By 200 pages in, Felix J. Palma’s The Map Of Time has already featured Jack the Ripper, steam-powered automatons, the Elephant Man, pith-helmet-wearing African explorers, natives with magical powers, and a time machine hidden in H.G. Wells’ attic. While the race through the greatest hits of fiction set in the Victorian era eventually slows, the book never does.
The first of the Spanish author’s works to be released in the United States, The Map Of Time features three intertwined stories where the protagonists call upon the author of The Time Machine for help. In 1896, everyone in London seems to believe in time travel, except Wells himself, and the fad is only fueled by a company offering trips to the year 2000 to anyone who can pay the extremely high ticket prices.
Before the term science fiction came into general use, the works of Wells and his peers were called “scientific romance.” The Map Of Time falls solidly into this genre. Written as if for Victorian readers, Palma’s book is packed with flowery language, and it features a playful narrator who’s concerned with keeping readers’ attention as he bounces from character to character. Each of the novel’s three parts is a love story involving time travel: One centers on a man who wants Wells to help him go back in time to save the man’s love object from Jack the Ripper, while another features a fiercely independent woman convinced she can only find love in the year 2000. Wells makes an excellent reluctant hero. A slight, sarcastic man, he uses the great strength of his imagination to solve the novel’s problems. The book offers several beautifully written passages about the power and hardships of a writer from the novelist’s perspective.
Palma offers constant surprises, playing with the readers’ perception of what’s actually going on. The twisty plot features elements of time travel borrowed from The Terminator, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the 2002 film adaptation of The Time Machine, but they never feel derivative. Palma makes them his own, weaving them into the drama, or sometimes presenting them as wry comedy, as in the section where a man convinces a woman they should have sex because he’s from the future where they already did.
The novel’s structure works wonderfully, offering a variety of charming protagonists moving through their own disappointments, victories, action-packed climax, and beautiful ending. They each could stand alone, but they’re incredibly satisfying when the finale draws them all together.