Monday, February 15, 2016

Into the Dim

Would I have minded the ridiculous premise of this and lack of historical detail if I hadn't read it directly after Connie Willis' Doomsday Book?


Yes.  But I really mind now that I know how it's supposed to be done.

Obviously, not every time travel story is going to be ultra-believable. Humanity can't figure out a way to get broadband internet to everyone on Earth--how are they going to figure out how to slip into another universe (multiverse travel is the closest I can get to believing in time travel)?  But I do love reading time travel books that either a) are just plain fun and don't take themselves extremely seriously (see Elizabeth Briggs' Future Shock for an example) or b) make time travel plausible for the reader and emphasize the seriousness of Not Screwing Up the Timeline.  And any halfway-decent discussion of the technology needed to facilitate time travel is always much appreciated.  Because I'm pretty sure in our perambulations around this planet, we would have noticed a portal to the past and/or future just hanging out.

Luckily for the characters in this book, they stumble on a wormhole underneath a mountain in Scotland.  Wow!  And guess what?  This is a special time-traveling wormhole with DNA recognition.  The people who discover it naturally split into two factions, one good, one evil, each trying to control the timeline to their own advantage.   The Viators versus the Timeslippers!

Stop!  Don't jump off the cliff just yet!  Let me tell you more about this book!  Please!  It will be fun ... depending on your definition of fun.

Hope stands at her mother's grave: an empty grave.  Her mother has been missing long enough to be declared legally dead, but Hope doesn't want to believe that.  The hostility radiating from the neighbors pushes her to the edge of her self-control--don't they know that her "mother was far from 'snooty.' "?  "She simply couldn't tolerate these small-town divas with their sly prejudice and malicious gossip.  She'd rejected them long ago and they'd never forgiven her for it."  Hope also calls the women "vapid, backward simpletons."  Oh, what a charming lass!

But our intrepid heroine also has extraordinary abilities: "a true photographic memory."  She has a "symphony of knowledge" in her head that threatens to overwhelm her in moments of mental distress.    The reader gets these oh-so-casually dropped hints as to Hope's superior intelligence, like that time when she "scribbled Socrates' speech to the Athens jury in permanent marker on his office white board" at eight years old.  And while perusing a library, she happens upon a book called The Royal Forests of Medieval England.  "I'd read it, of course.  The words were installed in my memory files along with billions of others.  If I needed them, I could bring them up by chapter or page number."


Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of the Chosen One!

Dear ol' Dad is dating again, and while he and his new squeeze go on a cruise, Hope gets packed off to her mother's family estate in Scotland.  There, she will meet her Aunt Lucinda Carlyle.  First, she encounters the estate manager's family: Mac and Moira and Collum and Phoebe.  They all speak in a vaguely Scottish-ish accent which is neither here nor there.  And they get all nervous whenever Hope asks questions about her mother.  Is there a MYSTERY here?  Golly gee.

The last dagger in the heart of this book?  Although Hope has an eidetic memory and has evidently read every book ever, she has no pop culture experience, since she doesn't even know who The Doctor is.  After reading one of his quotes, her "gaze flicked to the picture beside it that showed a plain-faced, floppy-haired guy sporting a bow tie.  He didn't look like any doctor I'd ever heard of."  Number one: how do you not know who The Doctor is?  Number two: Matt Smith is not "plain-faced" and I will fight you on that.

Anyway, the idea is that ley lines are real and ancient Gaelic peoples found this cool place on a convergence of ley lines and called it "The Dim Road," AKA The Dim, which is a profoundly accurate description of the fate of this book.

The Timeslippers and the Viators are both searching for this thing called the Nonious Stone (I don't even know anymore), and Hope's mother went back to 1154 to find it, only her ex-friend and now-enemy Celia Alvarez trapped her there.  In a tapestry preserved from that time period, Hope finds her mother's face and a message written in Aramaic,"one of the many my mother had taught me."  Indeed, the whole family is so pleased to have Hope because she has "more knowledge of history, and archaic languages, than many learned professors could absorb in their lifetime."  I think Hope might be a super special snowflake, don't you?

Now, she must travel with her family back to 1154 to rescue her mother, who is living there under the name Sarah de Carlyle.  But the Timeslippers are going too, because they want the Nonious Stone.  Cue the dramatic music and stuff, because I'm out of here.

There is so much wrong with this particular approach to time travel and the historicity of what's being described that it makes my head hurt.  For example, look at the name Hope's mother supposedly took: "Sarah de Carlyle."  I am pretty sure that no one in 1154 would have had such a name.  "Sarah" is a Jewish name, and considering the level of tolerance that people in the Middle Ages had for Jews (that would be Negative Tolerance), no one--particularly a noblewoman--would have been named Sarah.   Note that later in the story, Hope rescues a Jewish girl from being raped, so she obviously knows something about racial and religious hatred.  A quick Google search lets you know that it only became a popular name in England after the Protestant Reformation.  Then, there's "de Carlyle."  What sort of mangled name is that?  You can't have a Norman surname mixed with an Anglo-Saxon one.  Carlyle is an old name, but probably would have been spelled "Caerleoil" or something to that effect.  Again, I found this with a two-second Google search.  I didn't even have to bust out the library databases.

Hope of the Amazing Memory calls 1154 a time of "plague and dysentery."  As we all learned in Doomsday Book (or in history class--take your pick), the plague (bubonic and its ilk) did not arrive in England until 1348.  No plague yet.  I mean, a host of other diseases and just plain dying young was commonplace, but not the plague.

The third egregious error was that Hope doesn't speak Middle English: see Doomsday Book once again for Kivrin's linguistic ordeal.  Knowing Aramaic and other esoteric languages is all well and good, but that's not the same as hearing them spoken in-context.  According to her, all she has to do is get used to the " 'thees,' 'thous' and 'wherefores' " in this "twisty Medieval dialect.  Um, no, that's an entirely different iteration of English-meets-Norman French and it's not a matter of saying "thee" instead of "you."  And Hope, Collum, and Phoebe all speak Modern English amongst themselves, figuring ... what?  No one will notice?  Let's play "burn the witch!"  It's a great solution to all Medieval problems, you know, like strange people popping up and speaking gobbledygook.



It is frustrating and insulting to the reader when an author pretends to be historical, but bends it because he or she can't be bothered to run a quick search.  And don't tell me that teens wouldn't read a book that dealt with linguistic issues or politics--they read Tolkien and a bunch of that is in Elvish.  They are more tenacious than most people give them credit for.  So don't go dumbing down history in the name of YA.

Don't read Into the Dim.  Read Doomsday Book.  Or maybe even Timeline.  Or anything else.  Just not this.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.




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