October 21, 2006

Past and Present – Both Tense

Gideon the CutpurseTime travel stories can be a lot of fun, but if they have one fault, it’s that the time travelers often go to the past or the future without a whole lot of repercussions in the present they just left. Conveniently, they return to the point in time where they just left, with nobody the wiser; or worse, "contamination of the time stream," to put it in Star Trek lingo, is just not dealt with at all.

One thing I really loved about Linda Buckley-Archer’s Gideon the Cutpurse was that she didn’t pull any punches as far as the story in the present was concerned. When twelve-year-old Peter and Kate have an accident with a physicist’s antigravity machine in the lab where Kate’s father works, they are somehow transported back to the exact same spot in the English countryside—in the year 1763. However, time doesn’t stop, so to speak, while they’re stuck in the past. In fact, what you’d expect to happen, happens: two children have disappeared. The police are called in to investigate. The physics lab works with NASA and is not forthcoming to the police.

Months go by, and they find nothing of the children except a few strange ghostly sightings—it seems that Kate and Peter can “blur” back to the present for short periods of time. They travel towards London by carriage and stagecoach, looking for the cunning and treacherous Tar Man who has stolen the antigravity machine that was flung with them into the past. In the process, on occasion they find themselves blurring into the present: three feet above a supermarket parking lot, to the amazement of onlookers; in a modern-day office building. These crucial clues are what the police need to solve the mystery of their disappearance, but will the scientists cooperate and tell them what they think happened?

Meanwhile, in 1763, Kate and Peter would be entirely lost if not for the kindness of Gideon, a former cutpurse (of necessity only) who believes their story because he witnessed their strange fall from the sky and the theft of their mysterious machine. With his help, they navigate the strangely similar yet different world of 1763, fumbling with social conventions, and all the while trying to figure out how to get home.

The level of detail, both historical and in terms of character development, is amazing, yet seamlessly incorporated into this complex adventure. The parallel stories are effective and exciting. And, luckily for us, it’s the first in a trilogy!

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

I, too, really REALLY have a problem with most time-travel mysteries that allow things back home to have remained unchanged except for a blink of the eye -- travel has to include both losses and gains, and it's kind of not fair if the whole thing is a "wake up and it was a dream" cop-out. This sounds fascinating...