Saturday, 13 March 2010

Cryptozoic - Brian Aldiss

A story about time and time-travel – the basic premiss is that time is purely our perception of the continuum and with training of the mind we are able to travel in time. This becomes so popular it affects the economy and leads to social break down, followed by revolution and military dictatorship. Against this background, Bush, one of the more accomplished travellers is forcibly recruited by the military and tasked with assassinating someone who has taken time-travel to a further level and who speculates that our perception of time is the wrong way round.

Bush, of course, has no desire to assassinate someone who might be able to bring down the military dictatorship. Along with other rebels he manages to find the fugitive and learn his secret before others succeed in assassinating him. The plot sounds like something straight from a sci fi pulp magazine, but that background is thoughtfully handled and the emphasis of the book is on the internal world of the characters and their own precarious navigation through what just might be madness.

Aldiss never fails to surprise me. Even with books I have read before (this first appeared in 1967 under the title An Age), I am always surprised by the feel of them, the texture of the story, the approach to ideas. Mind time travel was not a new idea, but Aldiss explores the idea here and introduces a different slant that could perhaps have done with more exploration (although many others have explored the idea).

Well written and well constructed, with an ending that leaves you wondering, this is an excellent example of how sf can blend action and ideas and come up with something every bit as good as a literary novel.