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Kenneth Schneyer on Timepiece: Savor every bite

Foreword to Timepiece by Heather Albano

Kenneth Schneyer

We asked author Kenneth Schneyer to write a foreword to Heather Albano‘s forthcoming time-travel adventure novel Timepiece, which comes out January 3, 2017. What he wrote was so delightful, we thought we’d share it ahead of time!

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Of course time travel represents an inversion of the way we experience the world. The arrow of entropy is reversed.  People gain knowledge of the consequences of their actions before they take them.  In this, it resembles both the prophecy story and the flashback: more than one author has imagined Tiresias and Cassandra as time travelers.

But there is another, more obvious yet subtle discontinuity: the time traveler finds herself in a place and time when and where her social instincts do not serve her. She experiences not culture shock, but past or future shock.  The protagonist is a stranger in her own land.

Yet the form of the narrative has not often reflected this particular cognitive dissonance: H. G. Wells’s time traveler wrote like a Victorian, although he was catapulted into the future.  David Gerrold’s Daniel Eakins spoke like a hip 1970s TV writer, though he was all over history.  Even Connie Willis’s historian time travelers, who certainly experience social discomfort in the past, experience it as a late 20th or early 21st-century person would.  True, some literary time travelers seem to be simply crazy or otherworldly because of their experiences, but their craziness isn’t that of another era, or at least not one that really happened.

In the novel before you, Heather Albano has capitalized on this literary quirk.  Her time travelers are not contemporary or futuristic folk trying to sort themselves out in the Glorious Revolution.  Instead they are Regency characters unexpectedly transported into a Victorian steampunk reality.  In shorthand, they are Jane Austen characters in an H. G. Wells situation (or to be precise, an H. G. Wells and Mary Shelley situation!).

This provides Albano with an opportunity she clearly relishes, to critique Victorian values (as any responsible artist who writes steampunk must do) not from our oh-so-advanced 21st-century perspective but from the earlier (and perhaps more sensible?) viewpoint of the Napoleonic wars.  At the same time, her protagonists see how the steampunk reality allows them some liberties that their Regency background would not.  It is a textured and complex comparison of time periods.  For this social conversation alone, the novel would be worth reading.

It also allows Albano to mess around delightfully with the literary conventions we have unconsciously absorbed.  We’re used to thinking of the comedy of manners as arising out of the romance genre, where the wrong word or gesture means so much.  In action-adventure tales, we expect our heroes to speak in broader, plainer terms, or else to wax poetic about their heroics, or to be grim and silent as in Hemingway.  Only a few authors, such as Ellen Kushner in her “melodrama of manners” Swordspoint, manage to interpolate such interpersonal subtleties in to blood-and-guts action.  But this book, as I have implied, is an H. G. Wells adventure that thinks it’s a Jane Austen novel.  The violence, intrigue, and horror are often subordinated to the characters’ relationships and their difficulties understanding one another.  I like this not only out of sheer perverse delight, but also because of the surprising note of realism it sounds.  People don’t stop having social interactions, don’t stop being unnecessarily hurt or embarrassed by little things, just because they’re in the middle of a war and monsters are coming to get them.

Another treat is Albano’s use of “interludes” between chapters, out-of-sequence and sometimes seeming to involve utterly unrelated characters.  Apart from the puzzle-solving fun they provide, they inspire meditation on the subjective nature of time travel.  Just as Princess Irulan’s regular, infuriating propaganda-from-the-future in Frank Herbert’s Dune forces the reader to experience the chaos of Muad’Dib’s prophetic mind, Albano’s interludes invite the reader’s subjectivity into the sensation of having one’s ordinary flow of experience interrupted by the past or the future.

I could go on.  I could gush about the exquisite research that has gone into the historical scenes, or the wry winks to various works probably familiar to the reader.  I could talk about the serious philosophical conflict between the personal and the global, the private hurt and the public evil.  But you have the book in your hands; the feast is before you.  Savor every bite, and don’t forget I told you so.

ken_schneyer_headshot_-_amazonKenneth Schneyer is a Nebula-nominated author whose first collection, The Law & the Heart, was released by Stillpoint/Prometheus in 2014.  He is also Professor of Humanities at Johnson & Wales University.


You only THINK you know what happened at Waterloo

The real story involved more monsters. And a lot more time travel.

Timepiece - final cover
Timepiece: A Steampunk Time-Travel Adventure

It’s 1815, and Wellington’s badly-outnumbered army stares across the field of Waterloo at Napoleon’s forces. Desperate to hold until reinforcements arrive, Wellington calls upon a race of monsters created by a mad Genevese scientist 25 years before.

It’s 1815, and a discontented young lady sitting in a rose garden receives a mysterious gift: a pocket watch that, when opened, displays scenes from all eras of history. Past…and future.

It’s 1885, and a small band of resistance fighters are resorting to increasingly extreme methods in their efforts to overthrow a steampunk Empire whose clockwork gears are slick with its subjects’ blood.

Are these events connected?

Oh, come now. That would be telling.

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“Waterloo and time travel are made for each other and Heather Albano has done a wonderful job of giving us a delightful cast of characters, tasked with stitching together the proper nineteenth century while fending off several monstrous alternatives. Propulsive adventure with historical insight.” – Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars and 2312

Austen, meet Waterloo. When a genteel 1815 heiress is given a strange watch, she time-travels to an 1885 England where history has gone hideously wrong. Now she has to change it back to what it “should” have been—and that never works out well, does it? A delicious supercharged blend of steampunk and the Napoleonic Wars, with a thrill on every page.” — Sarah Smith, The Vanished Child

If Jane Austen and Mary Shelley had locked H. G. Wells in a dungeon and revised his wildest work, the result would have been something like this rollicking steampunk time-travel adventure that still manages to be a comedy of manners. Albano’s delightful characters confront the not only monsters and killer robots, but their own divided loyalties between personal happiness and the fate of their country.Ken Schneyer, The Law & the Heart

Image: Hourglass by Rachel Caitlin (flickr.com). Used through a Creative Commons license.

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