In Dryden’s sci-fi debut, a triennial comet’s 2001 appearance creates divisions of time, trapping some U.K. denizens two hours ahead of others, but a World War II vet is in a unique position to help.
Polish Spitfire pilot Victor Ignatowski, while flying for the British, encountered the effects of the comet Encke back in 1940: It separated time into “zones” called the Taurids, named after the meteor showers that accompany Encke. In the early 21st century, husband and wife John and Martha use Victor’s knowledge to liberate their friends, who can be seen 122 minutes in the future even though they cannot escape the Taurid. Victor’s personal history, including his lost fiancee, Rosie, also finds its place in the vet’s present life. The greatest feat in the author’s novel is portraying the theory of time dilation as a tangible event; it’s most pronounced when a man and woman, fully clothed after having adulterous sex, watch the woman’s husband come home and react to their illicit behavior from two hours prior as if it just happened. The time shift also produces dazzling imagery, like Victor’s jet stalling while flying in the Taurid but descending slowly in the zone’s heavy atmosphere. Despite its different settings, the story is consistent—the Taurids play a part in everything, from Victor learning what he can about it in World War II to another character witnessing the results of her sudden manifestation in England. Still, some of the storylines feel digressive: Victor and Rosie get caught up with German double agents during the war; and Victor, in a 1979 flashback, aids NASA in saving a cosmonaut whose oxygen is running out. Nevertheless, these asides are two of the book’s best sequences, the latter for Victor’s detailed notes to NASA—including his discussion of the Moment Effect Phenomenon, in which a person entering the Taurid can essentially achieve precognition—and the former as a surprisingly good espionage story, complete with agents watching spies watching agents. Rosie’s fate, effectively kept in question for nearly the entire novel, is resolved in a denouement that fittingly illuminates the reason why, when asked if his love is still alive, Victor ambivalently responds, “I doubt it.”
A bit simplistic, but fans of time travel will relish the story’s shrewd concepts.