I do love a good time travel story. Lost in Time promised me “One of the twistiest time stories you’ll ever read?” Did it deliver? Yes but also, No.
What Is Lost in Time?
I don’t usually like doing “Lord of the Rings meets the Great British Baking Show”-type comparisons, but some novels scream their influences so loud it’s hard not to. Lost in Time reads as though Dan Brown had picked up an old Michael Crichton synopsis. Is this a good or bad thing? That probably comes down to personal taste. Overall I enjoyed Lost in Time but I don’t think I’ll remember much about it by the end of the year. In the plus column, it has a good concept, and pushes it to the limit, while also remaining very readable.
The novel opens in the near future, with a murder. In this future, everything is recorded making it very hard to get away with killing somebody. Two people are accused: Sam Anderson and his daughter Adeline. They both know they didn’t kill Sam’s colleague and lover, Nora, yet somehow there is incontrovertible proof that one of them did. Sam has the chance to implicate himself and set his daughter free. He readily accepts his fate.
This fate is not death row or life imprisonment. It’s to be sent to a whole different dimension. To add some extra frisson to the situation, it was Sam and five friends who invented Absalom, the technology that’s going to send him there.
Sam didn’t kill Nora. An unseen hand forces him to confess. He is propelled back to the prehistory of an alternate Earth. Due to “science,” the people sentenced to be “Absalomed” (my word, not the author’s!) are flung back to the land of the dinosaurs. Nobody returns, or, we imagine, lives that long after arrival.
The remaining five friends and Adeline hatch a plan to rescue Sam. This is difficult because a) it is impossible, b) if it were possible would require the construction of another time machine, and c) it was probably a member of the group that framed him. Surely they’ll sabotage things before the end?
Let the shenanigans commence!
Why Read Lost in Time?
For the first third of Lost in Time, I was sure I was in for an absolute treat. Unfortunately, it didn’t fully deliver on its promise. Which isn’t to say it isn’t worth reading. You’ll be hard pushed to find a more intense, high-concept read. To do that thing I hate doing once again, Lost in Time reads like Dan Brown mixed with Blake Crouch. I’ve mentioned Brown a couple of times now and, unfortunately, Lost in Time suffers from the same issues that The Da Vinci Code does. Namely, flat characterization and the employment of implausible doo-dahs to keep the action running.
The central story is intriguing, and A.G. Riddle has an interesting take on how time travel works, though I’m not sure it stands up to scrutiny; sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow. The story is artfully constructed and throws in a neat timey-wimey misdirect. It’s such a good misdirect, you almost forget it existed even after it happened.
The problem is that it all gets a bit silly. I think sending characters to the times of the dinosaurs was one card extra that the novel didn’t need. I suppose it was convenient and fairly easy to inject drama into. But, for a novel that already asks readers to swallow their disbelief, the idea of somebody going all the way back to Pangea, fighting dinosaurs, and surviving for more than 15 minutes went a little too far for me.
Sitting in bed in the evening, my wife would ask me how the book was going. For the first couple of nights it was “Yeah, it’s really good.” After that, it was, “It’s good but very silly.” I had hoped for some redemption in the final pages of the novel. After the mystery has unraveled, there’s an epilogue. This epilogue might be why I don’t feel particularly positive about Lost in Time. It added little and took away much.
Lost in Time, then, won’t tax you greatly, but remains entertaining. Reading through the PR bumpf that came with the novel, I noticed it invokes Clive Cussler as a reference point for the promotion of the book. It’s a very long time since I read a Clive Cussler book, but this felt like a good comparison. You can read it at breakneck speed but, at the end of the day, it’s all a bit daft.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.