We don’t usually review fiction here, but occasionally a fiction book comes along that has enough useful science content that it fits here: this is such a book.
This book follows on from Justin Thyme, which had some excellent science content. Although there are slightly more doubts about the science in this volume, as will be made clear, it still presents science and technology in a sufficiently positive light that we feel it deserves a place here.
At the beginning of the book there is a certain amount of confusion if you have read its predecessor, as it jumps forward a little in time as far as the run of events ago (at the same time as featuring a story involving moving backwards in time), but soon the reader is plunged into an engaging and occasionally mindboggling storyline. This is very much the strength of these books – unlike any other fiction we’ve reviewed that contains some science, they work really well as a mystery story that pulls the reader along.
As well as bringing in one of my favourite bits of science (admittedly incidentally) in quantum entanglement, the storyline also plays with the opportunities for time paradoxes. I can’t say too much without providing a spoiler, but the big reveal part way through the book is genuinely surprising, and results in some very interesting thinking about the implications of time travel.
Where I have to take a step back on the science is the handling of time travel. In some ways, the book almost gets this back to front, making backward time travel easier than forward travel, where the reverse is actually true. We also get a time machine that materializes in time – this isn’t how real physics based time travel works – it always involves movement in space as well as through time, and a time machine would simply arrive, not appear. Finally, the book ignores the absolute fundamental that any time machine based on relativity cannot travel back in time further than the point in time where the machine was first constructed.
So the time travel aspect is the weakest, scientifically speaking (and the notes at the end of each chapter haven’t got the scientific bite of those in the previous volume). Don’t get me wrong – there is no problem with ignoring the realities of science in fiction, but it does reduce the book’s value as a way of getting science across. But it remains a dramatic and interesting storyline in which science and technology plays a major role – and for that reason is still highly recommended for the age group.
Review by Brian Clegg