What does a Time War look like? If you’re ‘Doctor Who’ then it look likes a bunch of golden flying saucers attacking an orange planet with lasers and explosions. Thankfully, David Wingrove’s excellent novel ‘The Empire Of Time’ is a little more subtle, but no less exciting, as it describes a conflict between German and Russian Empires that lasts millennia.
Otto Behr is a German time agent from the year 2999. Since time travel was discovered, the Germans have been waging a seemingly endless war against the Russians. Each has agents working across key times in the past, the thirteenth or eighteenth centuries for example, all the way up the twenty-eighth century. Otto has been trained to blend in, adopting multiple aliases and undertake dangerous missions for his people.
The only problem is that now the Russians seem to have the advantage. As Otto begins to see operations fail, the Germans begin to uncover an uncomfortable truth: that the Russians have planted sleeper time agents within their own teams. Otto slowly begins to learn to trust no one before he commits a serious transgression of his mission, he falls in love.
By its very nature, a Time War is going to be complex. The past is flexible, history can be and is constantly rewritten. As such, you might think that trying to keep your head above water with such a narrative would be a struggle, but Wingrove’s explanations, related to us in the first person by Otto, work excellently. Never did I feel stranded, grasping for an explanation of what had happened. The outcomes and reasons are demonstrated well and never detract from the sense of urgency or the action that permeates the time missions. The result is an experience that is less like ‘Doctor Who’ but more like ‘Inception’ as the agents jump to new areas of time in order to understand why history may have changed, while engaging with the enemy.
When Wingrove takes Otto to the 28th century (still his own past, but the reader’s future) the portrayal of a totalitarian Neu Berlin is both startling and attention-grabbing. There, mankind has pushed itself to the limits of genetic experimentation, becoming taller or shorter by design. Meanwhile, the energy channelled by a captured black hole powers the huge shield generator that stops the Russians’ missiles from falling on them every night. There is a definite skill here in making the future seem just as alive and compelling as the past.
‘The Empire Of Time’ may be over 460 pages long, but it is a compelling page-turner that rarely stops for breath and propels the reader from adventure to adventure. It is a credit to Wingrove that he has been able to sculpt both engaging pasts and futures together with intricate plotting and a likeable lead character. This a novel about cause and effect and, while it is possible to pick holes in some of the historical knots, the novel presents you never contemplate them for long as the pace keeps up.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Empire Of Time’ and will absolutely be looking out for the second book ‘The Ocean Of Time’. It is, as far as I am concerned, one of the best stories about time travel that I have read.
(pub: Del Rey/Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2014. 478 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-091956-15-8
pub: Del Rey/Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2015. 478 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-091956-14-5)
check out website: www.delreyuk.com