Friday, October 28, 2016

A Sickness in Time by MF Thomas and Nicholas Thurkettle

Cover: A Sickness in Time

In 2038, the human race is in a death spiral, and most people do not even know it yet. Technology that was supposed to make us better and stronger instead is birthing a strange and terrible plague we may not be able to stop. When the young daughter of Josh Scribner, a wealthy tech entrepreneur, starts to succumb to the illness, he dedicates his fortune in a desperate effort to save her life. Working with a friend & celebrated physicist, Josh develops the ability to send objects back through time. Their goal to recruit an agent in the past who might change our fatal path.

In our present day, a broken and traumatized Air Force veteran finds a strange message in the woods, drawing her into an adventure spanning decades. All humanity is at stake, as she and her small group of friends become the unlikely heroes taking up the secret fight against our future doom.

MF Thomas and Nicholas Thurkettle, authors of the acclaimed sci-fi thriller,
Seeing by Moonlight, are back with this time-twisting adventure that asks if our own destiny can be healed.

A Sickness in Time, by MF Thomas and Nicholas Thurkettle, is set in two time periods: one in the present day and one in 2039. It is a time travel plot with carefully defined limitations around what can be sent and how far back. The constraints are, of course, what makes the plot interesting. There can be no free-for-all in which the timeline gets increasingly muddied, but the various characters have to plan out very precisely what they intend to do. And the nearness of the two time periods—under twenty years—is very intriguing. There is no grandfather paradox here: the overlaps are much more immediate.

But before you reach the time travel elements of this story, and running along in parallel with it, is a plot dealing with the crossover between human and artificial intelligence. In this case, the artificial part takes the form of augments to human capability, rather than alternatives. The book's title refers to the discovery that the augments have a shadow side, the extent of which is largely unknown. They are not the unequivocal benefit first assumed, though puzzling out what the problems are takes a lot of time.

This story really worked for me. I liked the interplay between the different periods and the gradual alteration of the future line in response to successive changes. It's hard to tie up all the loose ends once you invoke time travel, but the authors do a convincing job. Inevitably, well before the halfway mark, you find yourself wondering how the tangle is going to resolve. Without giving anything away, the resolution had a clever twist. Every reader will—like me—wonder if that was the best choice to make, but it has certainly been done creatively.

There are two pairs of main characters, one pair in each of the two periods. But the pairs are contrasting in several ways rather than parallel. The authors do a good job of exploiting these contrasts. I found all four of the protagonists very credible, and quite individual.

In short, A Sickness in Time is well thought out, well planned, and well executed. If you like science fiction which doesn't just tell a story, but probes the difficult interface between scientific, social and ethical areas, this could be the book for you. I certainly really enjoyed it.

The book's website can be found here.

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