Welcome to the 21st century. Please don’t feed the natives.
Dickinson’s twisty conspiracy thriller turns an often troublesome narrative device—time travel—to wonderful advantage, wittily exploiting the trope’s opportunities for structural inventiveness, worldbuilding, and sly social commentary. Hundreds of years in the future, after a “Near Extinction Event,” the surviving humans have sufficiently rebuilt to the impressive extent that time tourism exists as a feasible vacation option for all. The easiest era to get to (and the cheapest) is our own familiar early 21st century. In the novel’s drollest construction, the current era is an underwhelming novelty attraction, a drab, stinking curiosity; visitors content themselves with a visit to a shopping mall, a handy distillation of human achievement and values to this point. When a tourist goes missing, her minder is plunged into a bewildering, temporally Byzantine plot with apocalyptic implications. Standard stuff, but Dickinson gets there in style, employing alternating points of view (or…are they?) and tantalizingly doling out details of the evolved future humans (they are tall, pale, and have trouble with our food) and society (numbered cities administrated by Orwellian departments of Happiness, Safety, and Awareness). The characters are well-drawn and distinctive, Dickinson’s literary prose glides through the plot thickets with graceful assurance, and the whole immersive enterprise concludes on a satisfyingly poetic note.
Echoes of Bradbury and Orwell, in the service of a crackerjack conspiracy plot; a seductively intriguing work of speculative fiction.