Josh Lanyon is one of the best writers in M/M, but more to the point here, he does the best audiobooks in this genre. I don't see a list of narrators with their stories in this collection, so here it is:
JM Badger: Perfect Day, In a Dark Wood, Other People's Weddings, Critic's Choice
Rob Granniss: A Limited Engagement, Until We Meet Once More, Sort of Stranger Than Fiction
Adam Chase: In Sunshine or in Shadow, In Plain Sight, Just Desserts
Michael Oaks: The French Have a Word For It, Heart Trouble, Slings and Arrows
All of the narrators are really excellent, but I particularly impressed with Michael Oaks, who captures the intensity and determination of some of Josh's younger protagonists.
I have a definite penchant for time travel. I like all different kinds - time loops, time machines, paranormal," parallel timelines, history monks, even "it was all a dream" if we get a satisfying view of the life changes a character makes because of it.
Time travel does have a central problem though: the more logical and consistent forms of time travel make for the worst story telling, and the best story telling makes for the hardest to swallow time travel mechanisms. Think back to "Back to the Future." It makes no sense for Marty's siblings to be gradually disappearing from the picture. Either what he has done has erased them from the future or it hasn't - half gone make no sense. But it makes for good suspense and drives the story, so we swallow it.
The time travel mechanism here is similar - good for suspense; not so good for making sense. Basically, the time line protects itself by erasing (killing) time travelers from the future who are going to change the timeline beyond its ability to repair itself. This is actually very clever and makes a lot of sense. Except the timeline doesn't just kill the traveller right before they are about to break things. It starts trying to kill them when they have stayed too long, and escalates its efforts until it succeeds (or the traveller goes back to their own time). Thus, our time traveller, Reegan, and his adversaries face a bunch of weird accidents that injure or kill them and they know more are coming until they are dead or leave. Which, no. I can buy the timeline protecting itself, but this is more like an allergic response - it wouldn't work to protect the timeline, except on average. But OK - I had to swallow it in order to enjoy the story, so I did.
The premise is pretty exciting, and in many places the story is too. Reegan loses a client (Sylvia) on a trip to the past and must travel back to get her. It becomes apparent that she has disappeared on purpose and doesn’t know that the timeline will kill her in short order. Once Reegan is in the past, he realizes that others have followed him, to capture Sylvia and kill Reegan. So he has two enemies – the timeline and the other time travellers. He has one ally – a private detective named Saul. They have to find Sylvia, avoid the other time travellers and get Reegan and Sylvia back to their own time before they are killed. Since this is a romance, Reegan and Saul are increasingly unhappy about the fact that Reegan has to leave.
The views of Reegan’s time – a few hundred years in the future – are intriguing. It is kind of a combination of utopian and dystopian. Everyone has plenty to eat, but the food is mass produced and boring. Everyone is educated, but some animals are obviously much more equal than other. Sylvia and her husband are trying to open up opportunities for the lower classes (from which both she and Reegan came). Time travel tourism exists, obviously, and crime investigation is completely changed, since lies are easily detected.
So why only 3.5 stars? The characters, and the near-future where Saul lives and Sylvia and Reegan visit. The characters are drippy. Saul is a mopey alcoholic. Reegan is mopey and not very good at his job, either as a historian (he makes constant mistakes about Saul’s era) or as a time travel tourism leader (he keeps losing people). Sylvia is mopey and dumb (how could she not know the timeline would kill her when it was taught in elementary school and she researched time travel for months). I can swallow insta-love when the main characters are in a suspenseful, high-pressure situation but Saul and Reegan didn’t make me want to believe. They were too drippy and incompetent.
The other thing that kept jarring me out of the story was Saul’s time, the year 2020. Saul was a cop who was outed as gay and is shunned by every single cop he ever worked with. Not just ignored, but bullied and black-balled. In the year 2020. In the D.C. police force. That plot device already doesn’t work now, except maybe in a small southern town. No, not even there – some of his colleagues would act like they lived in the 21st century and not in the 1950s. I think the author was going for a noir feel, but if so she should have set the action in a much earlier time. Nothing about 2020 felt like it was in the future or even in the present. The characters drove around in cars, ate bar food, rang doorbells, and used projectile guns. The treatment for alcoholism consisted solely of white-knuckled cold turkey.
I listened to the audiobook of this story, and I think I would have enjoyed it more on my Kindle. There was a lot of repetition and unnecessarily drawn out conversations that I would have skimmed. For example, Sylvia gives Saul two lectures about abusive relationships, and I definitely would have skipped the second. And many of the main character’s ruminations on guilt were skim-worthy.
I just listened to the audiobook of The Stainless Steel Rat, and remembered why I have loved this story and character for years. My original copy of The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (The Stainless Steel Rat, The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World) is tattered from many re-readings over the years. It is no secret to those who know me that I prefer my science fiction in the more cheerful and optimistic vein, and those who want a more dystopic, dark story with antiheroes and ambiguous motivations should really stay away. I suspect the humor doesn't work for everyone either, since humor is so individual. But for me, this is a perineal comfort read.
So, on to the story. The Stainless Steel Rat was written in 1961, and it shows. Both faster than light spaceships and punchcard computers show up. The gender attitudes are old fashioned, but not misogynistic or dismissive. Slippery Jim diGriz's arch nemesis, Angelina, is his alter ego - just as smart, resourceful, and fearless, but lacking the moral code that makes thief and con artist Jim a good candidate for recruitment to the Special Corps. Jim never kills unless he has to in a struggle for his own life. Angelina kills casually and with pleasure. She must be stopped, but how can Jim turn over such a remarkable woman to have her personality erased? An early example of a shambling, almost drooling ex-criminal is a stark example of what will happen to Angelina if she is ever caught.
This story is an excellent example of a parody. It both mocks and has fun with the stereotypes of the pulp scifi genre and at the same time is a very good story within the genre. You both laugh at Jim's escapades and are on the edge of your seat waiting for them to play out. Jim hops from world to world in his chase, and each society is at a different level of technological and societal development. Friebur in particular is both fascinating and hilarious. The coal-powered robot startled me as much as it did Jim, while the family vendetta is really scary.
I highly recommend the audiobook of this story. The reader is excellent, and the humor and personalities come through nicely.
Report Inappropriate Content