Scifi, Time Travel
Crown; September 26, 2017
3 / 5 ✪
BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS (though only in the case of “history travel”)
Time travel can often be a bit confusing. Depending on what you’re going for, what the concept is, and how many different paradoxes are involved (not to mention what they are)—time travel in books can often be impossible to explain. Luckily, Paradox Bound is about traveling through history, so… yeah, this isn’t going to make a ton of sense.
Eli Teague was eight and a half the first time he met Harry Pritchard. So begins one of the more consternating standalone novels I’ve ever read. But we’ll get to that. The first time, Eli finds Harry by the side of the road in his hometown of Sanders, Maine—a fictional bit of nowhere in nowhere Maine. A town where nothing changes and nothing ever happens. By eight, Eli is convinced that Sanders is the most boring town in the world. And then he meets Harry.
The car is a dark blue Ford 1929 Model A; a classic on the outside, a futuristic—with more lights and switches than a—rocketship on the inside (I’m not much of a car guy, but I figure this is worth mentioning, plus, I kept wondering the whole book what it looked like). Harry is dressed in a Revolutionary period outfit, with a matching overcoat and tricorne. Immediately making her the most interesting thing to happen to Eli, ever. Soon after, Harry leaves town, chased by a man in a black suit driving a black Hornet, never to return.
This scene repeats itself several times, with Harry remaining the same age and Eli aging steadily. Bringing us to the present day.
Eli always figured Harry wasn’t from this time, but the truth is a bit more complicated. It turns out that Harry is an treasure hunter, traveling through history in pursuit of an elusive American treasure—the American Dream. Which is… pretty much what it sounds like. A dream. To accomplish more, to do more, to make life greater than it was. How one would find and possess this, however… a bit more complicated. Which involves an Egyptian god and the Freemasons. And then, the history travel part—also complex. But Eli will soon discover this, and more, when he digs in a little too deep and warns Harry about the men on her tail.
The faceless men. Yeah, literally faceless. No faces.
Thus begins their timeless (ha) adventure to find the greatest treasure in American history, and use it to accomplish their wildest dreams (again, ha). It’s an entertaining ride and a fun, interesting adventure—diverted by the fact that it makes absolutely no damn sense.
Upon asking Harry about it for the first time, Eli receives an answer approximating this. There are stories upon stories, but they’re all third- or fourth-hand, with absolutely zero proof to back the whole thing up. I mean, there is the whole time travel—I mean, history travel thing, that clearly works, but the Dream may not and even should not ever exist. I hate to admit this, but the story is actually pretty catchy. In spite of the fact that (or maybe because of) it doesn’t make any sense—it’s new and interesting. History travel is interesting.
In 2017, I read Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, a time traveling thriller which seemed to commit every time paradox cliché there is. Paradox Bound really does none of them. I think that’s the reason I liked it so much (despite it being reaaaally confusing and nonsensical). It’s certainly new, and definitely inventive. Nothing else quite like it that I can think of.
History travel pertains to the ability to traverse history—in this case American—through the years 1764-2050, through the use of time skips, that are only navigable in a vehicle of some sort. You can only go so far up through history (2050, in this case), since… well, it’s unclear. Maybe the idea of America falls through. Maybe there’s an apocalyptic event. Maybe something else. 1764 because that’s where the idea of America began. Any time before, there would’ve been no American history to travel. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t any history before, but that’s different. Apparently. In ways never explained. But it seems one can only traverse history through use of the Dream, so it can only be American. Until (SPOILER) Clines forgets this, and tips that one can actual travel other countries’ histories. Somehow.
The characters of the book are what make Paradox Bound so readable. Eli and Harry (among others) are both relatable, underdog, and human enough that I enjoyed their entire story, but no more so than when they appear together, as their dynamic is excellent. Eli goes through an odd character arc from being a somewhat slow lead, to an inventive and sometimes brilliant one, in the span of a few weeks. It’s… inconsistent? Just a bit. The faceless men… I’m not getting into, as they’re are just ridiculous.
Paradox Bound is an ambitious project with an unprecedented concept that really pushes the envelope. It’s characters, adventure and locations are what make it a truly great read. However, this excellence is let down through poor character development, an essentially nonsensical explanation of so many things, and villains that are Mystery-Science-Theater-bad. If you’re a fan of Clines or a good, fun, casual tale, dive in. If you like a little bit more science in your science fiction, maybe skip it. If you’ve never read Clines, maybe try The Fold first. Either way, I can’t recommend against Paradox Bound, despite how much it aggravated me at times. It’s okay, but pretty much just that.