One of my favorite things about writing for Steampunk Desperado is that it motivates me to discover new authors and gives me the opportunity to promote them to the world. Peter Clines’ 2017 novel Paradox Bound is about time travel, and normally I’d see that as a red flag. Even more concerning, it’s strictly about American history, which often turns into a bully pulpit for an author’s political views. Does Paradox Bound avoid these pitfalls?
Yes, it does and it shows the reader a great time while doing it. It’s not like everything makes sense (it doesn’t) but I didn’t mind. After all, it has “paradox” in its name, and as a connoisseur of great titles, I’d say this one fits the bill.
The beginning is a bit of a trope, but it draws the reader in nonetheless. Young Eli Teague encounters a mysterious traveler, and in helping her, he sets in motion a chain of events that will completely disrupt his boring life. The traveler, a young woman named Harry (short for Harriet) is driving a Model A Ford and wearing a Revolutionary War outfit complete with tricorn hat. She’s fleeing a dangerous enemy who is equally out of place in this small town in Maine. Eli encounters her again as an adult but she hasn’t aged at all. He gets pulled along on her quest, a quest that means mortal danger not just for him and Harry, but for the entire country.
The premise is that “the American Dream” has gone missing, and dozens of people called Searchers are searching for it across time and space. They’ve discovered “slick spots” at various obscure places which allow them to travel back (and a few decades forward) to specific times in history. Harry and the other Searchers, random individuals uprooted from their own places in time, share this knowledge as a kind of folklore. As for the Dream, its absence has affected the USA like a wasting illness. The nation will collapse in the coming decades if they don’t recover it.
As corny as that sounds, it works, perhaps because the metaphor rings true today. The Dream is an artifact constructed by the Founding Fathers. Nobody knows exactly what it is, but the Searchers are convinced they’ll know it when they see it. Pursuing these “history travelers” are the Faceless Men, a bunch of creepy suit-wearing psychics without eyes, noses or mouths. They act like stereotypical G-men and will kill any time travelers they encounter, supposedly to protect the integrity of the timeline.
Eli and Harry criss-cross the country in Harry’s Model A, visiting many different times, from the 1700’s to the 2030’s. I’m glad to say Clines doesn’t have his heroes visit any events from the history books like the Kennedy Assassination or the Gettysburg Address. On the other hand, it seems a bit implausible that the characters avoid time periods of any significant strife. Perhaps that’s because the author didn’t want to deal with the political implications of the Indian Wars or the War Between the States.
Except for some non-explicit violence and a brief scene of bloodless torture, this is a reasonably family-friendly book. The characters seldom use profanity and the relationship between Harry and Eli never gets physical, despite the sexual tension. She’s an old-fashioned girl from the 1880’s, after all.
In summary, despite the silly premise, I enjoyed this book. The story managed to surprise me in a couple of places. Science fiction fans of all ages will love it. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.