Book review: Paradox Resolution, by K A Bedford

29 11 2016

K A Bedford is an Australian SF writer whose novels have twice won the Aurealis Award. (As it happens, I was one of the five panellists who selected Bedford’s fourth novel, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, for the award in 2009).

paradoxresolution

Paradox Resolution, published in 2012, is a sequel to Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. It continues the twisted and time-crossing adventures of Spider Webb, former police officer and now down-on-his-luck time machine repairman. Spider is co-opted into minding house (and goldfish) for his estranged wife Molly while she seeks fame, fortune, and artistic recognition in the still-fashionable but hazardous urban battlefield of New York. It’s a simple enough task, but three things happen to throw Spider’s plans into disarray: the time machine repair business’s new owner, J K Patel, hires him to rescue his son Vijay, who has taken Patel’s hotrodded time machine Kali (and girlfriend Phoebe) on a temporal joyride many thousands of years into the future, and has not returned; Spider loses his job; and the briefly-communicative severed head of the business’s former owner, the bossy and dangerously persuasive Dickhead McMahon, turns up in the work fridge, with a piece of urgent advice for Spider. (The events don’t necessarily happen in that order, but with time travel, ‘order’ is a malleable concept, and ‘chaos’ may be a more useful guiding principle.) The severed head sees Spider’s former police colleague Inspector Iris Street, of WAPOL’s Time Crime Unit, called in, and Street rapidly realises that Dickhead’s upper section is only one of several highly-troubling developments which all seem to revolve around Spider.

The writing is suffused with elements of humour and, for the most part, a clear mastery of tension. (I baulked at some of the longer-than-a-page paragraphs, but that just seems to be Bedford’s style.) There are comparatively few characters—the novel centres on Spider, Patel, Molly, Street, Dickhead and a couple of others—but these are drawn in convincing detail, as are the more-or-less contemporary settings. (The far-future passages—spoiler alert, this is a time-travel novel; there is time travel involved—are somewhat sketchier, but then, as Niels Bohr may or may not have noted, ‘prediction is very difficult, especially about the future’.) The storyline is, as one might expected, rather complicated, and unavoidably crosses over itself at several points; the action builds to a tense and well-sustained final act that sees many of the loose ends tied up, but leaves plenty of scope—and, indeed, some initial impetus—for a subsequent, as-yet-unwritten, addition to the series.

I don’t fully accept Bedford’s ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ approach to the avoidance of temporal paradox, but I’ll concede that it’s logically consistent, and the imagined technology that makes time travel possible is well-conceived: it all sounds plausible. The background theory, too, is presented in just sufficient detail to usefully inform the story, without becoming a distraction.

Though Paradox Resolution could, at a pinch, be read as a standalone, it would make much more sense to begin with Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, since the earlier novel backgrounds much of the characterisation and some of the story presented in PR. The second book builds appropriately on the first (though I would have liked to see more, this time around, of Spider’s colleague Malaria, and don’t really consider the obsequious workplace coffee-droid a sufficient substitute), but is probably more of interest for the character development, which is both clever and somewhat moving, than for the storyline, which turns against the oncoming traffic at several points (as, indeed, did TMRW-U-W). I have also identified at least one hazardous activity associated with the book: if one were to play a drinking game whereby one downed a shot at each mention of the word ‘coffee’, one would be pie-eyed long before reaching the book’s final third. Webb must be one of the most highly-caffeinated individuals in all of time and space.

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