The science fiction genre has arguably been around for millenia, so it’s only natural to assume that it’s all been done before. While there’s still room for true innovation, many authors instead make their mark by either putting their own unique twist on an idea or concept, or by introducing characters and places that capture the imagination. Untimed, the 2nd novel from author Andy Gavin, is all about time travel as experienced by a teenage boy trying to find his place in the world. What’s most appealing about Untimed is the way it manages to cover every aspect of a time travel story that a sci-fi fan can think of.
When imagining traveling through time, it’s not just about ending up in a different era, it’s often about experiencing a different place and way of life. Untimed takes the reader from modern day Philadelphia to early 18th-century London, 19th-century France, and 20th-century China. The bulk of the story takes place in that London setting and presents the city from the view of young street thieves. Although the characters Charlie meets veer a bit on the outlandish side, the setting itself is vividly painted as dirty and seedy. War-torn Europe in the early 1800′s is brought to life through Gavin’s depiction of the anticipation of battle and the carnage inflicted upon its participants. Without giving too much away, our hero even gets a look at a skewed version of the present when a few historical choices go awry. Gavin certainly paints a picture of the past that makes the reader share Charlie’s desire to get back home.
As a science fiction fan, one of the best parts about time travel is seeing how each storyteller presents his or her incarnation. In other words, finding out what the rules are and what the consequences are of bending or breaking those rules. Untimed immediately draws readers in with how the protagonist details his bizarre non-existence in the eyes of everyone around him. Going unnoticed is something a lot of teenagers can probably identify with, but it goes a step further in that not even his own mother can remember his name. In fact, everyone who possesses the time travel ability experiences this with the “normals”, and the characters often either suffer because of it or use it to their advantage. Another unique twist is that males can only travel backward in time and females forward, though a pair can travel together in the direction of choice. This presents some interesting dilemmas for the characters in terms of how they’re going to travel in the direction they want or need to be going. Charlie is determined not to lose his time-traveling love interest Yvaine by jumping without her. A necessary “cooldown” period between jumps infuses plenty of tension in the more dramatic, frenzied moments of the story. Untimed deals with the consequences of characters running into other versions of themselves, and it also covers cause-effect relationships in terms of the historical timeline. While some of these concepts draw from Untimed‘s sci-fi predecessors, there’s definitely enough of a unique spin to keep this story feeling new.
Author Gavin doesn’t ignore that sci-fi history. Untimed does pay homage to time traveling adventures that have become iconic in the entertainment industry. The story includes numerous references, both direct and indirect, to pop culture series like Back to the Future and Sliders. I also got a strong Dr. Who feel thanks to the existence of seasoned time travelers and the steampunk, robotic villains that repeatedly show up to thwart them. I think Time Lord fans will enjoy Untimed, though Charlie plays more the role of the companion rather than possessing the charm and wisdom of the good Doctor.
Because the story is surprisingly adult in its content for a young adult novel, I think it broadens the range of readers the story will appeal to. The recent success of the Twilight and Hunger Games series have proven that the true audience for a young adult adventure can extend much wider than perhaps it was originally intended. While I did grow tired of Charlie’s lusting after Yvaine in the midst of the far more important time traveling and near-death experiences, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t capture some of the essence of a 16-year-old boy’s mind.
Untimed is a quick read with action consistently moving the story forward, and the separation of scenes within each chapter keeps the story from ever getting bogged down. While our hero is regrettably the least interesting character in the story, he serves his purpose as the vehicle for the events that play out and the other characters involved. Untimed is a fun read for all of the young science fiction fans out there, and may even appeal to older readers. As the start of a new series, it’ll be interesting to see how young Charlie grows and the fantastical people and places he’ll encounter in his future (and past) travels.
A sample of Untimed can be found on Andy Gavin’s official website, and the complete book can be purchased through any of the links below:
Amazon E-Book ASIN: B006PIMYLY
Amazon Paperback ASIN: 1937945014
Amazon Hardcover ASIN: 1937945006
Barnes & Noble: 1108093415 (on hold for Kindle Select)
Google: 7o8wLIfFUcwC (on hold for Kindle Select)
Apple iBooks: 494719226 (on hold for Kindle Select)
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