A Bridge of Years
I’ve set the bar for time travel novels pretty high. My favorite of all time is Dean Koontz’s Lightning, and that’s the benchmark by which I measure all others. In other words, a time travel story has to be fairly unique to draw me in. Time travel written by Robert Charles Wilson is sure to get my attention, and A Bridge of Years didn’t disappoint.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Tom Winter thought the secluded cottage in the Pacific Northwest would be the perfect refuge—a place to nurse the wounds of lost love and happiness. But Tom soon discovers that his safe haven is the portal of a tunnel through time. At one end is the present. At the other end—New York City, 1963.
His journey back to the early 1960s seems to offer him the chance to start over in a simpler, safer world. But he finds that the tunnel holds a danger far greater than anything he left behind: a human killing machine escaped from a bleak and brutal future, who will do anything to protect the secret passage that he thought was his alone. To preserve his worlds, past and present, Tom Winter must face the terrors of an unknown world to come.”
The science fiction novels that I like the best are the ones that focus on the human element. While I’m definitely interested in technology, I’m more interested in how people use it and/or how it shapes their thoughts and behaviors. A Bridge of Years leans heavily in this direction, with an emphasis not only on Tom’s perceptions, but on those of the antagonist as well. By not ignoring the point of view of this “killing machine”, it gives the author a chance to make a statement about what technology does to someone. In this case, the “bad guy” is a soldier who is essentially hooked on the bio-compatible armor that he wears and kills people to get a “fix”. While we don’t have anything quite that drastic today, I’m not sure this is much different from people using pepper spray to get an X Box. It’s just a matter of degree.
I found it interesting that the time travel device, while having the capacity to go other places and times, only goes back to New York in the Sixties. This is different than most books, not only because the main character is only jumping back a few decades versus the centuries that other books do, but because it puts Tom in an understandable past. Where and when he ends up is a place and time not all that far removed from where he came from. He doesn’t stand out, and he doesn’t have to go through tons of prep to fit in there. He can blend in seamlessly without effort. Other novels focus on the discovery achievable through time travel, but Tom uses it as a sanctuary—a place where he doesn’t have to learn anything new. For him, the past is a place of stability.
Of course, a focus this tight leaves little room for one very burning question: did Tom’s actions change anything that shouldn’t have been changed? One could argue that anything he did was preordained, but as the subject was never touched on, we don’t know. We’re only seeing events through the limited lens of a few people’s experience. Not incorporating this into the story doesn’t detract from the novel, but it does leave me with a few lingering questions.
Overall, this is an enjoyable novel. It doesn’t bog down in platitudes or weighty exposition, and it doesn’t have too much action for action’s sake. It balances its various elements well, delivering a good story with interesting characters. A Bridge of Years may be one of Wilson’s earlier novels, but the skill that he displays in later novels like Spin is apparent. This is a well-written, straightforward science fiction romp through a time not so far removed from our own.
Also by this author: Axis, The Chronoliths, Julian Comstock, Spin
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 26, 2012.