Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Fellow Book Adventurers, the only thing I did not like about this book was that there wasn’t enough of it.
I’d read Goldstein before – The Red Magician, which I reviewed a year ago, opened my eyes to Jewish magic, set in the Holocaust. With Weighing Shadows now behind me, I am determined to catch up on everything she’s written.
Ann Decker, our heroine, is a loner. A foster child with a difficult past, she employs her hacking skills at a small computer maintenance shop, fixing customers’ computer problems. Until the day she is followed home by a strange woman, who, even more strangely, offers her a job. Intrigued, Ann goes through the interview process and accepts the job – even though she is not told what the job is until after she accepts . (Demonstrating a surprising lack in survival skills here, but we can ignore that).
Turns out, this organization time travels. Purportedly to fix the past so in the future humans don’t destroy the world. So, as you might expect, she’s really excited about going on her first assignment, to ancient Crete. Society is matriarchal, with a queen who takes a consort for seven years (the Minos), before sacrificing him to the goddess, Kore. Unfortunately for Ann’s time-traveling team, things go wrong. Before she can blink, they’ve been arrested on suspicion of treason. On the trip, Ann encounters another time-traveler, one who warns her that the Company is not at all benign.
I loved the descriptions of the ancient and medieval worlds that Ann gets to travel to, the societies and the individuals shine. The clothing, the streets, the housing. We get little glimpses of fully realized cultures. I love time travel stories for that reason. When the narrator is entirely new to the world, the author has more leeway to describe everything, because the narrator, along with the reader, is trying to make sense of her new surroundings. The narrator and the reader share a perception that is not possible when the narrator is familiar with the landscape. Goldstein shows her readers just enough to tell us exactly how things are, without going into unnecessary detail.
The plot can only be described as feminist. Ann soon finds out that the company she works for has a bias toward patriarchies and male-dominated societies. Supposedly, in all their time-modeling, they have discovered that the way to “save” the future is to eliminate or stall gender-balanced or matriarchal societies. Ann’s knowledge leads her to an important choice, and a difficult one. Does she follow the company’s lead and change the past to save the future, or does she change the past to save the present? To decide, she has to balance the future destruction of the world against present injustice toward women.
This is a science fiction book that takes a stand in the classic fashion of the genre, and the writing is so good that it’s also one of the most entertaining little novels I’ve read all year. If I had had more time to read this, I would have devoured it in 2 days. The pace flies, and I just wanted to eat up all the historical settings and people. Obviously, this really hit the spot for me. I recommend it to all science fiction fans, especially fans of time travel. Check it out. November 3rd.
Longer but no less immersive in the historical time period is Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book. A time traveler from the future goes to the Middle Ages on assignment, and gets caught in an outbreak of the Black Plague. When a crisis that links past and future occurs, she gets stuck.
In an alternate future the Company recruits orphans who have no loved ones or connections to travel through time on missions to preserve works of art and extinct species for profit. Again, the time period is evocative and very real, as is the contrast between the immortal time travelers and the mortals living out their lives in the past.
The only one of our three recommendations that mixes our modern-day world with an alternate world is J.V. Jones’ The Barbed Coil. Like The Doomsday Book, it is much longer than Weighing Shadows. It is also the only recommendation that falls in the fantasy genre instead of the science fiction genre, and that has an important romantic sub-plot.