In War Times

Kathleen Ann Goonan
In War Times Cover

In War Times -- It takes its time getting going

Tar Daddoo

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

In War Times offers us a story in which alternative and parallel universes appear to exist. There is also discussion of whether this capability can be used to travel through time.

Is the science of the premise explored?

There is a great deal of discussion about how the parallel universes exist and how one might be able to move across universes. I found the scientific discussion confusing and unfocused. It involved notions of the quantum nature of consciousness and genetics. To me, this all felt more like a smoke screen than an explanation.

The author did a somewhat better job of explaining her ideas through her analogies to Jazz. The separate streams of improvisational musicians are likened to the parallel universes. At times the musicians appear off in separate worlds and then periodically the streams come together in synchrony. It is during those periods of synchrony that interaction between the universes may occur.

None of this helped me understand how the same capability might allow one to travel in time, though this capability was asserted -- though not demonstrated -- through much of the book.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

The main character that we follow is constantly obsessed with understanding the parallel universes and the technology that can bridge the universes, but his life does not seem greatly changed by the actual technology (as opposed to the obsessing and thinking about it.) Other people's lives are changed, but this is more asserted than revealed. Only near the end of the book do we get some glimpse of the parallel universes actually changing someone's life.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

Much of the book is a rumination on how a history changing technology might have been used to change major events during the 20th century. We do not really learn how the technology would settle in on a society, since its existence is largely a secret even from governments. Instead, we are asked what event in history is a "nexus", which if altered would change the course of history for the better.

How well written is the story?

The writing is quite good and easy to read. The story is somewhat peculiar.

I think of the book as being three stories:

During World War II, the Science Fiction premise develops very slowly. The story of the soldier's life is very interesting as he moves through training in the U.S., deployment in England prior to D-Day, and deployment in Germany after D-Day. This personalized glimpse of history combined with the many discussions of Jazz are the primary sustenance through this first half of the book.

The second story about post-war life in America was considerably less interesting to me. For those who are younger than I, it might hold some interest as history. For me, however, much of this story seemed mundane, while the interesting historical events are treated as headlines.

As for the third story about parallel universes, it is amazingly slow to get going. We get a lot of discussion, set-up, and teasing occurrences through almost three quarters of the book before the Science Fiction story kicks in and takes hold. Then we finally get the Science Fiction story for which we have been waiting. I did not feel that all my questions about the Science were answered, but the story was gratifying. 

Can I recommend the book?

I am really not sure whether I can recommend this book. Were it not for my interest in World War II, I doubt I would have made it through the first half of the book. Once the war ended, only my faith in the author and her fluid writing sustained me until the Science Fiction story finally kicked in.

I am guessing that In War Times will not satisfy a reader who requires coherent and insightful science. I also doubt it will satisfy those who want thrilling action in futuristic settings. It will best satisfy the patient reader who is happy to read a well-written story about living in the 20th century that is suffused with musings about parallel universes.  

Tar Daddoo