loyalty Binds Me

Back in January I read Loyalty Binds Me, one of a projected trilogy about a time-travelling Richard III–a surefire disaster or an intriguing proposition, depending on one’s viewpoint. I suppose I was somewhere in the middle because, frankly, I love the idea of time travel and wish I could do it myself, but simultaneously wondered how the author would pull this off.

Here’s what I found.

Loyalty Binds Me by Joan Szechtman

Modern Day Trials of the Last Plantagenet King

208970_444671668905742_169100148_nLoyalty Binds Me, second in a projected trilogy concerning Richard III, the medieval monarch of the “Princes in the Tower” tradition, takes on a huge task. Many readers will be familiar with the last Plantagenet king’s travel to present-day in the first installment, This Time, and speculative fiction fans (and others) will revel in such a journey. However, when Richard finds himself now under arrest for the murders of his nephews–which, mind you, happened some 500 years ago, and there exist contradictions to this charge–he experiences firsthand effects of the success the Tudors, Shakespeare and others have had in blackening his reputation. But how, readers may ask, does the author manage to overcome the label of absurdity; will enough modern lawmen actually believe this is Richard III come to this era, and are willing to risk their careers on such a prosecution? How can this be portrayed?

Worry not, readers, for Joan Szechtman not only manages all this heavy lifting, but also does it with the mark of a brilliant writer: by making it look easy. The flow of the book is so smooth, that when I read certain parts I actually gasped at the ups and downs Szechtman took me through with Richard. So thrilling are those danger moments, I found myself mentally shaking my fist at the need to sleep; I simply had to keep reading and find out what happens next.

One of the ways I can think of that helps the author achieve this is her understanding of today’s society. Unlike most people in Richard’s time, our society has been through so much with technology that even those who scoff at the idea of time travel still often contemplate it with a fair degree of seriousness. Coupled with the viable descriptions and scientific explanations through the book, many doubters will do a double take at the possibilities. Then there’s the government. Oh yes, they want a piece of the pie, and that, paired with the widespread belief that governments already know more than they are telling, clicks it all into place.

Ms. Szechtman also brings to bear the unfortunate understanding we all have of post-9/11 policing. When Richard’s tormentors are unable to move in the direction they wish, they play the terrorism card, using that to threaten him with indefinite detention. If that doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of readers today, it at least erases the sometimes smug sureness that we have progressed as much as we think, in terms of governance and liberty, from the days when Richard sought to bestow greater rights on those accused of crimes. It is sadly ironic that this king now falls victim to abuse of power that can cause someone simply to disappear. What grows from this is that where once there was care for a character, now there is great concern for the peril he is in.

Through all of this, the author allows us to peek into the lives of Richard’s modern-day family, his new wife and her two daughters he has adopted, as well as his beloved son Edward, whose resilience for the new world he is in is fairly strong–witness his grasp of technology, for example. But Edward, who woke from death to find his mother taken from him, speaks to us of how childhood, despite how overhauls, trends and social structures have changed it over the centuries, remains the same. Children are strong but vulnerable, astoundingly bright though need help navigating through even some of the briefest of situations and, perhaps most heartbreaking, love so strongly and want to please, yet withhold as a form of protection. They show us that we adults are given responsibility that is almost frightening in its ability to impact. Yet with brilliant economy Szechtman portrays all this in those peeks we are allowed, and we witness a family coming to terms with the usual trials all families must go through, as well as those of a father who has been arrested, and the merging of medieval and modern times–a blended family like no other.

This is by no means an exhaustive review of everything wonderful in Joan Szechtman’s latest book, but it does point the way to the other two, one as yet unpublished, for this book is not easily put down and forgotten. For those who already care about Richard, it will be a reader’s delight. Others who are new to the king, or willing to re-consider what exactly constitutes “common knowledge,” will find a wealth of historically accurate information as well as recognizable background details in order to do. Moreover, because the second book is written to be enjoyed independently, reading it first will not involve any guessing at the start. But Joan Szechtman’s Loyalty Binds Me will make you want to go back for more.

A copy of Loyalty Binds Me was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.
Image courtesy Joan Szechtman.