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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Spy in Time

Imraan Coovadia

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To purchase A Spy in Time

Title: A Spy in Time
Author: Imraan Coovadia
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018
Length: 220 pages
Availability: A Spy in Time - US
A Spy in Time - UK
A Spy in Time - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : solid time-travel tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A Spy in Time is a time-travel tale, and so the 'present' is a looser term/place than in temporally more conventional novels; with travels back and forth across time, even any present the travel originates from isn't necessarily stable. Coovadia's scenario involves a near-apocalyptic event -- a 'supernova' -- having destroyed much of the earth and wiping out most of mankind, save those who sheltered deep underground. Over several centuries, the survivors have restored civilization, to some extent -- largely still deep underground. It is here, some five hundred years in the future, that the novel begins.
       The narrator is one Enver Eleven, a young member of the Agency, a huge organization that holds a vital place in this new order. Regarding the Agency:

What remained constant was its mandate as given by S Natanson: to preserve the past in its perfection and imperfection; to protect the narrow route that led humanity as a species through the blinding dark of the supernova; to prevent the splitting of the unity of time into endless contradictory strands.
       S Natanson was, in essence, the savior of civilization, as well as the founding father of this mission that continues to Enver's day; he also discovered the 'pendulum particle' -- enabling time travel. Coovadia makes the process relatively straightforward, with communication possible across time, and those who visit the past meant not to interfere with events in ways that will affect the future --, that universal time-travel-tale concern about maintaining that delicate balance of course coming into play here as well. Time travel also requires a huge amount of energy -- the further into time, the more energy --, which is a significant factor in this story at one point, when Enver finds himself out of action for a rather long period, requiring quite a spectacular bit of effort and energy to get him back on track in his own time .....
       The main journeys are to 1955 Marrakesh and 1967 Rio de Janeiro. The time-trip to Marrakesh is young Enver's first, and it does not go quite as planned -- beginning with the landing coördinates, which are slightly (but fortunately not lethally) off. The subject of the missions is Keswyn Muller -- "the most wanted man in the history of time". On both his trips into the past Enver encounters Muller, and the small cog Enver finds he is playing a pivotal role in the unfolding of the complex interplay of events -- a role whose exact nature he remains uncertain about as he tries to figure out what's what on his increasingly dangerous forays across time.
       The Agency itself is possibly compromised; certainly individuals are. The complexity of the situation makes it difficult to even guess how to right things, but Enver's solid instincts seem to lead him down the right path -- though that also means facing various dangers and quite difficult situations -- culminating in ... well, the epicentral vortex of it all.
       Racial identity plays an interesting role in the story, as most of the surviving population is black, and deeply ingrained prejudices against those who are white -- "albinos" -- lead many of these to hide their identity by coloring themselves black.
       Careful records are also maintained, and almost everything can be seen or overheard -- even across time -- making secrecy and security difficult to maintain, and complicating any search for moles and leaks. Among the clever ideas Coovadia employs is that digital preservation isn't nearly as safe or trustworthy as many relying on it want to believe, as he encounters those who explain:
We've learnt that you cannot control information once it's in electronic form. You can trust a key; you can trust a lock, because it has a defined physical location. It can be made in such a way that it is difficult to duplicate. Numbers, no matter how difficult they are to guess, can be copied perfectly. We use physical objects.
       The trips back to 1955 and 1967 allow Coovadia to present more familiar terrain -- through the eyes of the man from the future who, though well prepared for what he will find (the future has almost limitless information about the past, so every last corner and accent can be prepared for), still can't help but be disoriented by its reality. The different perceptions of race in these locales and times also come up -- but largely incidentally, woven like so much else by Coovadia into the fabric of the story.
       It is quite a good story, too -- not going to space-operatic lengths but rather focusing only on the essential. Coovadia is a talented writer, and the story flows -- even with it's wild jumps (in time) -- smoothly and engagingly. Surprisingly much is tied into the story -- artificial intelligence, potential complications of time travel, a variety of personal relationships, among much else -- but impressively most of it, and the mystery of Muller's plans and actions, doesn't feel forced into the story; rather, the story progresses (even as it leaps back- and forwards) quite naturally -- helped also by the voice of it's always slightly off-balance and uncertain twenty-five-year-old narrator. Still, in the end A Spy in Time is also an ambitious save-the-world story -- which is a lot to reach for, especially in a novel that isn't much more than two hundred pages long
       Packing a lot of story into a relatively short space, A Spy in Time at times feels like it doesn't do nearly enough with all the material on hand. Still, it's a quick, well-conceived, and satisfying science fiction adventure, and a good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 July 2018

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A Spy in Time: Imraan Coovadia: Other books by Imraan Coovadia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South African author Imraan Coovadia was born in 1970.

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© 2018-2022 the complete review

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