Put H.G. Wells in a time machine and send him adrift. Insert characters from Wells’ own late Victorian day, among them the Elephant Man and Jack the Ripper. Add a love interest and some mayhem, and you have the makings of a potentially bizarre exercise in counterfactual history—and, as Felix Palma proves in The Map of Time, fine ingredients for a wild ride of a novel, equal parts history and imagination. We caught up with Palma long-distance at his home in Spain.
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How did the idea for a novel concerning time travel—and, moreover, time travel in the company of H.G. Wells—come to you?
When I reread H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which was first published in 1895 and features an inventor who travels into the future as a protagonist, I asked myself, “What would the author’s contemporaries have thought, given that they lived in a time when science had taken such leaps forward?” Surely, they thought scientists would invent such a machine in a matter of a few years. I imagined them dreaming of traveling into the past and future in some sort of steam-powered vehicle with gears and cranks, which was the aesthetic of the time.
And that’s when I felt this tickle that writers feel when an idea with potential invades their mind. And, of course, if anyone were to have a first-class seat in that adventure, it would be Wells himself, the man whose playful literary vision coincides with mine.
The Map of Time is a big book, weighing in at more than 600 pages. How long did it take to write it?
The idea came to me a long time ago, but I knew it was going to be a very involved novel. So I had to wait until the time was right, both inspirationally and economically, when I could embark on a project that I knew would take up a lot of my time.
When the moment finally arrived, and since I don’t begin writing until I have the entire story in my head, I started to work out the plot. I did that as I spent two to three months learning about the Victorian era. When I had it all mapped out, I started writing, and that process took about a year and a half.
Apart from a book or two, H.G. Wells isn't much read these days, at least in English. Is that also true among Spanish-language readers? With The Map of Time, do you hope to see an upturn in readers going back to your source?
I think Wells’ work is read less than other writers of the classics in Spain because, unfortunately, Spanish readers have a lot of preconceived notions about science fiction. One of the things I love the most is hearing one of my readers say that The Map of Time makes him want to go back and read The Time Machine. And I think The Map of the Sky, the second book in my trilogy, will be published in Spain with Wells’ War of the Worlds as a companion book, since it provides the raw material for my novel.
If you could travel through time yourself, what period would you visit first?
While there are fascinating times in history, such as the Victorian era, I would always choose to travel into the future, the farther into the future the better. If I traveled into the past, I don’t think I could get beyond the feeling that I was in some sort of theme park or on some Hollywood set, and I’d be so concerned with verifying that all the things we learned in school were true.
The future, on the other hand, represents the unknown, the impossible, everything that is yet to be imagined. Even if only out of morbid curiosity, I’d always choose the future.
Let’s assume you were able to cast the film version of The Map of Time. Who would you call on to play your main characters?
I wish that would happen. OK, so this would be my cast: Andrew (Andrew Garfield), Charles (Hayden Christensen), Wells (James McAvoy), Shackleton (Henry Cavill), Claire (Rachel McAdams), Mary Kelly (Amanda Seyfried) and Garrett (David Kross). I confess that because of his peculiar physical description, I can’t think of anyone to play Murray. Maybe Matt Damon?
What are you writing now?
I’m finalizing The Map of the Sky, the second installment of my trilogy. That book will follow the format of the first—mixing fictional characters with real people of that time period, such as Edgar Allan Poe and the explorer Jeremiah Reynolds. And this time, Wells’s War of the Worlds provides the fodder for the story. Although it will also be a thrill ride with some time travel, the characters’ internal journeys will be just as important. Readers will be surprised by how some of the characters from the first book evolve.
Other Time Travel Must-Reads
Karl Alexander, Time After Time
Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Stephen Fry, Making History
Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn
Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
S. M. Stirling, Island in the Sea of Time
Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine