How did I get it: A review copy was sent to me courtesy of Berkley/NAL/Penguin Books. Timecaster comes out on May 31st.
Why did I get it: I’ve read other books by Joe Konrath aka J. A. Konrath, Jack Kilborn and/or Joe Kimball so I was pretty curious to read something he wrote that was in science siction genre. And the premise of this book is pretty nifty. (This title will also count towards my Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge for 2011.)
How I would rate it: 3.5 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to be able to give this book a 4, but I just can’t do it.
Chicago, 2064: Talon Avalon is a timecaster-one of a select few peace officers who can operate a TEV, the Tachyon Emission Visualizer, which records events (most specifically, crimes) that have already happened. With crime at an all-time low, Talon has little to do except give lectures to school kids and obsess on his wife’s profession as a licensed sex partner. Until one of her clients asks Talon to investigate a possible murder. When Talon uses the TEV to view the crime, the identity of the killer is unmistakable-it’s him, Talon Avalon.
Review: (Note: Contains spoilers, but nothing relating to the overall plot of the book.)
Hoo boy, this is a tough one. Let’s start with the good stuff, but let me note that whenever I use a last name beginning with K I’m talking about the same author. I use Kimball when I am talking about this book specifically and Konrath when I am referring to the author’s works in general.
The premise of Timecaster was not only nifty, but very well-executed and fascinating for the most part. Talon was a pretty great main character even though his inability to deal with his wife’s profession got old quickly in the way that such issues always do in fiction for me.
Over all, his story was very action-packed that was original in some ways and other ways pretty common fare. It was sort of like if Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez decided to together on another Grindhouse film that combined Minority Report, The Fugitive, and Sin City into one film and added a lot of nature, weirdness, and time-rewinding. So basically the book was fairly rich in humor, sort of gross, and pretty entertaining.
What really makes this book stand out in a fun way is everything in it that contributes to what Konrath has termed as Ecopunk. The world is sort of… well, sort of what you could easily (and sadly imagine) our world morphing into, but with a lot more quirk and a lot more awkward kinks. I can’t say I liked the characters using acronyms like AFAIK and WTF, but I liked the idea that people had to be way more eco-friendly than they are in the present day and way less caught up on religion. The notion that people would get caught up in technological devices while keeping far away from the internet and the idea of being able to look back in time ultimately eliminating crime were both pretty cool too.
Now the bad stuff, and believe me when I say I wish I didn’t have to tell you about any sort of bad stuff. But there’s two scenes in this book that really took the wind right out of my reading sails because of their focus on very non-consensual, awkward sex. Sex that amounted to Talon being uninterested but deciding he might as well take it and participate because oh well even though he states both times that he does not want sex.
In fact, the only reason Talon does anything about it in the second scene is that a guy tries to join in and then he finally decides maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t want the sex that he didn’t want to begin with. I also don’t get why that element had to be added to the whole thing. Why did it have to be so clearly not what he wanted that later on the phone to his wife he even says it wasn’t consensual? What was the point of making Talon not interested but willing to put up with it? Was that supposed to be sexy or entertaining somehow?
You might think this reaction stems from my having no clue as to what Konrath’s books are like and thus went into this book expecting pure, clean fun, but that’s not true. I have read plenty of other books by this author in other genres besides science fiction so I definitely went into this book expecting violence, action, weirdness, and sex. Most of Timecaster seemed pretty much par for the course in terms of his writing. Most of that was enjoyable and some of it was sort of like an inside joke that you wouldn’t get without reading other books by Konrath or at least knowing he has several pseudonyms including Kimball.
The over-the-top bad guy in here was pretty tame compared to bad guys in other books especially the serial killers, but he was an interesting pick. I liked Harry McGlade III because he’s pretty much like his predecessors and whacky hijinks are fun especially when they involve owning a miniature elephant. I also didn’t mind Talon being sort of a jerk to this poor dumb schmuck who likes his wife. Or the relentless mentioning all of Konrath’s many aliases and how awesome they are. I actually found that mildly funny, but I cannot and will not ever think it is funny or entertaining for women or men to force sex on other people.
Part of me feels weird about not abandoning the book after those two scenes and also still really wanting to read the sequel as soon as it comes out. I guess my reason for continuing boils down to the rest of the book being really original and unique in a lot of ways that I just didn’t want to give up on it. I also need the sequel anyway because of the humungous cliffhanger at the end of Timecaster.
I will also admit that part of me feels even worse about spending so much time dwelling on these two scenes because the rest of Timecaster was a lot of fun. Ultimately though I figure that what bothered me might bother other readers and I really couldn’t imagine writing this review without mentioning this element of the book. To be honest, you could simply skip over them and still enjoy everything else about the book… But that doesn’t make their being there any more or less unacceptable for me as a reader.
In conclusion, if you enjoy strange science fiction taking place in an eco-friendly future and featuring a lot of action? Like me, you’ll enjoy most of this book but beyond that our mileage may vary.