The Little Book by Selden Edwards is a new classic time travel novel for those who love contemplating traveling in the 4th dimension. It’s right up there with my all-time favorite time travel adventures:
- The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
- “By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
- “–All You Zombies–” by Robert A. Heinlein
- The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
- Time and Again by Jack Finney
- Timescape by Gregory Benford
- Replay by Ken Grimwood
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Now don’t jump over to Google and start reading reviews of The Little Book – too many reviewers have given way too much away, and I’ll work hard not to do that here. This is a first novel for Selden Edwards and it took him thirty years to write. I highly recommend buying the audio book edition narrated by Jeff Woodman to get the full affect of this dazzling yarn. Listening will keep you from reading too fast and rushing through the story, and Woodman gives excellent voice and feelings to the characters.
The Little Book is about travel to Vienna in 1897, and if you are up on your history you might guess what famous historical personages make guest appearances. After reading this novel I hunger to to read about Vienna and many of its famous citizens, and even research some of the books and people that I assume are products of Edwards imagination, but feel so real in the story. I want to believe that Arnauld Esterhazy, the prep school history teacher, was at least based on someone real.
Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Little Book is a love story, about a man, Wheeler from 1988 who falls for a 1897 lady, Weezie. Unlike the Niffenegger book, Edwards style is less serious, if not zany, which leads to the major weakness of the novel. The story is meant to be deadly serious and realistic, but sometimes the sparkling prose comes across too light, making it seem more like a fable or tall tale, giving the feeling that Edwards is highly amused as he manipulates us readers.
If I had written this book I would have had all the main characters narrate their stories in the first person, switching between each in a round robin style that conveyed the cyclic nature of time travel.
But I am nitpicking here. Selden Edwards writes in a unique voice that is entertaining and full of fascinating details. He constructs his characters so they go through numerous changes that surprised me the reader. I especially loved the cross generational communications because Edwards really does make us feel that each generation has a different voice and mindset. Jumping back to 1897 Vienna goes to explain how Freud changed our awareness of the inner landscape of our minds. Characters before Freud need to be mentally different.
The Little Book is a little book and goes much too quickly. I don’t like getting trapped in long books, but this one could have been two, three or even four times the length and I think I’d still hate for it to end. Edwards stays close to the core plot and characters, whereas he could have meandered though 1897 more, and when you come to the end, you might be like me and wished the story was longer, giving all the details between 1897 and 1988.
I love geometric plots, and this one is supposed to be a Möbius strip, but in the end, Edwards cuts the loop leaving the plot linear. I would have jumbled scenes so the narrator juggled the plot, like Niffenegger played with her storyline. Edwards focuses on building literary characters rather than designing literary plots, but I think time travel seems to beg for twisty elements.
I don’t think The Little Book is a great novel, but it’s very entertaining, and adds to the evolution of time travel stories. I’m pretty sure if you loved Time and Again or The Time Traveler’s Wife, you will probably love The Little Book. Time travel novels tend to be short, so I’m wondering when someone will write the Lord of the Rings epic size time travel fantasy. I know romantic novelists like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are epic in size, but I haven’t read it. It appears less about time travel and more historical romance to me. Not my cup of tea, although most good time travel stories involve romances.
There are plenty of science fiction series built around time travel, but they are mostly adventures. The books in my list above play with time philosophically. Books that explore changing the paths of events are less interesting now than books that use time travel to change the development of characters. Few stories about time travel reflects the true inner impact that I think time traveling would have on a person. I think Heinlein and Niffenegger went the furthest with this, but I expect new writers to go further.