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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Map of Time

Félix J. Palma

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To purchase The Map of Time

Title: The Map of Time
Author: Félix J. Palma
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 609 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Map of Time - US
El mapa del tiempo - US
The Map of Time - UK
The Map of Time - Canada
The Map of Time - India
La carte du temps - France
Die Landkarte der Zeit - Deutschland
La mappa del tempo - Italia
  • Spanish title: El mapa del tiempo
  • Translated by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B- : clever time-travel games, but uneven presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian D 2/7/2011 James Bradley
Boston Globe A 21/7/2011 Steve Donoghue
The Washington Post B+ 28/6/2011 Yvonne Zipp

  From the Reviews:
  • "The nature of this novel makes it difficult to discuss the plot except in the most general terms, at least without revealing crucial issues. But suffice it to say this is not a book that pays off the cleverness of its conceit. (...) But for the most part the only sense of wonder The Map of Time provokes is amazement at the notion that a book this bad should have won major awards and been praised so immoderately. And that when there are so many good SF novels being written, that mainstream readers should have one this bad foisted on them." - James Bradley, The Australian

  • "Readers of taut, action-packed contemporary thrillers -- which are sometimes barely pit stops on the way to their own movie adaptations -- will need to reacquaint themselves with the reading expectations of a bygone era. Everybody else will be mesmerized." - Steve Donoghue, Boston Globe

  • "Fans of serious science fiction may find the story too metafictional. (Others may object that it’s clogged with too many adjectives.) But Palma writes with such shrewdness and glee that I enjoyed The Map of Time more than any time-travel novel since Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog." - Yvonne Zipp, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Map of Time is a three-part time-travel novel that defies expectations several times. Set in England near the end of the nineteenth century, the real-life Jack the Ripper and author H.G.Wells also play prominent roles (with cameos for Bram Stoker and Henry James), as Félix J. Palma constructs an elaborate set of what turn out to be interconnected stories.
       It's slow going in the start, in part because we don't get to anything resembling time travel for a while, but more because the Victorian story Palma begins his tale with is told in a way that even the less eminent pulp-novelists of the day might have been embarrassed to. It begins with Andrew Harrington set to commit (melo)dramatic suicide: the son of a wealthy family, he had fallen head over heels in love with a Whitechapel whore -- and then lost her. Still pining for her, he finally decides that now, eight years later, there's nothing left to be done but to off himself.
       Andrew doesn't manage to kill himself, saved at the last second by his cousin, Charles, who thinks he has a way for Andrew to escape his misery. It seems Charles recently read H.G.Wells' The Time Machine, a book that was all the rage and led to much discussion about the possibility of time travel -- and just recently a Gilliam Murray had opened 'Murray's Time Travel', leading expeditions to the future, to 20 May 2000. Indeed, Charles had already taken the trip -- and now Charles suggested that, if Murray could send people to visit the future, surely he could also arrange a trip to a specific time in the past -- say, eight years ago -- allowing Andrew to set things right back when they went oh so wrong.
       When they approach Murray they learn about his discovery of the possibility of a sort of time travel, as he tells them an elaborate story of how he came to find a way into other times -- but, unfortunately, he admits, it's a different sort of time travel than that of the science fiction books of the day, consisting instead of kinds of portals that connect two separate times. The only ones he and his explorers had been able to move between are the present and that day in 2000 (a fateful day for humanity, it turns out, engaged in the future in a decisive battle that would determine its survival). But while he can't be of help getting Andrew back into the past, he suggests someone might -- someone who had vehemently opposed the opening of Murray's Time Travel:

I always suspected he said this because he had a time machine and wanted to experiment with it before making it public. Or perhaps he wanted to keep it to himself, to become the only master of time.
       The man ? H.G.Wells, of course. And so Andrew and Charles head to Wells' country home to see if he can offer something more than Murray -- and, indeed, the writer can.
       This accounts for the first part of the novel, and there's little of Andrew and Charles in the next two -- but Murray and Wells remain central figures. Indeed, it's Murray's expeditions to 2000 that are central to the action of the second part, as one trip, in which one of the participants wants to stay behind (in the future), lead to considerable complications. And in the third part the discovery of a murder victim, killed by what looks like a blast from the future (or at least a weapon from the future), leads Scotland Yard to want to arrest the hero of the future on the next expedition to the year 2000 in what turns out to be just the beginning of a complex plot hatched by yet another time-travel-aficionado.
       Palma's elaborate overlapping stories work fairly neatly, and there are some very amusing twists. While his digressive instincts are extremely irritating -- there's far too much pointless H.G.Wells backstory, for example -- the basic tale he orchestrates is, for much of the novel, most impressive. For quite a while, The Map of Time is anything but a conventional time-travel story, and Palma pulls this off quite well; there are implausible bits, but it's done cleverly enough that these can be forgiven in light of the complicated larger dance and design. The novel only truly turns lackluster when it becomes an overheated and far more conventional time-travel tale in its conclusion, when the orchestration seems entirely arbitrary -- the science fiction of (nearly) everything goes; yes, it's all clever and it all fits together neatly enough, but given the (lack of) constraints he's suddenly working with it feels tremendously flat.
       Matters are complicated throughout by Palma's storytelling-style. There's an annoying first-person narrator occasionally popping up (and preening), muddled authorial interference that detracts from the story and serves little purpose -- "Permit me, if you will, to perform a little narrative juggling at this point", it will occasionally interject (and denying permission is, unfortunately, not an option for the reader). It's when he's most aware that he's describing -- when that annoying "I" explains what it is explaining (or coyly looking away from ...) -- that Palma is at his worst, attempting to recreate what he presumably imagines to be Victorian style but having no feel whatsoever for it. When he is focused more on the details of his elaborate plot and letting that unfold he is on surer footing; unfortunately, he lets himself get carried away rather easily.
       The Map of Time is dangerously close to being over-elaborate -- in plot (it certainly is in language) -- and Palma's pacing doesn't always work. The beginning is quite awkward, but once his story is truly set in motion there's enough cleverness to it to make it quite compelling. It's too bad that the third part -- a decent science fiction magazine story, but little more -- can't build on the considerably more clever first two parts (and that it takes a turn away from the most successful part of Palma's imaginative twists and becomes so utterly conventional).
       Like José Carlos Somoza (see, for example, Zig Zag) or Albert Sánchez Piñol (see, for example, Pandora in the Congo), Palma is another author from Spain showing some decent creative ambition and playing with some very interesting ideas; too bad that on the whole the writing still falls (quite far) short; Palma's shortcomings here are, however, for the most part, more forgivable (but then Carlos Somoza and Sánchez Piñol aim considerably higher -- and look far more likely to be able to pull off a truly successful work of fiction).
       A great idea in its outlines, The Map of Time turns out to be, in part, very frustrating, but there's enough to it to make for a satisfying beach-read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 July 2011

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The Map of Time: Reviews: Félix J. Palma: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Félix J. Palma was born in 1968.

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© 2011-2022 the complete review

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