Will Hubbell,
Sea of Time
(Ace, 2004)

In Cretaceous Sea, Will Hubbell took us on a wild ride 65 million years back in time, to an era when dinosaurs ruled the world -- until the K-T Event, of course, which we experienced in the company of Hubbell's characters. That steep temporal plunge back into the Cretaceous period looks like a small ripple in the Sea of Time compared to the experiences chronicled in this follow-up novel.

Cretaceous Sea was ostensibly about time travel, but Sea of Time really mines the depths of questions, possibilities and repercussions the subject of time travel engenders. We're with familiar characters as well, as the wonderful heroes from Cretaceous Sea are back -- in one temporal form or another, anyway. The heart and soul of the story is still to be found in Constance Greighton, a.k.a., Con Clements. At the end of the first novel, Con and Rick Clements, the paleontologist she fell in love with on Montana Island in 65,000,000 BC, settled down in 19th-century Montana to live the life of Con's legendary ancestor -- yes, Con became her own ancestor.

Con was ready to forget all about time travel and live happily ever after -- but this was not to be. The mysterious futuristic man Sam, whose stolen time machine had transported Con back to the Cretaceous, shows up unexpectedly and tells Con she has been tricked into changing the course of history. Suddenly, Con's husband is murdered and her son has died, and she is more than willing to do anything Sam wants -- if he can bring Rick and Joey back to her. Thus begins a series of time-skipping adventures that take Con centuries into the future to do Sam's bidding. She assumes the person of a scientist whose work changes human history in some unknown major way, and she later travels farther into the future to see just what she has done. Thirty-first century Earth as she finds it is a terrible place, where Sapes (Homo Sapiens) live lives of misery, hopelessness and genetically engineered addiction, surviving only as the servants of a new and better breed of humans.

Blaming herself for the troubles of numerous future generations, Con is increasingly distraught. Then she is visited by three future time travelers from the Homo Perfectus species, and they explain to her that Sam has been using her not to "fix" history but to pervert and change it according to his own designs. They want Con's help -- but Con refuses to do anything until she is reunited with Rick.

She gets her wish, but unfortunately this Rick comes from a time before he ever met Con or traveled back in time. Suddenly transported to a poor and filthy 31st-century world and forced to deal with a "crazy" woman who insists she's his wife, Rick is not the happiest of men. To succeed in her new mission, Con must once again win the trust and, she hopes, the heart of the man she fell in love with 65 million years ago. As strong a character as she is, she alone cannot possibly survive some of the challenges she faces here.

The race to beat Sam at his own history-altering game is a strategic one that takes our heroes over diverse areas of the timestream, including the Jurassic period of Earth's early history. Like time travel, the novel can become a bit confusing at times. First off, the fact that Con is her own ancestor supposedly gives her a special ability to alter time. Then there are a few sudden shifts in temporal causality in which we suddenly see the Con of a different reality in front of our eyes. In terms of the future, you have three species of humans competing for dominance, and in some of those future histories, at least one of the species has become extinct. Con is even confronted with the fact that, thanks to the altering of the time flow, she was no longer ever born-- her future past has been completely expunged from the space-time continuum. There are some fascinating ideas espoused in this tale. For instance, time -- like a river -- tends to be only momentarily diverted by outside changes; it takes a significant stimulus to truly alter the future. I also liked the argument that time travel in and of itself tends to weaken the stability of the timestream.

While the entire book is filled with excitement, the ultimate scheme for foiling Sam's plans seems rather clumsy, and the ultimate turn of events can be seen from miles away by the reader. Still, I loved this book. With its heavy emphasis on the theoretical underpinnings and logic-defying nature of time travel, its multiple journeys across a number of millennia, its account of the heroes' struggles to survive in the most inhospitable of times and places (both past and future), and its rich and wonderfully complex main characters, Sea of Time makes for a gripping, entertaining read.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 9 October 2004

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