Friday, December 6, 2013

Surfing the Human Wave: Steve Poling's Finding Time

Building a book by telling a series of short stories and then bringing them together at the very end is a very ambitious approach -- and the one Steve Poling tries in Finding Time, a tale of time travel and interstellar colonization. Does he succeed?

In isolation, each chapter is a fun read, especially if you like history as much as Poling apparently does. Throughout the book, we visit - among other places - ancient Israel during the reign of Solomon, classical Egypt, Victorian London, and the Roanoke Colony before its disappearance. (Oh, by the way: Poling's explanation in re: what happened to the colonists at Roanoke is actually pretty clever.) And unlike, say, the writers behind Star Trek, Poling doesn't assume that humans in earlier time periods were completely dim -- even though he acknowledges those attributes of past societies that were far from moral or ideal (for example, chattel slavery).

And some of the threads do in fact get pulled together. The significance of the seemingly out-of-place first story, for example, becomes apparent as we approach the conclusion of the book -- and a few of the characters who are picked up on previous time traveling adventures are put to use in later chapters. However, the larger story still feels a little incomplete. The string theorist/pilot who's picked up in Greenland during WWII basically drops out of the story after his rescue, as does the expert businessman who's snatched from the sinking Titanic. Poling suggests throughout that the people Nell and Sid are pulling out of history are crucial to humanity's colonization project, but we don't really see that project come to fruition.

I also have a small quibble when it comes to the characterization of Nell. To be honest, when she fell for Alejandro, I winced. A woman that strong and mentally capable, in my view, would've run the other way as soon as Sid started reading out Alejandro's red flag-filled criminal history -- and no, I don't care how attractive he is. (To be fair, though, I've been impervious to physical beauty in the male species since forever, so maybe this is just something I'm incapable of understanding.)

And finally, I think we needed to see more of Schlomo's perspective. The suggestion that his family left Earth to escape the political correctness of Nell's time (for example, the fact that Christmas is called "Yuletide")  is such a cruel tease that I can barely stand it!

Overall? I want to see Poling delve deeper into this universe and add some more detail. I think it has a lot of still-unrealized potential.

Final Verdict: Recommended, But With Notes. 

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