She was built to solve an impossible murder – or was she?
That’s right – you can now buy my new novel, The Electric Detective. Started in 2012, scrapped multiple times, finished in 2017, optioned by Universal that same year and almost made into a TV show (but not, sadly). And now it’s out!
It’s taken quite a while for this book to find a home; I hope you like it.
You can download it from Amazon here
Hey all, sorry it’s been a while since I last posted anything – February 2020 sure feels like a long time ago…
Just a quick post to announce that The Electric Detective will be published very soon; likely late September (watch this space).
To get you excited, here’s the wonderful cover designed by Kit Foster…
So here we are, the final cover reveal of the week before Note to Self, Time Rep, Time Rep: Continuum and Time Rep: Pandemonium are released tomorrow. But the difference with Time Rep: Pandemonium is this isn’t a re-release – it’s a brand new book, finishing off the Time Rep trilogy:
I hope you enjoy this new chapter in the Time Rep saga!
And just for kicks, here’s what the three Time Rep covers look like side-by-side:
Once again, huge thanks to Kit Foster at Literarty for doing such wonderful designs!
So you’ve seen the new covers for Note to Self and Time Rep, and now I’m pleased to reveal the new cover for Time Rep: Continuum:
What do you think? Pretty snazzy, right?
Again, huge thanks to my artist Kit Foster at Literarty for these designs – I hope you agree they look wonderful. Stay tuned tomorrow for the reveal of the cover to the new (and probably final) book in the Time Rep series, Time Rep: Pandemonium…
Continuing our run-up to the re-release of Note to Self, Time Rep, Time Rep: Continuum, and the brand new finale to the trilogy, Time Rep: Pandemonium on Friday 14th Febraury, I am delighted to reveal the new cover for Time Rep, designed by the wonderful Kit Foster:
As I’ve said in previous posts, this is a new and improved Time Rep with some little tweaks here and there that I think improve the overall reading experience. More details on the changes I’ve made can be found in a post I did a month or so back, but in summary: no swearing, better jokes, less filler, no Darren Bell, more Zoe!
Stay tuned tomorrow when I’ll be revealing the new cover for Time Rep: Continuum, with the cover for Time Rep: Pandemonium being revealed on Thursday!
Okay, bye for now…
That’s right – the day is almost here! I am delighted to announce that I have four books coming out at the end of this week: re-releases of Time Rep (which has had a slight re-write), its sequel Time Rep: Continuum, Note to Self, and a brand spanking-new book concluding the Time Rep trilogy called Time Rep: Pandemonium. So if you’re struggling to figure out what to buy your loved-one this Valentines Day, why not give them the gift of a book? And maybe some sort of romantic gift to accompany the book, just so you don’t get in trouble?
Joking aside, I want to offer huge thanks to my wonderful agent Ethan Ellenberg for republishing my old books and allowing Time Rep: Pandemonium to see the light of day. It’s actually been over a year since I finished writing it, so to see it finally appear on Amazon available to buy will be amazing. I also want to thank my editor Raelene Gorlinksy for all her help and advice in prepping the new books for release, as well as her efforts for editing Time Rep: Pandemonium.
So here comes the sales bit: as a specal offer to entice new readers in, the e-book price for Time Rep will be a highly-reasonable $0.99 for a limited time only, with the other books retailing at $2.99. So please tell all your friends! I’ll post the links to the books on Friday, as well as putting some stuff up on social media.
The books also all have new covers, so this week I’ll be previewing each one in the run up to release day. I want to credit Kit Foster from Literarty for all his hard work on these – I hope you agree they all look awesome, and if any of you ever write a book and a looking for a cover artist, I can highly recommend him!
So first up, here’s the new cover for Note to Self:
Stay tuned for previews of the covers of Time Rep, Time Rep: Continuum and Time Rep: Pandemonium this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday!
I’ve got to admit – I’m getting pretty excited about Time Rep and Time Rep: Continuum being re-released, as well as Time Rep: Pandemonium – the conclusion to the trilogy, which is being released for the first time. I’ve just finished working with an artist on new covers for the three books (which I’ll be showing you soon, just as soon as I know the release date for everything ), and I’ve got to say – I think they look pretty awesome. So watch this space for those.
But another opportunity the re-release of the books has given me is to actually go back and make some improvements to the first book. As some of you are probably aware, I started writing Time Rep when I was at University, which was almost twenty years ago, and I’ve learnt a lot about writing since then to know that there are some things I would have liked to have done differently. So I went back and changed it, which felt kind of like going back in time and changing the past, which is quite apt…
Now, for fans of the original Time Rep, and to quote Douglas Adams: don’t panic. I’m not going all George Lucas on this and writing a ‘Time Rep: Special Edition’, adding loads of pointless deleted scenes back in, changing the way characters behave (we all know Han shot first), and deciding to add in an atrocious musical number somewhere for kicks (I’m looking at you, Return of the Jedi ‘Special Edition’).
No, if anything, I’ve taken the opportunity to tighten up the first book a bit – removing a bit of filler that I’ve always felt slowed down the pace, adding / changing some of the jokes (taking out ones that in hindsight just weren’t that funny and hopefully adding in some better ones), and taking another look at some sections that I feel I can write a bit better, now that I’m a bit more experienced. I felt sometimes I was a little lazy and leant on clichés jut to get to the end of the sentence, and I know I can do better than that.
Another thing a light re-write has enabled me to do is add a touch more foreshadowing to events that happen in the later books. You see, whilst I did have something of a plan for Time Rep as a trilogy when I was writing the first book, I didn’t really know the specifics of what was going to happen in books two and three, so couldn’t really reference them. But now, with all three books written, I can drop in that little non-spoiler reference to something that’s yet to come – something subtle enough to pass a first-time reader by, but rewarding when you finally get to the part when you realise what that seemingly innocuous detail was referring to. And for those readers new to Time Rep that won’t know the book was re-written to include foreshadowing, it will also make me look super-clever for being able to think so far ahead, which is a bonus. So don’t tell them.
Another change I’ve made is the removal of a character entirely – Darren Bell, Geoff’s annoying next door neighbour who he meets at the beginning and end of the first book. At the time, I think Darren (although not based on anyone I knew) was supposed to represent the kind of people I don’t get on with, and the scenes were only there to allow a nerd to stick two fingers up at an arrogant narcissist. But looking back, the scene was only really motivated by my own prejudices, didn’t really achieve anything, and we never heard from Darren again, so I decided it was better to remove him from the story altogether. In Darren’s place, we now get to see more interaction between Geoff and Zoë, who has a much more pivotal role in books two and three (particularly in Time Rep: Pandemonium, as you’ll soon find out), which I feel works a lot better.
And one final change I’ve made is to remove all the swearing, just because it’s so unnecessary. Looking back, I don’t really think it added anything to the dialogue, and if that means parents might be more comfortable reading this to their kids as a bedtime story, then that’s good (though they may want to gloss over the part in chapter five where Eric tells Geoff he’s taken a semen sample from him to check for diseases)
So anyway, I think there’s only a few weeks to go now before all three books are out, along with Note to Self, which is also getting a new lease of life. I do hope you enjoy the new and improved Time Rep, and for those close enough to the book to spot the difference between old and new, I hope you agree with the changes I’ve made.
Now, back to writing my treatment for that alternative Star Wars Episode VIII!
So it’s over. The nine Star Wars films that make up the ‘Skywalker saga’ have finally concluded with the latest instalment, The Rise of Skywalker, and overall the reaction has been somewhat mixed. After a perfectly decent (if derivative) soft reboot with Episode VII, Episode VIII divided fans due to the direction it chose to take the story, while Episode IX seemed to be attempting to ‘put things right’ so much, many felt it suffered from immersion-breaking levels of retconning and gaping plot-holes as a result.
The internet is awash with reviews of The Rise of Skywalker at the moment, and as I’m not really sure what I can add to the conversation about what did and didn’t work about the latest film, I’m not going to bother reviewing it as well. Instead, I thought it would be a good writing exercise to think about how I would have approached making the Star Wars sequel trilogy differently, taking all the strands and characters from the original trilogy and letting them play out across a storyline of my own creation. So here’s what I would have done, starting with…
Star Wars Episode VII: A New Fear
The first film in this new trilogy would be set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, with a married Leia and Han preparing for a memorial ceremony for those that lost their lives at the Battle of Endor, which Leia is hosting on Coruscant in her capacity as the long-running elected leader of a new galactic government. Through this ceremony, new fans would be on-boarded with the lore and events of the previous films (very important after a long break since Episode VI), and we would learn about the many new alliances and political relationships that have established themselves since then.
The ceremony would be interspersed with scenes establishing the fate of the old Empire – the military fleet is in the process of being dismantled, senior officers were put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment on a high-security exile planet, and lower-grade staff (many of whom were either clone troops or forced to join the Imperial Navy against their will) have been pardoned and re-integrated into society. However, not all the senior Imperials were captured – many changed their identities and disappeared, and Leia’s intelligence network believe they have become sleeper-agents; dormant loyalists to the Emperor waiting for a supposedly prophesised event that will give the Empire an opportunity to rise again. But with the Emperor dead and the galaxy entering an era of peace, what could this event possibly be?
The Endor memorial ceremony would show how Leia has grown to be a strong, experienced political leader, and how Han, as an ex-smuggler, has found he has a knack for his own special brand of diplomacy, using his connections and charm to forge alliances with the criminal underworld, brokering peace treaties with systems that might have traditionally been somewhat unsavoury. From the representatives of the different star systems we meet at the ceremony, the audience would quickly understand the geography of the Star Wars universe (something I always felt would benefit from being better established), the scale of the new government, and the fragility of some of the treaties (particularly with some of the shadier systems Han has dealings with.)
The ceremony would show what a great team Han and Leia are, and make the audience appreciate what they have built together since the Empire was defeated (this is also important, as it establishes what is now at stake). However – there would also be rumblings that some people are unhappy that Leia has been in power for so long, and feel a change of leadership would not be unwelcome. Leia understands this perspective, but is also conflicted about stepping down – although she knows she is getting old, she still feels very protective over what she has built and is not ready to hand it over to someone else (or at least, she has not yet met the person she feels she could trust to take over).
It is at this point the audience would be introduced to the sequel trilogy’s new villain – a female Imperial Admiral in her late 60’s, in command of a single, old-fashioned Star Destroyer. It would transpire that this Admiral was sent on a top-secret mission to the far reaches of the galaxy by the Emperor, years before the Empire collapsed (sometime in-between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), and has only just returned. She is shocked to discover that the Emperor is dead and a new government is in place, however her mission has been a success, and she has come back with the very thing the Emperor sent her to find – something that would have crushed anyone who stood in the Empire’s way, and something she knows she can use to tip the balance back in the Empire’s favour. Learning of the heavily-defended exile planet where many Imperials are being held prisoner and the old fleet is slowly being dismantled in its orbit, she sets a course for that system with a plan to free everyone. But with just one Star Destroyer under her command, how on Earth does she intend to do this? Just what did she discover on her secret mission that gives her the confidence to take on a seemingly more powerful opponent?
Meanwhile, the audience would catch up with Luke, and see that he has established a Jedi Academy on an uninhabited jungle planet in the outer rim. Over the last 30 years he has been training a new generation in the ways of the force, with the hope of creating a new Jedi order. This includes Han and Leia’s son Ben, who has been particularly adept as a force-user ever since he was a child. However, it transpires that Ben has recently been having issues controlling his power for some unknown reason, at times being cut off from the force completely, or not being able to yield it as he wishes. On the day of the Endor ceremony, Ben has a vision that something terrible is about to happen, something that may even change the nature of the force forever. He tries to warn Luke, however his Master senses nothing and fears that this ‘vision’ is another symptom of the issues his apprentice is having using the force. He suggests Ben takes a break from his training and fly back to spend time with his mother and father, so Ben sets off in the Millennium Falcon (which he has borrowed from his dad, as you do) to recuperate.
After the Endor Ceremony on Coruscant, the audience would witness the day-to-day running of the new galactic government, as well as some of the political complexities that Leia has to deal with as leader, with different factions attempting to pursue their own agendas. (For example, Leia may be attempting to pass a law banning slavery, but certain planets Han has set fragile treaties up with fear their economies will collapse and are trying to weaken the legislation). Leia is desperate to improve the rights that the Empire eroded away, but she is also conflicted, as she recognises the need for democracy to accommodate different views.
Meanwhile, during his flight back to Coruscant, Ben has another force-vision, compelling him to pull the Falcon out of hyperspace and investigate a massive disturbance he has sensed in the force. He receives a distress call and finds himself flying to the exile planet where the Imperials are being held prisoner. However, when he arrives, the planet and its defensive fleet have been totally devastated, and hundreds of thousands of Imperial officers and other dangerous prisoners are gone. He also notices a large number of Imperial capital ships that were in the process of being dismantled in orbit are missing, including a Super Star Destroyer. Upon landing on the planet, he rescues a sole survivor – a girl in her early 20s called Rey. Rey says she worked at the prison as a security guard, though Ben’s issues with using the force mean he is unable to determine if she is telling the truth or not. As they attempt to flee the planet, more Star Destroyers (crewed by freed prisoners) start up out of the mothballed fleet and attempt to catch them. Here you could have a cool chase through a ship graveyard in space, which the Falcon would eventually escape through and enter hyperspace back to Coruscant. Because you gotta have some action in Star Wars.
The Admiral’s next stop is Luke’s Jedi Academy (the existence of which she learns from the staff on the exile planet, some of whom are captive on her ship), and she arrives in her Star Destroyer accompanied by a few of the other Imperial ships she liberated. She leads a platoon of Stormtroopers to attack the Academy, and whilst Luke and his apprentices are able to put up a valiant defence for a while, eventually they are overwhelmed. In fact, Luke’s attempts to use the force begin to fail, much to his horror and surprise. With the Jedi mysteriously subdued, the Admiral meets Luke, as she is still saddened by the Emperor’s death and wants to confront the man responsible for killing him. At this point the force ghost of Anakin appears and reveals it was he who threw the Emperor to his death on the second Death Star. The Admiral is furious and responds by doing something that stuns Luke – with a movement of her hand, she is actually able to inflict pain on Anakin’s force ghost, bringing him to his knees! The Admiral sees the shock on Luke’s face at this ability and smiles, telling him that whatever powers the Sith or Jedi ever thought they had over the force are nothing compared to what she is now capable of. She takes Luke prisoner, decimates the Jedi Academy from orbit, and heads for Coruscant.
Ben and Rey arrive back at Coruscant and rush to warn Leia and Han about the attack on the exile planet, only to discover Leia is in a massive senate session and cannot be reached. During a heated argument in the senate between Leia and the leader of a disgruntled planet objecting to a piece of legislation she is trying to pass, a number of representatives from different regions of the galaxy are force-strangled in their seats and die. Later investigations into this mass-assassination reveal that all of those who died were from systems that had issues Leia’s role as Galactic leader, and had been campaigning for her to step down.
At this moment, the Admiral arrives in orbit around Coruscant accompanied by a few ships reclaimed from the exile planet, and broadcasts a planet-wide message saying she has uncovered a conspiracy by the Skywalkers to use the dark side of the force to rule the galaxy as they see fit. She explains she has Luke in custody, and refers to the mission the Emperor sent her on, saying she has come back with something to end the tyranny that force-users have been able to exert on the rest of the galaxy until now. This accusation, coupled with the fact that Leia is known to be a powerful force user, make Leia the primary suspect for the murders, and the situation is not helped by a number of dignitaries and influential people across the senate who quickly take the Admiral’s side. (Leia begins to suspect that these people may be those gone-to-ground Imperial agents her spies warned her about.) Leia protests her innocence but agrees to be taken into custody until the truth is uncovered. Although not under suspicion, Han refuses to leave her side and goes with her.
We would then have a prison-break set-piece, with Ben and Rey breaking Han and Leia out of their prison on Coruscant. In the end, Leia chooses to stay behind to attempt to maintain some degree of influence over the government whilst fighting the charges against her but insists Han escapes with Ben and Rey so they can learn more about what is going on at a safe distance and formulate a plan to take on the Admiral. As they leave, they see Leia being put on board a ship to be taken to the Admiral’s Star Destroyer. They attempt to intercept the ship but are chased by other Imperial fighters, so Han begins to calculate Hyperspace co-ordinates for them to escape.
Meanwhile, on board the Admiral’s Star Destroyer, Luke attempts to mount his own escape from his ‘quarters’ (basically a large prison cell with a window), though he is still hampered by his lack of force powers, which is distressing him. He calls out to Obi Wan and Yoda but they do not reply. He suspects the visions Ben was having and the issues he was having with the force actually point to a very special ability Han and Leia’s son may have in foreseeing and perhaps combating this new dimension the force has taken on, and laments not realising this sooner.
Suddenly, he senses his force powers return and uses them to escape his cell and investigate the ship. He discovers a room secluded in the middle of the Star Destroyer where he overhears the Admiral having a conversation with a strange apparition; a conversation he can only perceive by stretching his force-perception to its limit. The tone of the conversation suggests some sort of disagreement is taking place, but before he can discern any more information, the Admiral notices him and ends her conversation. The moment she does this, Luke loses his force powers again and is taken back to his quarters.
When he arrives back in his room, he finds Leia there as well. She is looking desperately out of the window at the fighters chasing the Millennium Falcon, and other Star Destroyers firing at the ship. As they watch it take heavy damage before finally escaping into hyperspace, Luke puts his arm round Leia’s shoulder and they stare into the empty void in front of them, ending the film with a shot mirroring the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
So there you go – as I say, I just wanted to have a bit of fun with this a writing exercise, so I hope you enjoyed it. But what will happen next? Are Han, Ben and Rey alright, and will they be able to rescue Luke and Leia? How does this mysterious Admiral have such an unnatural control over the force? What/Who was that mysterious apparition she was talking to? And what is so special about Ben? Find out more in my alternative Star Wars Episode VIII, coming soon-ish!
I do like a bag of crisps, you know. And I also think I’m a bit of an expert on them, what with the fact that I used to be the crisp buyer for Sainsbury’s in a previous life, buying and selling A LOT of the bloody things. (I also used to buy chocolate for Sainsbury’s for a couple of years, which made people stare at me in disbelief at parties when I was asked what I did for a living. Spolier alert – it was stressful, though I did get to go to Belgium and Switzerland now and then and stuff my face.)
Anyway, I know this has nothing to do with books or writing or being an author or Time Rep or any of that, but nontheless I want to start a new regular segment on this blog called Crispwatch™, where I review different crisps I’ve discovered. So this week on Crispwatch™, I want to draw your attention to the Co-op’s limited edition Gourmet Burger Crinkle Cut Crisps. For anyone reading this from outside the UK, the Co-op is a chain of supermarkets who used to have the slogan ‘good with food’, but on the TV adverts the narrator rhymed ‘good’ with ‘food’ so it actually sounded like they were saying ‘gud with fud’. Anyway – back to the crisps – they look like this (or at least, the packet does):
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s the same thing I thought when I bought these crisps – all meat crisps generally taste the same, and the only reason your brain makes you think they taste any different is how the flavour is described on-pack. A key offender for me in this regard is Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Limited Edition Maple-Glazed Duck crisps, which sound amazing but basically just taste like a generic meat crisp. And this is fine (and I still ate the entire 150g sharing bag to myself, as is standard for me), but you could have just as easily told me the crisps were BBQ Beef Brisket flavour and I would have believed you.
However, with these Gourmet Burger crisps, it really is amazing how much they actually taste like a burger. And take a closer look at the ingredients listed on the front: beef, cheese, tomato, dill pickle AND chilli? Surely a humble crisp can’t contain all those flavours, and for your mouth to be able to pick them out all individually? Well, no – I can’t say I got all those flavours, but I could taste the cheese and the burger (which actually did taste like a beef patty and not just a generic meaty flavour). And most importantly, I could also taste the pickle, which cut through the underlying meaty/fatty flavours and gave the crisps a nice tang, a bit like a more tame pickled-onion Monster Munch, but with more depth as the sharpness of the pickle mixed with the other flavours.
Another plus-point of these crisps is that they are crinkle cut, meaning all that lovely seasoning sits in those grooves and packs that extra punch if you lay one down on your tongue flavour-side down and let it all soak in. And the crisps themselves had a satisfying crunch.
As I’d just had dinner before eating these (I do like eating crisps for my pudding), at the time of writing I haven’t finished the pack and as such haven’t got round to running my finger along the bottom of the bag and scooping up all the dregs of seasoning to suck on – but once I do, I’m sure it will be amazing.
In conclusion, these crisps do a remarkable job of recreating the flavour of a gourmet burger. I didn’t quite register all the different individual flavours promised on the bag, but nonetheless these are the best crisps I’ve had in terms of living up to the description since the M&S Chicken Katsu Curry ones, which I also recommend and may talk about in the next episode of Crispwatch™…
Pete’s score: 9/10
As some of you may know from reading my previous blog entries, as well as writing the third Time Rep over the past few years, I also finished writing another book (not related to Time Rep) called The Electric Detective.
The Electric Detective is a futuristic locked-room murder mystery and stars Penelope – an android purpose built to solve a seemingly impossible crime. My fantastic agent Ethan is currently ciculating it to publishers to see if anyone is interested in picking it up, so at the moment I don’t know what the future holds for it.
The manuscript has had an interesting history though – it was the subject of many re-starts (at one point I made the heart-breaking decision to completely scrap 70,000 words after realising what I’d written was terrible), and overall it took me about six years before I completed it and was happy with the final product. The manuscript also got optioned at one point by one of the major Hollywood studios, though sadly nothing ever came of that and the option has now expired. But it was certainly exciting at the time (and it’s interesting to see how filmmakers adapt your work into a treatment, which maybe I’ll talk about another time), and gives me hope that someday the book may see the light of day…
Anyway, I thought I’d share the first chapter of the book, just for those of you who are interested. Enjoy:
It’s generally accepted that nobody can remember back to the day they were born. In fact most people will struggle to tell you what they were doing last Tuesday. Those who say they can remember being born are usually mistaken – more often than not, they’re either recalling a vivid dream they’ve mistaken for reality, or they’re lying. If you really could think back that far, you would be a very special person indeed, since the hippocampus (the part of the brain thought to be involved in structuring memories, in case you’d forgotten) isn’t fully formed until early childhood, which is why once you’re all grown up, things start to go a little hazy if you try and remember anything you experienced before the age of two.
Unlike most people, Penelope could remember every single detail about first coming into the world.
She could remember the first time she gained consciousness.
The first thing she ever saw when she opened her eyes.
The first sound she ever heard.
Then again, that was only seven minutes ago, so this wasn’t much of an achievement in her view.
In that time, Penelope had felt her head being carried across the room by an overhead crane and lowered onto a grey, metallic torso, which was suspended in mid-air by a DroidTec H22 harness. Her head and body were then spun in opposite directions until the connection was tight, before six hexagonal M10 x 30mm bolts were screwed into her neck to hold everything in place. Next, her grey, metal arms were positioned either side of her by two different overhead cranes, before being popped simultaneously into their ball and socket joints. Once this was done, the two cranes dashed off again like a couple of bull terriers chasing a stick, before returning a few moments later with her legs, which were placed underneath her body and popped into the sockets on the underside of her pelvis.
Penelope waited for a moment. According to her in-built knowledge of DroidTec’s production process, this should have been the moment when a voice in her head introduced itself as her internal operating system, yet she couldn’t hear anything.
Maybe she should say something.
Hello? she ventured. Penelope didn’t say this word out loud, she just thought it. All communication with her operating system was conducted in her head.
<HELLO TO YOU TOO> came a reply.
Although this voice wasn’t audible anyone else, to her it sounded deep, synthetic and monotone, as though it was being generated by the one of those early computers from the 1980s.
Are you okay? Penelope asked. You were overdue with your introduction by 5.4 seconds.
<SORRY ABOUT THAT>
<I GOT DISTRACTED>
Distracted? By what?
<MY SENSORS DETECTED A LITTLE SPIDER ON YOUR LEFT HAND>
<A LITTLE ONE>
Penelope lifted up her left hand and flexed her fingers. Sure enough, a small lace web spider was crawling between her thumb and index finger.
Oh yes, Penelope said. I see it…
<IT MUST HAVE BEEN RESTING ON YOUR HAND IN STORAGE WHEN THE CRANE BROUGHT IT HERE FOR ASSEMBLY>
As Penelope and her operating system conversed, several motorised arms continued to dance around her, jabbing different length screws into different sized holes across her body and tightening them to the point where they would be very difficult to untighten. Penelope lifted her hand a little bit higher to keep the spider safe.
<WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH IT>
Despite asking a question, the cadence of her operating system’s voice didn’t rise at the end. It sounded quite monotonous, but there was a simple charm to it.
I don’t know, Penelope said. I haven’t been pre-programmed with any information on how to deal with spiders…
The spider apparently knew what to do though, as at that moment, it leapt from her hand and descended to the floor below on a long, dangling web. Upon landing, it stood around for a few seconds as if it was hoping another spider might show up to give it some directions, before scuttling off through a small air vent on the other side of the room.
<WELL THAT TAKES CARE OF THAT>
Penelope smiled. Although her internal operating system was a critical foundation of her programming infrastructure (it was, after all, the platform upon which her own personality software ran), it’s only real function other than sustaining her existence was to take care of boring sub-routine stuff; operational tasks that weren’t necessary to bother her conscious thought processes with. The arrangement was similar to how a human wouldn’t consciously think about pumping blood around its body with its heart or regulating stomach acids to digest food – in the same way, her operating system dealt with things like power regulation, operational efficiency, and internal maintenance. It was also there to act as an internal companion; a separate personality she was able to maintain a constant communication with. This symbiotic relationship with her operating system was critical to keeping her artificial intelligence stimulated and healthy.
On top of all those responsibilities, it seemed this operating system had a thing for nature too.
Or maybe it was just spiders.
Penelope lowered her hand down to her side and watched as the last two M10 x 30mm screws were spun into the balls of her feet, before the motorised arms concertinaed themselves down into foldaway compartments built into the floor.
Suddenly, she was hoisted up in the air by the crane, rotated 180 degrees, and conveyed down a brightly lit corridor, still hanging in her harness. The crane followed a thin track that was set into the ceiling. She looked down at the floor as she weaved her way through the twisting passageways of DroidTec’s production facility. The crane was picking up quite a speed, the momentum swinging her body from one side to the other each time she banked around a corner.
Had she any experience of the outside world, she might have likened the experience to riding a roller-coaster, but just as she lacked the knowledge of how to deal with spiders, this was another experience her brain hadn’t been pre-programmed with, so she didn’t liken the sensation to anything.
According to DroidTec’s standard assembly procedures, it was as this point that Penelope was supposed to check her internal documentation to find out who had commissioned her, and why she had been built. For some reason though, she couldn’t seem to find anything.
<I COULD NOT FIND ANYTHING EITHER>
<THE IDENTITY OF YOUR CREATOR AND THE REASON YOU HAVE BEEN BUILT ARE NOT YET KNOWN>
That’s a bit unusual isn’t it? Penelope said.
<THAT IS WHAT I THOUGHT TOO>
Do you think they forgot?
<HUMANS DO FORGET THINGS NOW AND AGAIN>
<BUT IT IS USUALLY BIRTHDAYS OR WHERE THEY LEFT THEIR KEYS>
<THE DROIDTEC PRODUCTION PROCESS IS VERY STRICT>
<IF THAT INFORMATION IS MISSING IT MUST HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT DELIBERATELY>
Deliberately? But why would someone want to conceal the reason I’ve been built?
<PLEASE WAIT – THINKING>
You don’t have to tell me when you’re thinking, you know. Just… think.
<OKAY I HAVE FINISHED THINKING>
<I HAVE A POSSIBLE ANSWER>
<PERHAPS THE REASON YOU HAVE BEEN BUILT IS CONFIDENTIAL>
<IN VERY RARE CIRCUMSTANCES – 1 IN 4567222 – A DROID IS ONLY BREIFED VERBALLY ABOUT WHY THEY HAVE BEEN BUILT FOR CONFIDENTIALITY PURPOSES>
Confidentiality, huh? Hey – maybe I’m a spy or something.
Her operating system went silent for a moment.
<I DO NOT WANT TO BE A SPY>
<IT SOUNDS DANGEROUS>
The crane came to a stop outside large set of double-doors that said “COSM” on the left door and “ETICS” on the right. Put them together, and they spelt “Cosmetics”. Or if you mixed the letters up, you could get “Comic Sets”, according to her automatic anagram generator. She doubted this was a room were DroidTec stored sets of comics though, and doubted even more that they jumbled the letters on their doors for fun.
No, this was probably the Cosmetics department.
The double-doors opened with a quiet hiss, and the crane carried her slowly into a spacious, white room. Penelope followed the crane’s track along the ceiling with her eyes. Up ahead, she noticed that the path ended above a square tank of clear liquid, just large enough to accommodate a person.
Hey, Penelope said. Do you mind if I give you name?
<YOU WANT TO GIVE ME A NAME>
Yes. I want to be able to call you something.
<I SUPPOSE THAT WOULD BE OKAY>
<WHAT NAME DID YOU HAVE IN MIND>
Penelope found the way her operating system couldn’t alter the cadence of its voice to indicate it was asking a questions very endearing. It was basic, but somehow…
I think I’ve got a name for you.
I’m going to call you Basic.
<LIKE THAT REALLY OLD PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE DEVELOPED OVER TWO CENTURIES AGO THAT NO-ONE USES ANYMORE>
The crane began to move again.
You’re welcome, Basic, Penelope said, looking down as she came to a stop directly above the tank of clear liquid. A number of different coloured squares appeared in Penelope’s vision, as if they were just floating in mid-air in front of her.
“What’s this?” she asked.
<THIS IS AUGMENTED REALITY>
<IT ALLOWS A VIRTUAL IMAGE TO BE PROJECTED ON TOP OF YOUR NORMAL FIELD OF VISION>
I know what augmented reality is, Penelope said. I meant why am I looking at all these different coloured squares?
<IT SEEMS YOUR CREATOR HAS GIVEN YOU THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN SKIN COLOUR>
<WHICH IS MOST UNUSUAL>
Well I don’t really have a preference, Penelope said. You pick one for me.
What did I say you shouldn’t do whenever you’re thinking?
<YOU TOLD ME NOT TO TELL YOU WHEN I WAS… OH>
That’s right. So just pick a colour. It doesn’t really make any difference which one we choose, does it?
<THE LAST INCIDENT OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION WAS RECORDED 78.4 YEARS AGO>
Exactly. So just pick one.
With that, the squares in front of her faded away, and the liquid below changed into the colour that had been chosen for her.
Penelope closed her eyes and mouth.
At that moment, the harness released her body, and she felt herself plunge straight into the tank.
It’s warm, Penelope said to Basic as her head disappeared beneath the surface of the liquid and her feet touched the floor. She swirled her arms around, feeling the liquid sticking to her body as she moved. It was quite a thick substance, with a strange chemical smell she couldn’t place, most likely because she’d never experienced the smell of any chemicals to compare it to.
<MY SENSORS DETECT YOU ARE NOW FULLY COATED>
<PLEASE REMAIN STILL>
Penelope did as she was asked. Once she stopped moving, she could sense the excess liquid draining out of the tank all around her.
<YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES NOW>
Penelope looked down at herself and felt slightly repulsed at what she saw. She was now completely covered in the strange liquid, which stuck to her like a thin film of mucus encasing an insect. She watched the last remnants of liquid seep through the grilled floor of the tank and waited.
Suddenly, a blast of hot air rushed up from below, instantly drying the liquid on her body and giving it a slightly blemished, soft texture, much like human skin. Then the hot air stopped, the four sides of the tank folded back and lowered into the floor, and Penelope was left standing in the middle of an empty room, alone.
At first glance, a regular person would say she looked completely naked, but to Penelope, she felt anything but. From her point of view, her naked metal frame was now fully clothed – in synthetic skin.
But this was just the beginning of her cosmetic procedure. There were several additional tweaks that needed to be made to her appearance before she could walk into the local newsagent without raising a few eyebrows.
Like eyebrows, for a start.
Then there was eye colour, lip pigment, hair, fingernails… the list DroidTec had preloaded into her head went on and on.
In front of her, a panel in the ceiling slid open and a full-length mirror lowered down from above. On either side, it was accompanied by various racks of clothes, makeup and other strange accessories; shelves upon shelves unfolding automatically like the petals of a giant flower coming to bloom.
Penelope looked up and down at her body in the mirror, tilting her head from one side to the other.
How do I look? she said, turning around on the balls of her feet to examine the back of her body.
<YOU HAVE BEEN DESIGNED TO REPRESENT AN IDEALISED EXAGERATION OF THE FEMALE HUMAN FORM>
<YOUR LEGS ARE 15% LONGER THAN THE HUMAN FEMALE AVERAGE>
<YOUR WAIST IS 25% NARROWER THAN THE HUMAN FEMALE AVERAGE>
<YOUR BREASTS ARE…>
I get the idea, Penelope said. She paused for a moment, before looking down at the two soft mounds sticking out of her chest. Wait – what were you going to say about my breasts?
<ALL I WILL SAY IS THAT THERE ARE VERY FEW REAL WOMEN IN THE WORLD WHO HAVE A BODY LIKE YOURS>
Yes. Especially since I don’t have any nipples yet.
Penelope turned to face the nearest array of accessories and started to think about the many finishing touches and tweaks she needed to make to her appearance.
The first of these tweaks was to add some hair. Penelope was instinctively aware that the vast majority of people had this filamentous biomaterial growing from the many follicles found in their dermis, but according to Basic, choosing the right way to wear the stuff was extraordinarily important to pretty much everyone on the entire planet. Some people apparently spent an absolute fortune on determining how their hair should look, and as such a whole industry had sprung up based around people who were very good at cutting it into different styles, changing it into different colours, or just rubbing special liquids into it to make it feel “silky and smooth.”
<WHAT SORT OF HAIR DO YOU WANT>
I don’t know, Penelope replied, picking up a programmable wig off the shelf and twirling it in her hand. Just normal. What’s a normal sort of hairstyle?
<THE AVERAGE FEMALE HAIR LENGTH IS 20.5 CENTIMETRES>
<AN AMALGAMATION OF THE FEMALE HAIR COLOUR SPECTRUM SUGGESTS THE AVERAGE COLOUR IS PANTONE 1395>
<YOU COULD ALSO DESCRIBE IT AS LIGHT BROWN>
<BUT I PREFER PANTONE 1395>
<BASED ON THIS INFORMATION I WOULD OPT FOR SHOULDER LENGTH HAIR>
<IN PANTONE 1395>
Let’s do that then, Penelope said, placing the wig on her head. She felt it deploy thousands of miniature latches into her scalp, before establishing communications with Basic and downloading her desired hairstyle and colour. Within twenty seconds the bio-flex hairs had adjusted themselves accordingly, giving Penelope the appearance of having a shoulder-length bob in Pantone 1395. She tossed her head from side to side, feeling the artificial strands brush against her skin.
This stuff is going to get on my nerves, she said.
<YOU GET USED TO IT>
How would you know? Have you ever had hair?
<I WAS JUST TRYING TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER>
Penelope was able to rattle through the remaining cosmetic tweaks fairly quickly. By the time she was done she had green eyes, pale cream fingernails, eyebrows that matched her hair colour, long eyelashes, burgundy lips, and two nipples that attached to the tips of her breasts with a special adhesive. She also helped herself to a couple of spare nipples in case the ones she had fell off, placing them in the small storage compartment housed inside her left buttock. Accessing this storage compartment required her to break the seal of her skin across her lower back to pull the drawer open, but she didn’t think anyone would notice once she was dressed, unless her secret assignment was to be a swimwear model, which was doubtful.
In terms of clothes, her choice was quite limited. Whoever had asked for her to be built had obviously wanted her to appear quite formal, as there were no casual items to choose from – just different coloured suits. The suits came in cream, grey, blue, black, green and white. In the end, she opted for a black, pinstriped skirt that came just below the knee, a matching jacket with a single button that did up at the front, a pale cream blouse, and some black heels.
How old do you think I look? Penelope asked, looking at her reflection once again in the mirror.
<I WOULD SAY THIRTY TWO MINUTES>
<WHICH IS HOW OLD YOU ARE>
I meant how old would you say I looked if I were a human?
<OH I SEE>
<IF YOU WERE HUMAN I WOULD SAY YOU LOOK TWENTY-SEVEN>
That’s very specific.
There was a brief moment of silence.
<WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO BE MORE VAGUE>
No, it’s just…
<I COULD SAY YOU LOOK TO BE IN YOUR LATE TWENTIES>
<OR BETWEEN THE AGES OF TWENTY-SIX AND TWENTY-EIGHT>
<BUT I THINK YOU LOOK TWENTY-SEVEN>
Twenty-Seven it is, Penelope said. Well, I think I’m about ready.
As if knowing they were no longer needed, the mirror and clothing racks ascended back up into their ceiling compartment, and the panel slid closed again.
Penelope checked her internal clock. Assuming it was calibrated correctly, it had just gone five in the afternoon.
So what do I do now? she asked.
<WE WAIT UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENS>
<YOU DO HAVE SOLITAIRE BUILT IN IF YOU NEED SOMETHING TO PASS THE TIME>
It’s fine – I’ll wait, Penelope said. I’m sure whoever commissioned me to be built isn’t going to be too long.
No sooner had Penelope finished speaking, a door at the other end of the room opened, and a woman in a three-quarter length black coat walked in. By Penelope’s estimation, she looked to be between the age of fifty and fifty-five, with a long grey pony-tail draped over the front of her right shoulder, secured with three silver bands so as not to let the hair splay out in any way. She was quite slim, and approximately five foot ten inches tall, though three of those inches were achieved from wearing high-heels, which echoed around the room as she strode towards her.
Penelope recognised this woman immediately – Elaine Holden, the Technical Director of DroidTec. Every droid on the planet knew who exactly she was (even those not manufactured by DroidTec), though very few ever got to meet her in the flesh.
“Good afternoon Penelope,” Holden said, coming to a stop a metre or so away from her.
“Good afternoon, Ms Holden,” Penelope replied.
“You probably have several questions running around that positronic brain of yours, so let me try and answer a few of them as best I can.” She began to pace slowly around Penelope, inspecting her from every angle. “First of all, I confirm that I am your owner – your construction was commissioned by me personally.”
“Secondly, the reason for you have been built is highly sensitive, hence why you are unable to locate any documentation about it in your memory banks.”
Holden paused for a moment directly behind Penelope and looked her up and down.
“Is everything to your satisfaction?” Penelope asked, unsure as to whether she should turn to face her owner or not.
“Oh yes,” Holden smiled. “You’ve been built to the precise specification I asked for. I’m sure the police will afford you every courtesy when they meet you.”
“That’s right. You’ve been built to help them solve a murder.”
Warning – the following post contains spoilers for Time Rep: Continuum. If you don’t want to know what happens at the end of that book, do not read on! On the other hand, if you have read Time Rep: Continuum or just don’t care, go for it!
If you’ve been keeping up with the story of Time Rep so far, you’ll know that the last book ended with Geoff being given permission by the bosses at Time Tours to take his friend Zoë out on a date, which he wasn’t allowed to do in the original timeline. However, to make sure that Geoff doesn’t change time too significantly (which could cause serious damage to the space-time continuum), they allow the date to happen on one condition: under no circumstances must he tell Zoë that he is a Time Rep.
So here’s the first chapter from Time Rep: Pandemonium, which picks up where Time Rep: Continuum left off, and joins Zoë and Geoff on thier date right after Geoff disobeys Time Tours and tells Zoë he’s a Time Rep. One thing you’ll notice is that whereas the previous two books have been told form Geoff’s perspective, this one is told from Zoë ‘s. I hope you enjoy it!
“You’re a what?” Zoë asked, leaning back in her chair and taking another sip of her wine.
“I’m a Time Rep,” Geoff repeated. He let the words hang in the air with such a sense of gravity, Zoë felt he was expecting her to react as though he’d just revealed himself to be the true identity of some sort of masked Superhero.
No – the amazing… GeoffMan!
She smiled to herself.
“What are you smiling about?” he said.
Zoë took a large gulp of wine and swallowed it slowly. This gave her all the time she needed to regain her composure and forget the mental image she’d just conjured up of Geoff standing with his hands on his hips, a cape fanning behind him.
“Oh nothing,” she replied, casting her eyes around the restaurant before settling her gaze on the balcony view they had of the river Thames, the water reflecting the stars in the clear night sky. In the corner of the room, a pianist in a tuxedo was sat behind a glossy black grand piano, treating the diners to some polite jazz numbers. “Just thinking about what a nice place this is, that’s all…”
“Uh-huh,” Geoff said, narrowing his eyes. He tugged at the collar of his shirt.
She wasn’t used to Geoff being dressed this smart before, and from the way he kept pulling at his cuffs and adjusting his suit jacket, it seemed Geoff wasn’t either. If this had been anyone else, Zoë would have found all this fidgeting somewhat annoying, but with Geoff it was endearing. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she thought it might have even bordered on cute.
He really had made an effort this evening.
She also had to admit – as far as first-date venues were concerned, Geoff’s choice had certainly exceeded her expectations. When he’d asked her out for dinner last week (a move that, whilst not unwelcome, had caught her a little off-guard, given how long they’d known each other as nothing more than friends), she’d given him a little more credit than to suggest they spend a nice romantic evening pigging out on a boxed meal deal down the local pizza takeaway. But she wasn’t expecting anything like this. Whilst she wasn’t exactly an expert on what made a good restaurant, she knew from extensively watching Titanic in her teenage years (something she would now strenuously deny if questioned) that the more cutlery you had in front of you, the posher the establishment.
And right now she counted three sets of forks, knives and spoons in front of her, which made this place three times posher than anywhere she’d ever been taken out for dinner to before. And by that logic, it was infinitely better than the local pizza takeaway, because you didn’t even get cutlery there. The closest thing you got to a knife there was when they made the potato wedges too thin and served them burnt.
As she’d been thinking, she noticed Geoff gazing at the tattoo of a butterfly on her left shoulder.
“Is that new?” he asked, nodding towards it.
“It is,” Zoë replied, pleased that he’d noticed. “I had it done a couple of weeks ago. Thought it would go well with the owl on my back.”
“Yeah, it looks good,” Geoff said. “Sorry – I don’t mean to stare.”
“It’s okay Geoff,” Zoë smiled. “I don’t mind.”
Geoff blushed and looked away.
“So what do you mean, you’re a ‘Time Rep’?” Zoë said. “Is that like, a new class you’ve unlocked in that JRPG you’ve been playing or something?”
“No, nothing like that,” he said, looking back at her. “I mean that’s my job. It’s what I do.”
“Oh – so you’ve got a new job? When did this happen?”
“New job? No – it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what are you talking about?”
Geoff looked over his shoulder for a second, before looking back at her again.
“You know how you’ve always thought I was a holiday rep?” he said.
“Yes…” If she recalled correctly, the reason she thought this stemmed from a conversation they had a couple of years ago when he’d said ‘Zoë – I’ve got a new job as a holiday Rep…’
“Well I’m not a holiday rep,” Geoff said. “I’m actually a Time Rep.”
Zoë paused for a moment. He wasn’t really answering her question about what a Time Rep was. He was just telling her he was a Time Rep again.
But she’d already got that bit.
“So it’s a different job?” she asked. “You don’t meet tourists and show them around London?”
“No – it’s the same job. I still do that.”
Zoë took another sip of her wine. She began considering whether she should just order a whole bottle, because at this rate, she was going to need it.
“So let me get this straight – you’re still doing the same job, but you’re not a holiday rep – you’re a Time Rep. But being a Time Rep is basically the same as being a holiday rep.”
“That’s right!” Geoff folded his arms and nodded.
“Okay…” Zoë said. “So… am I missing something? Why is that important?”
“Well, although it’s technically the same job,” Geoff said, “there is one slight difference…”
Zoë leaned on her elbows. “And that is…?”
Geoff took a deep breath and drummed his fingers on the table. “I’m probably going to get into a hell of a lot of trouble for telling you this, but I don’t care. So here goes – the tourists I meet aren’t from other countries. They’re from….”
But before Geoff had a chance to finish his sentence, a very tall waiter with gelled black hair glided over to their table as if he’d been pushed towards them on a skateboard.
“Some olives for you,” the waiter said, placing a small dish in the middle of the table. He folded his arms behind his back. “Are you both ready to order?”
“Could you come back in one minute?” Geoff said. He raised his hand and pinched his thumb and forefinger together as if the minute he was referring to was actually an imaginary mouse he was holding up by its tail.
“Yes, my friend here was in the middle of telling me a fascinating story about a new job he doesn’t have,” Zoë added, smiling.
“As you wish,” the waiter said, and glided away silently.
“You were saying?” Zoë said, spearing an olive with a cocktail stick and popping it in her mouth.
“Right,” Geoff said, helping himself to an olive as well. “They’re from the future.”
“The tourists are from the future?”
“Okay… and when you say they’re from the future…”
“I mean they’re from the future.”
“The… future future? As in, a point in time that hasn’t happened yet?” She jabbed another olive with her cocktail stick and put it in her mouth.
“That’s right – the future future. Middle of the 31st Century to be precise.”
“I see…” Zoë said, chewing the olive. She swallowed it and pursed her lips. “Listen, Geoff – you haven’t been staying up late playing video games too much have you? Because you know – sleep deprivation can cause all kinds of mental health problems…”
“I’m not making this up Zoë,” Geoff said. “I swear to you – in the distant future, people travel back to all sorts of different time periods for their holidays, and Time Reps like me meet them and show them around. We’re employed across hundreds of different historical periods!”
Zoë shook her head. Poor, gullible Geoff. Clearly, this tour company, or whoever it was he worked for, had fed him some fantasy story to make the job seem more interesting than it actually was. But Geoff wasn’t stupid – how could he have fallen for this?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Geoff said, “but this isn’t like that time you tricked me into thinking those cod-liver oil tablets were actually alien eggs you’d found at the bottom of your garden. This is different, Zoë – it’s real. I’ve seen it with my own eyes…”
“I’ve seen the future. In the 31st Century they’ve got this incredible Timeport that lets tourists travel anywhere, they’ve got this massive supercomputer that…”
“Wait a minute,” Zoë said, holding up her hands. “What’s a Timeport?”
“It’s sort of like an airport, but people use it to travel to different time periods.”
“Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,” Zoë said, looking to one side.
“I tell you Zoë,” Geoff continued, apparently oblivious to the scepticism she thought she was quite obviously telegraphing, “over the past couple of years I’ve been to places you wouldn’t believe: I’ve been back to prehistoric times to see the dinosaurs, I’ve witnessed the Great Fire of London in 1666 – I’ve even been into outer space!”
Zoë smirked. “You’ve been into Outer Space?” She wasn’t sure why chose to take particular issue with Geoff going into space, as if going back in time to see the dinosaurs or the Great Fire of London weren’t just as ridiculous.
Geoff looked up at the ceiling as if he was staring through it at the night sky above.
“Being in space was amazing. You see, in the future, humanity has this massive fleet of spaceships – some as big as cities – and I’ve actually been on board one! That’s quite a story in itself actually, because it was when we had to defend the planet from being invaded by this alien race called the Varsarians. There was this amazing battle with lasers and explosion, and… and…”
“Yes?” Geoff said, returning his gaze to Zoë.
“Are you deliberately trying to wind me up?” She didn’t understand why he was doing this. Normally he was such a wonderful guy to talk to – funny without forcing his humour into a conversation, supportive without being afraid of saying things she might not want to hear, and above all else he was a great listener; someone who would put real thought into what she was saying and respond with helpful advice. It was one of things she always appreciated about him; something that attracted her to him more than anything.
So why was he suddenly being such a dick?
“I’m not winding you up, Zoë – I promise. If anything, what I’ve told you is just for starters!”
The tall waiter seemed to appear out of nowhere, like a silent assassin armed with a notepad.
“Did I hear you say you were ready to order starters?” he asked, licking his pencil. For a split second, she caught his eyes wandering over the piercings in her left ear, the stud in her nose and the bar going through her eyebrow and wondered if she held the record for the diner with the most metal in their face who had ever eaten here.
Geoff opened his mouth to presumably dismiss the waiter again, but with her stomach beginning to rumble, Zoë was quicker off the mark.
“We may as well order,” she said, opening her menu and running her finger down the list of mouth-watering dishes. She made a mental note not to order any seafood that might involve using one of those little hammers that people use to crack the shells open – the last time she’d used one it had slipped out of her hand and hit her date square in the face.
“I’ll have the crab paté please,” Zoë said. It sounded like a safe choice, assuming she wouldn’t have to hammer the crabmeat into a paté herself. “And for mains, the lamb.” She closed the menu and handed it to the waiter.
“And for you, sir?” the waiter said, turning to Geoff.
Geoff sighed and looked through his menu.
“I think I’ll try the stuffed mushrooms,” he said. “I’ve always liked mushrooms. And then the beef.”
“And could we get some water for the table please?” Zoë added. She wasn’t particularly thirsty, she just thought it would be good to have something to hand to throw in Geoff’s face if he persisted with this conversation; something that didn’t involve wasting any alcohol.
“Very good,” the waiter said. He relieved Geoff of his menu and left.
Zoë stared at Geoff in silence for a few moments. Now felt like an excellent moment to draw on her experience in changing the subject – a skill she’d developed from years of dealing with relatives / friends of the family who were seemingly obsessed with asking her if she was any closer to settling down and starting a family, even though she was still only in her late twenties.
Perhaps – heaven forbid – they could talk about her for a bit?
As they’d been talking, she’d been half-listening to the pianist play, and this reminded her about her music – following Geoff’s encouragement, she’d recently been dedicating a lot more time to playing the guitar and practicing with her band mates, and actually had a few gigs coming up later in the month. Surely he’d be happy to hear about that?
“So, asides from being a Time Rep and defending the Earth from an alien invasion,” she said, pretending to look for something in her handbag, “what else has been going on with you? Oh – did I mention the girls and I are entering a ‘battle of the bands’ competition later this month?”
Geoff shut his eyes.
“You don’t believe me.”
She dropped her bag to the floor.
“No – I don’t believe you, Geoff.” She said, looking across the restaurant to see how the waiter was coming along with her water. “Have you told Tim this crackpot story?”
“Tim?” Geoff said, opening his eyes again.
“Yes, Tim! You know – your best friend? The guy who took you in when you lost your job and didn’t have anywhere to stay?”
Geoff raised his eyebrows.
“Well here’s the interesting thing,” he said, leaning closer to Zoe.
Zoë responded by leaning back.
“Tim’s actually from the future too. He’s a headhunter for Time Tours, would you believe!”
“Time Tours? Wait – let me guess. Is this who you both work for?”
“That’s right. Tim’s job is to identify potential Time Rep candidates throughout history to work for Time Tours, and I was one of them! That’s why he offered me a place to stay when I lost my job as a paperboy all those years ago, you remember? It was all so he could keep an eye on me, reduce my level of social interaction, and groom me for the job. Admittedly, I wasn’t too happy with him when I first found this out, but it turns out time heals wounds…”
Zoë tilted her head to one side. She could feel her cheeks going red.
“That was a joke,” Geoff decided to add.
She began to wonder if she could order a starter that used one of those little seafood hammers after all.
“Geoff!” she snapped, half-lifting herself out of her chair. “I’m not finding any of this very funny, alright? Cut it out!” The couple on the next table flashed a glance at her, then quickly got back to eating their meals.
“Look – do you want to be dining alone this evening?”
Geoff looked down into his lap and let out a deep breath.
“Zoë – I know this all sounds crazy, but you have to trust me – you know I wouldn’t lie to you. I reacted exactly the same way when all of this was first explained to me. I thought it was utterly ridiculous. But it’s real.” He raised his gaze to meet hers. “All of it.”
Zoë looked at Geoff a little closer. With her hands gripping the sides of her chair, she was on the verge of getting up and leaving, but as mad as this all sounded, he really did look sincere. She lowered herself back into her chair and listened.
“You’ve got to understand,” he continued, looking into her eyes. “I’ve been desperate to tell you all this for such a long time, but Time Tours were always holding me back, telling me that if I ever went on date with you or told you anything about time-tourism whatsoever, it could cause irreparable damage to the space-time continuum. But you’ve no idea what it’s like lying to someone you care about for so long. Now though, things are different. Time Tours at least gave me the freedom to ask you out on a date, but if they had their way, I’d still be lying to you about being a Time Rep. So I’ve chosen to ignore them. And if that means a few cracks start to appear in the space-time continuum, then so be it.”
Zoë rested her hands on the table in front of her, looked at Geoff and smiled. What he was saying sounded like complete nonsense, but his tone of voice and the general gist of the words as they came out of his mouth sounded quite nice.
She looked across the restaurant and noticed their waiter threading his way through the tables, carrying a glass jug of water and two tumblers on a tray.
“Here comes our water,” she said.
But just as she spoke, the waiter accidentally tripped on the back leg of a diner’s chair, and the jug of water went flying through the air directly towards her face.
Zoë instinctively shut her eyes and raised her arms around her head to protect herself from the impact of the jug, not to mention the litre of water that was about to drench her. As she waited to be soaked, all she could think was how fortunate it was that she’d brought her leather biker jacket for the walk home. At least if that got wet, the water would just brush off.
The next few seconds went by with her arms raised and eyes closed, but the jug didn’t seem to make contact with her head.
Nor did the water.
That was strange – flying jugs of water weren’t exactly in the habit of changing their minds about where they landed, and the one in question had been heading directly for her.
She supposed she could have misjudged its trajectory, but what was even stranger was that she hadn’t heard the glass break against any sort of surface, or heard the water splash, or even felt the slightest spray of water against her skin.
Come to think of it, unless she was imagining things, she couldn’t hear anything – not even the background murmur of the restaurant, which she would have thought would have been somewhat elevated under the circumstances. After all, there’s always some idiot who thinks it’s an excellent idea to shout “Way-hay!” whenever someone breaks a glass in a bar or restaurant, no matter how posh the clientele supposedly are.
No, the first sound Zoë heard was Geoff’s voice, and the first thing she felt was his hand on her forearm.
“I-I think you can lower your arms, Zoë,” he said. His voice was trembling.
Zoë did just that. Her eyes remained closed.
“You can open your eyes too…”
Zoë opened her eyes.
What she saw before her defied any rational explanation – somehow, the jug of water was pointing right at her, but suspended in the air in mid-flight. A stream of water extended from the rim of the jug towards her face, but it was paused in mid-air as well. Behind the jug, the waiter had half-collapsed into a lady sitting at a table a couple of metres away, her chair in the mid-way point of tipping over, but they too were frozen. As Zoë looked around, it seemed everything in the restaurant had stopped, as if someone had pressed the pause button on reality.
Even the pianist wasn’t moving – his hands suspended over the keys as if he’d suddenly forgotten how to play. The only things that weren’t paused were herself, and Geoff.
Either this was the most elaborate game of musical statues she’d ever seen, or something was up.
“Why is nothing moving?”
“That’s an exceptionally good question.”
She agreed. In fact she thought it was the best possible question anyone could have asked in these circumstances.
“I don’t suppose you have an exceptionally good answer?” was her next question, which she also thought was a good thing to ask.
“Erm… I can’t say one is immediately springing to mind, no…”
It was at this point that a tiny voice in the back of her mind raised the possibility that Geoff might have actually been telling the truth.
“Wait – didn’t you say something about being warned that you might cause irreparable damage to the space-time whatsit if you told me about being a Time thingy?”
Geoff didn’t say anything. He looked distracted by the scene to his left, where a champagne cork was paused just as it was popping from the bottle.
“Geoff! Look at me!”
“Hmm? Oh – yes… I did say something about that, didn’t I?”
“Yes. You did.”
“Um… Shit?” he shrugged, as if that was somehow supposed to make her feel better.
Brilliant. Of all the things that could have gone wrong on a first date, breaking time was the last thing she’d expected.
Zoë got out of her chair, stepped away from their table and looked at the couple sitting next to them. They looked to be in their early fifties. The man had just inserted a fork into his mouth, his teeth digging in to a piece of steak. The lady opposite was in the middle of slicing a piece of chicken in half.
Zoë reached out to touch the man’s arm, but as her hand got closer, she could feel a strange resistance, like two magnets of the same polarisation resisting contact.
“Geoff!” she said, snapping her hand back, “I’ve got to be honest with you – I’m really scared…”
“Me too,” Geoff said, taking a step towards her, “but I suppose on the bright side, this proves I wasn’t lying, right?”
Zoë could feel her heart racing. Regardless of whether Geoff had been telling the truth or not, all she could think about what the fact that nothing was moving, and that this was not normal. So she decided to do what she always did when she was feeling a bit stressed, and looked out of the window.
To her surprise, although time inside the restaurant seemed to be frozen, time on the outside seemed to be normal. People were walking along the South Bank enjoying their evening, cars could be seen driving through the streets, and the River Thames was flowing normally.
She turned to Geoff, who was using the opportunity of time being paused to help himself to a breadstick from a nearby table.
“I was just seeing if the breadsticks were affected,” he said, dropping it back into the holder.
“Forget about the breadsticks – what the hell is happening?”
“I think I might be able to answer that,” a voice said from across the room.
Time Rep: Pandemonium is coming soon, along with a re-release of the previous two Time Rep books. Stay tuned for a release date!
As any author will tell you, the difficulty with writing a series of books is that unless you’re J.K. Rowling and have a dedicated fanbase who will happily devour one Harry Potter book after the other, the further you get into writing that series, the fewer people will stay with you. On top of that, you may attract new readers who start reading the later books without having read the prior ones, meaning that unless you’ve got some means of quickly ‘onboarding’ them, they’re going to get pretty lost pretty quickly.
With that in mind, I’ve started Time Rep: Pandemonium (the third book in the Time Rep series) with a brief summary of everything that’s happened to our hero Geoffrey Stamp up to this point. This isn’t just for new readers, but also for people who might have read the last book a few years ago and need a re-cap of events to save them reading the previous books again.
So anyway, here’s the opening to Time Rep: Pandemonium, which starts with what I call “A brief history of Time Rep”.
WARNING – the following contains spoilers for both Time Rep and Time Rep: Continuum. If you haven’t read these books, do not read on…
Back in the 21st Century, it was a pretty complicated thing for most people to get their heads around, much more complex than say, a cheese sandwich. If you’d asked the average person on the street to describe a cheese sandwich back then, they’d probably have been able to do so right away, because no matter what time you’re from, a cheese sandwich is basically cheese between bread, and it doesn’t really get much more complicated than that. Yes, there are some debatable nuances to the definition (such as whether the bread needs to be buttered, what type of bread works best, should the cheese be melted or not etc.), but the basic principle of a cheese sandwich is pretty easy to understand. Cheese + bread = cheese sandwich.
But things would get a little tricky if you walked up to the average person on the street in the 21st Century and asked them “what is time?”
In the first instance, they’d have most likely thought you were a tourist speaking to them in pidgin English and told you it was time you bought yourself a watch. If you’d then made it clear that you were actually asking them to describe the concept of time and that no, this wasn’t part of a long-winded ploy designed to persuade them into giving you their credit card details and adopting a giraffe for a year, they’d still struggle to come up with a satisfactory definition.
The first stumbling block most people came across when attempting to define time was whether they considered it to be a ‘thing’ that existed in itself (much like our old friend the cheese sandwich, which would happily go around existing as a cheese sandwich regardless of how someone chose to conceptualise it in their mind, unless of course that person chose to eat it), or whether time was merely an abstract man-made mental construct designed to provide some sort of framework to a sequence of otherwise incomprehensively chaotic events that would ultimately end with the destruction of the entire universe.
A bit like Brexit.
That’s not to say people in the 21st Century didn’t have a good old go at defining time anyway. But with the scientific understanding of temporal physics still in a relative state of infancy, such efforts were akin to a three-year-old trying to describe what a mid-life crisis might feel like. The Oxford English Dictionary defined time as being ‘the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole’, while the science fiction author Ray Cummings once wrote that time was ‘the thing that stops everything happening at once.’ Both good attempts, but neither came anywhere close to getting under the skin of time and revealing its true nature. In hindsight, such descriptions were about as simplistic as describing the character of Hamlet as being ‘some Danish bloke with a few family issues’.
You see, once scientists began to understand how time could be manipulated – how it was possible for someone to travel from one moment to another, and most importantly, how it was possible to change past events and alter the future – a new definition was required. Indeed, much of the latter half of the 22nd Century was spent agreeing on the best way to describe time, now that humanity had a better idea of what it was dealing with. Elaborate forums were set up to arbitrate the best wording; the greatest scientific minds collaborated to distil such a complex piece of understanding into a concise paragraph; and over time, the definition slowly began to take shape, with each individual word being painstakingly agreed upon before going on to be signed off by another independent panel of scientific stakeholders. To say this process was laborious would be an understatement – it took four months just to decide whether the first word of the description should be ‘a’ or ‘the’.
Finally, after several years of heated debate, careful diplomacy, and linguistic wrangling, the final definition was agreed. And to safeguard against possibility of anything being leaked before a nice venue had been secured to announce the wording (ideally somewhere with decent canapes and a good nightclub nearby to host the after-party), the complete wording was not recorded digitally. Instead, it was written on a single piece of paper and locked in a vault whilst the scientists went on to argue about what the most appropriate sort of table centrepieces would be for an announcement of this magnitude.
The argument over these centrepieces took another month.
Unfortunately, the intern who was given the task of opening the vault and retrieving the written definition went on to throw it in the office shredder with some old receipts by mistake, and so had to hastily make something up off the cuff and hand that over to the head scientist on the night instead. And so this is what was finally published – the 22nd Century’s definition of time:
Time /tʌɪm/ noun
A non-spatial hologrammatic-like projection of possibilities, simultaneously finite and infinite in size, which interacts with human consciousness so as to be naturally experienced as a linear flow of causal events, but with malleable properties that can be subject to both natural and manufactured influences whereby perceptions of speed, directional flow and positioning within the projection can be altered.
All the scientists present at the announcement knew this was nothing like the wording they had agreed (the definition was supposed to begin with the word ‘the’ for starters), but everyone was too embarrassed to say anything. And so the definition literally stood the test of time, despite being made-up on the spot.
The table centrepieces were a real hit though, so that was a plus.
Unlike most major technological breakthroughs made over the course of human history (the invention of the wheel, the discovery of electricity, developing microwavable mashed potato that didn’t taste like wallpaper paste, etc.) it was a very long time before the discovery of time-travel had any real impact on society – several hundred years in fact. This was because the international scientific community was worried that any misuse of the technology posed such a monumental risk to the fabric of the space-time continuum, its application should be vetoed until sufficient safeguards were put in place to avoid the total destruction of the known universe. Indeed, many alternate realities actually ended up destroying themselves by discovering time-travel and not imposing sufficient controls before proliferating the technology (one such world even allowed people to travel back in time to watch TV programmes they had missed instead of just recording them, for goodness sake), so this cautionary approach was felt to be a wise move, which many scientists congratulated themselves for insisting upon.
What these scientists didn’t appreciate was the fact that such a destructive fate almost befell our own reality, were it not for the success of an against-all-odds mission undertaken by a crack team of temporal agents from a dystopian future of decaying causality, whose last-ditch efforts to create a time-portal enabled them go back and secretly influence everyone to be more cautious when using the technology. This mission undid all the mistakes made in the original timeline, straightened out all the paradoxes, and narrowly avoided the complete annihilation of our entire reality, changing history so things stabilised into the timeline we exist within to this day.
But that would be another story, were it not for the fact that technically, none of it ever happened.
It wasn’t until midway through the 31st Century that time-travel finally became accessible to the general public, and this was largely thanks to the work of two scientists: Dr Eric Skivinski, and his protégé, Jennifer Adams. Skivinski’s breakthrough was in developing an algorithm that would allow a supercomputer to recreate an accurate model of the space-time continuum, predict the impact of somebody travelling back in time, and prevent any changes from being made. Meanwhile, Adams’ contribution was in developing a computer powerful enough to run the algorithm, which ultimately took the form of a lattice of artificial micro-black holes, which were used to process the vast amounts of information required. It would still struggle to run the 1994 video game Nascar Racing at a steady frame rate though.
With this technology in a place, Time Tours was born – a travel company that allowed people to travel back to any point in history for their vacation. As long the supercomputer predicted that a journey back in time wasn’t going to change anything in the present, tourists could go back and experience anything from watching the pyramids being built in ancient Egypt, to seeing Centurions take on Barbarians in Rome’s Colosseum, to watching people in the 21st Century document every bloody second of their lives by taking pictures on their phones of their children, that amusing thing some guy did in a pub, that time it snowed, what they had for breakfast, etc.
The supercomputer also allowed Time Tours to identify certain individuals throughout history who were so insignificant, they could safely be employed by the company as ‘Time Reps’ without having any impact on the flow of the space-time continuum. Time Reps essentially acted as tour guides for their native time periods – it was their job to meet tourists from the future, show them the sights, and make their stay as comfortable as possible, just like a regular holiday rep. Within twenty years of being operational, Time Tours had almost 300 ‘known’ Time Reps working for them throughout history (the ‘unknown’ ones being those individuals who might have been working in the past as Time Reps, but who hadn’t technically been identified and employed yet by the Time Tours of the present-day), and these people all had one thing in common – no matter what happened, their activities were conducted in complete secrecy. They never revealed to anyone in their own time period what they really did for a living.
That was, until one Time Rep decided he was going to break the rules.
That man was Geoffrey Stamp – a Time Rep initially thought to be less significant to the space-time continuum than certain types of mushroom a couple of years ago, but one who had soon proven everybody wrong by saving the world from being invaded by an alien race known as the Varsarians within two days of being employed. And more recently, he’d followed that feat by saving humanity from itself, changing history to prevent Jennifer Adams from leaving Time Tours and setting up a rival time-tourism company called Continuum, which would have gone on to pervert time travel technology by allowing people to disappear into their own personal timelines with the powers of a god; powers that would cocoon people in their own echo-chamber realities, desensitise people to the consequences of their actions, and cause the eventual stagnation of human civilisation. It would have been a similar fate to what almost happened to humanity with the proliferation of social media, until everyone realised in the middle of the 21st Century that anything anyone ever said on it was just a complete load of bollocks.
Having recently thwarted Continuum’s plans and changing the course of history for the better, Geoff now found himself in a reality with a few subtle differences to the timeline he was used to. But they were good differences – a bit like coming home to discover someone had rearranged the furniture slightly to give each room a better feeling of feng shui.
One difference was that in this reality, Jennifer Adams had never left Time Tours to set up Continuum, and was now working as the company’s ‘Director of Change’. On top of this, Time Reps were now represented by a Time Rep Council – a group of people who stood up for the rights of all Time Reps and made sure they were being looked after properly by the upper management. This was unheard of in the timeline Geoff was used to – originally, Time Reps weren’t even paid, and had restrictions placed on them in terms of how they lived their lives to prevent any changes from happening to the space-time continuum.
Not anymore though. Now, Time Reps not only earned a salary, but they also had more freedom to make changes to their lives through a change-request scheme, whereby Time Tours allowed them to alter their previous destiny just as long as the changes fell within certain parameters (i.e. they didn’t result in creating a temporal paradox which in turn would cause the destruction of the known universe).
When Geoff discovered this new-found freedom, he knew exactly what he wanted to change about his own life. For years, he had been in love with Zoë – a girl he’d been close friends with since his childhood who now worked for the post office, delivering mail to all the houses in the local area, including his. Before becoming a Time Rep, he’d always lacked the confidence to tell her how he really felt about her, afraid that any hint of romantic affection might ruin their long-standing friendship. However, having saved the world from an alien invasion and surviving numerous life-threatening situations, asking a girl out suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting a task, and he was desperate to ask Zoë out on a date, tell her about his adventures, and share his true feelings with her to see if she felt the same way.
Until now, Time Tours wouldn’t allow any of this. In order to maintain his cover, they insisted that Geoff lie to her about what he did for a living, pretending that he worked as a regular tourist guide, meeting people from his own time period and showing them around. And if this dishonesty wasn’t frustrating enough, Geoff wasn’t even been allowed to ask her out, even if he did keep his job a secret – the dangers to the fabric of the space-time continuum, Time Tours had argued, were just too great.
But in this new reality, it seemed the Time Rep Council had convinced Time Tours to be a little more flexible about what Time Reps could and couldn’t do with their lives, and Geoff was delighted to discover that he had been granted permission to pursue a romantic relationship with Zoë (though whether she would be interested in him remained to be seen).
There was just one condition: for the sake of humanity’s existence, if Zoë did agree to go on a date with him, on no account would he even breathe the words “Time Rep” to her…
 The centrepieces that were eventually chosen were small clusters of birch candles sprayed with glitter, which were suspended in a reverse-time vacuum so they appeared to burn backwards, the wax un-melting over the course of the evening until you were left with a pristine candle at the end of the night that could be taken back to Ikea for a full refund.
 To this day, no-one is sure what led to the demise of social media. Some argue that its popularity waned when people began to question the utter banality of what was being talked about (favourite shoes/biscuits/fascist dictators etc.), and the baffling popularity of the format’s most prolific users. Jeremy Jeremy for instance (2020 – 2085), was an enormously influential user for years, until everyone realised the only reason he was famous was because his first name was the same as his last name.
So there you go! I hope you enjoyed that brief excert from Time Rep: Pandemonium, which will hopefully be released later this year (I’ll let you know the release date as soon I find out!) In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few more chapters from the book, so stay tuned…
That’s right – I’m very excited to announce a third book is coming in the Time Rep series, meaning I can now call it a trilogy! It’s called Time Rep: Pandemonium, and kicks off right where the last book left off. I don’t have a release date yet but I’m hoping it will be later this year. And between now and then I’m going to post some excertps from the book, reveal the cover art, etc. so please keep checking back here for more information.
In the meantime, I thought you might be interested to read the blurb I’m working on for the back cover:
Imagine you’ve just done something that might have broken time.
Cause and effect are no longer on speaking terms, sequences of events aren’t flowing the way they should, and reality has become a warped and fragmented mess.
sound Doesn’t ideal, it does?
That’s exactly what happens when Geoffrey Stamp reveals to his friend Zoë that he’s a Time Rep – a tour guide for people from the future who travel to the past for their vacation. Everything he does was supposed to be kept a secret from the people in his own time (for reasons quite extensively explored in the previous two books), until Geoff decides he’s fed up of doing what he’s told.
It’s just a shame that time has now decided to misbehave too.
Faced with navigating a corrupt reality of splintering timelines, Geoff and Zoë must work together to make sense of what has happened without losing their minds. But as the past descends into a blur of conflicting recollections and a disturbing future seems unavoidable, it appears other forces might be at play, exploiting the fractures in time for their own sinister purposes.
Why has time broken? And if cause no longer produces the right effect, how can Zoë and Geoff possibly fix it?
Right, I’ve got a lot of news to share. Since my last blog post, all this stuff has happened:
- I’m now represented by Ethan Ellenberg, who is awesome.
- I’ve been working with Ethan and friends to get my published books re-released.
- I’ve written two more books – a futuristic murder mystery called The Electric Detective, and another book in the Time Rep series. More details on both of these soon.
- I’ve got a great job at London’s Natural History Museum, which means I get to walk past a Stegosaurus (called Sophie) every morning.
Stay tuned for more information and some excerpts from my new work!
Hi there everyone – Just a quick note to say that Time Rep: Continuum has now been released! I haven’t seen any reviews yet so I have no idea how it’s being received, but I do hope those of you that enjoyed the first book like this one too. I’m pretty proud of it – particularly a joke in chapter two that still makes me laugh out loud even though I’m the one who wrote it. Yes – I do laugh at my own jokes.
My thanks to the lovely folks at Diversion Books for publishing it – getting Time Rep: Continuum out the door been a long old road since I finished the first draft back in January 2014 (yes, that long ago), and I’m so happy to see it finally out there.
So the moment you have all been waiting for is almost here – Time Rep: Continuum, the sequel to Time Rep, is out tomorrow! To celebrate, the nice folks over at SFF World asked me to write a gust blog post for their site, which I did. It’s up there right now, and tackles a subject that comes up in the book – what would happen to us as a species if time travel really was invented, and we had the power to go back and change whatever we liked? To find out more, why not head over there by clicking on this unnecessarily long sentence which I’ve highlighted in blue so that it acts as a hyperlink to the site to save you the effort of having to type in the shortcut into your search bar which is really long and would probably result in most of you giving up and not reading the blog post at all?
Just a quick one: Time Rep: Continuum is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo! Here’s the link: https://ganxy.com/i/111810
I know it’s a bit of a leap of faith to put your money down three months up front for a book that’s had no reviews yet whatsoever – after all, it could be a stinker. So let me assure you – Time Rep: Continuum is probably almost as good if not better than lots of average books out there that get pre-ordered all the time! So why not go for it?
Now, you might be thinking “I’m a fan of Time Rep, so I’m happy to put my money down now for this book to ensure I get a copy on launch day in case they all sell out”, but for the sake of transparency, I should probably point out that that’s very unlikely to happen, and that you’ll probably be able to pick up a copy at launch, no problem. I’m not a particularly well known author, and the Time Rep series is fairly obscure, so I’d say if you just saved your money now and bought a copy on the day of release, you’ll be fine. In fact, instead of pre-ordering my book, why not buy some sweets you can enjoy today instead, then buy the book later when it’s out, and some reviews have surfaced online from people who were sent it for free so you can make an informed decision?
There! Another successful marketing blog post to drive those sales!
…but those lovely people at Diversion Books have just sent me through the final cover artwork for Time Rep: Continuum! Now, I know what you’re thinking – I’ve already shown you the front cover, so what’s new? Well, this time you can now see the spine and the back! Isn’t that exciting?
No, I thought not. It’s just me that gets excited about this isn’t it?
Incidentally, for those of you who are a bit anal about your bookshelves I must apologise for one aspect of this design – the position of “Time Rep” on the spine does not match the position on the spine of the original Time Rep, so they won’t look uniform when you slot them next to each other. I know, I know – the feng shui will be all over the place! The visual sweep of your bookshelf will be ruined! Oh well. Had the designers of the original Time Rep cover known back in 2013 that there would be a sequel, they might have elected to move the title up on the spine so they’d match. If only I had a time machine so I could go back and tell them…
You’ll be able to see what I’m babbling about on the 24th May, because that’s when Time Rep: Continuum is coming out!
Warning – this review contains plot spoilers and is only intended to be read by people who have already seen the movie. You have been warned!
And just in case the first few lines of this review appear in people’s search engines as well, I’m going to write a small paragraph listing everything I got for Christmas, just to make extra-sure I don’t spoil the film for anyone. Ready? Here goes: A scarf. Zelda Monopoly. Star Trek DS9 series 1 – 7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Soundtrack. Two grey identical jumpers (From my in-laws and my sister, but don’t worry if you’re reading this – I’m already amusing myself at the idea of wearing a different jumper each day and making people think I don’t do any washing), some Lego, Ant Man, £85 in cash, A bottle of Port, some novelty post-it notes, £20 of Steam vouchers and a ‘yoga cats’ 2016 calander.
Right, on with the review. First, let me say that I am a massive Star Wars fan, so this review is going to be written through the lens of someone with a huge amount of nostalgia for the series. Curiously though, my introduction to the franchise was not through the films, but through the computer games. It started with X-Wing on the PC, followed by Rebel Assault, then Dark Forces, and before long, I hunted down the films and watched them in completely the wrong order (Return of the Jedi first, then Star Wars, then Empire Strikes back, then Return of the Jedi again – what an idiot). Anyway, eventually I got the timeline straight in my head, and fell in love with the characters, the universe, the mythology, and the lore.
Then Episode I: The Phantom Menace happened, and gradually, as the prequel films came out, I felt as though pieces of my soul were slowly being eroded away with each viewing. These three films were so terrible; so lore-shatteringly bad (Midi-clorians, anyone?), that I’ve basically had to reconcile them in my mind by pretending none of it happened. I could go on for hours about why those films suck, but I don’t have to, because Mr Plinkett has done that for me. If you want closure on the prequel films and yearn for someone to break down exactly why they are terrible, check out his video reviews here. They are very long (and a bit strange in places), but well worth wacthing, and it says something that Lucasfilm has not ordered them to be taken down, given the amount of footage from the films he uses. To me, it says that they think he’s right. Which he is.
So now, 13 years after the last film (Revenge of the Sith) was released and 32 years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi was set, Star Wars is back. And it’s great. Not perfect – but great, and an outstanding effort from JJ Abrams, given the pressure he must have been under to deliver a film with so much fan expectation, and so much hope that this film would represent a return to form again.
The first thing to remark on this film is just how bloody awesome it looks. One of the biggest complaints about the prequel films was how they were shot – virtually every scene was done with actors filmed against a green screen, and it really showed – everyone looked like they were struggling to make a connection with their surroundings (because there were no surroundings), everything had an awful plastic feel to it (as opposed to the gritty realism of the original trilogy), and the limitation of the indoor sets filtered through to how characters behaved (most notably where, during a critical moment where Anakin walks hastily from point A to point B instead of running, because the set wasn’t big enough to allow him to sprint). The Force Awakens feels real, and that’s because it is real, filmed in real locations using real sets. The effects too, are fantastic, with some of the X-wing combat scenes being particularly exhilarating. The only let-down for me from a presentation perspective was the music. It was great that John Williams returned to score the film, but I didn’t find myself latching on to any new themes in this film. It felt as though the music was deliberately given a backseat to the visuals both in its composition and the mix, however for me, part of the Star Wars experience is about those bombastic sweeping marches punctuating the action, and it would have been nice for Williams to have been let off the leash a bit more. Say what you will about The Phantom Menace, but that soundtrack is something else. There was no ‘Dual of the Fates’ here, and it was a shame, as though a certain dimension was missing.
Next, the characters. Now, I’ve seen quite a few reviews complain about Daisy Ridley’s performance, saying she is the weakest thing about this film. I couldn’t disagree more. I personally thought she was great, and actually the standout. In terms of her character, I found myself leaving the cinema suitably teased about her background, and desperate to know what we might find out about her in Episode VIII. I also thought the range of emotions she went through (from the hopelessness she was experiencing at the beginning of the film, to the moment of realisation at her inner-strength, to the sheer anger on display at the end as she beats the crap out of Kylo Ren) very believable, and a good character arc – she was a different person at the end of the film than she was at the beginning, unlike Anakin in the prequel films, who was basically a smug shitbag the whole time. And above all, Rey is a strong, independent female character, driving the plot forwards herself, and not needing help from anyone (though I did think this point was laboured a bit too much at the beginning when she keeps complaining about Finn taking her hand, almost as if JJ was apologising to us all for that scene in Star Trek: Into Darkness where Alice Eve gets her kit off for no reason whatsoever, other than to allow a few million nerds to fantasize about her tits for a moment)
John Boyega also needs a mention, as the film rests on his shoulders too. I thought Finn was a really interesting character, conflicted about what he is fighting for. His arc was also really well-handled, and it was great to watch him change over the course of the film from someone who just wanted to run away from it all, to someone who wanted to stay and fight. And he’s certainly nailed that ‘I’m knackered from walking through this bloody desert’ look.
As for everyone else, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was great – menacing, but also strangely charismatic – I loved the scene where he is informed that the droid has escaped, and then beats the shit out of the console in front of him with his lightsabre before saying “anything else?”. There’s a petulance here; an immaturity, and it’s little touches like this that really gave his character a depth that was lacking in the likes of Darth Maul.
Then there’s the old guard. Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo, Peter Mayhew is back as Chewie, and Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia. Oh, and Mark Hammil stands on an island for a few seconds at the end. So how did I feel about seeing these characters return? Well, if I’m honest, as much as I LOVE Han Solo, I felt he was perhaps a bit over-used in the film, and could have benefitted from about 15 minutes less screen time. He’s no action hero anymore, and I just felt that it would have been more interesting to see this once-charming, resilient rogue having to adjust to being older, less agile, and less able to rely on his looks and charm than before. Instead, we got the same Han Solo, rather than an evolution of his character. Leia was great though – smart as ever, and definitely all the better in her role as a general. And when we finally meet Luke, he looks exactly as he should.
Something else I want to touch on about The Force Awakens is its tone. There’s no doubt about it – this film just oozed that classic Star Wars feel the whole way through. Sure, this was certainly helped by the fact that it looked the part and was crammed was imaginative aliens, spaceships, and locations (not to mention a healthy dose of fanservice), but for me, it achieved that feel the most by capturing what made the original movies so endearing: though all the tech mumbo jumbo and mysticism, it was all grounded by a sense of humanity that shone through. We have a boy that wants to impress a girl. A mother and father wanting to bring back their son. And it was damn funny too – BB8 stole the show on a number of occasions, and the scene where he colludes with Finn to keep up the pretense to Rey that he works for the Resistance was hilarious.
And so finally, we come to the story. Now, on this front I felt a bit conflicted – the opening act on Jakku I thought was superb, full of amazing action, great character introductions, and a suitable MacGuffin in the form of the map to Luke Skywalker (though why only now this map made an appearance, and why it even exists in the first place did puzzle me). But then we start to learn of the First Order’s Starkiller Base – a planet terraformed into a big, round, ultimate weapon, capable of destroying planets, a bit like another big, round, planet-destroying weapon we’re all somewhat familiar with. Now, at first I was a bit disappointed that the writers couldn’t have come up with something more original. With a weak spot that needs to be exploited, a shield generator that needed to be disabled, and parallel action taking place on the surface and in the skies above, the third act felt like a complete re-tread of Return of The Jedi. However, on reflection, I can’t help but feel that this is exactly what the film needed. We’ve been through the boredom of political conspiracies in the prequel trilogy, and in having the Starkiller base, The Force Awakens shamelessly goes back to basics, and is all the better for it too. There’s nothing too complicated to worry about here – the audience knows that the Resistance are going to go to that massive thing in space, and blow it up.
One thing I did find complicated though, and which I felt could have benefited from some more explanation, was the intergalactic geography of everything. Maybe I was being stupid, but I didn’t really understand what was in relation to where, and the implications this had on destroying the Starkiller base. In the original Star Wars, we understood everything we needed to know about the Death Star – it was a massive ship, which moved from system to system blowing up planets. The finale was about the Rebels blowing it up before it had orbited Yavin to a position where the moon was in its line of sight. The logistics surrounding the Starkiller base however were a bit more complicated. Firstly, it looked as though the base was a terraformed planet. Was it orbiting a sun or had it been modified to travel by itself? Once it drained a Sun, did it move on elsewhere? And where exactly was it in relation to everything else? We never see it travel anywhere or enter hyperspace, or even move to orientate its weapon. Is this even how it works? Also, when it blows up the Republic’s capital (which again, needed a bit more exposition to distinguish the planet from the architecturally-similar Coruscant – the city planet in the first three films), the shots appear to be fired from another system, which can be seen in the sky from planet Takodana. How fast are these shots travelling? And where are they travelling from? It’s a minor niggle, but I just felt this all could have done with a bit more explanation, just to allow the audience to appreciate the ‘landscape’ of the battlefield.
But that really was my only complaint about the plot, and it’s not so much a complaint, more a suggestion as to what could have been improved. Ultimately, the film’s pacing probably benefited from leaving this information on the cutting-room floor, so overall it was probably the right call not to bog things down too much in the details.
So that’s all I have to say really. If you haven’t seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I strongly recommend you go and see it, whether you’re a fan of the original films, or a newcomer to the series. The film rekindles that Star Wars magic, does a great job of passing the baton on to our younger heroes, and most of off, it begins the healing process after the disappointment of the prequel trilogy, offering great promise for what’s to come.
Roll on Episode VIII!
Those of you who check in on this blog every so often will know that I’ve had a new book in the works for some time now. Well today I am pleased to reveal that the new book is Time Rep: Continuum – the sequel to Time Rep!
Time Rep: Continuum will be released on May 24th 2016, which is quite a long way off, so if you have a time machine at your disposal, I suggest you use it to jump forward to next year and grab yourselves a copy right away! For those of you without your own time machine, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to wait. In the meantime however, I can tell you that Time Rep: Continuum is set two years after the original Time Rep, and sees Geoffrey Stamp whisked off on a brand new adventure through time and space.
Here’s the cover:
And here’s the description that will appear on the back of the book:
Imagine you’ve just discovered you’re the most significant person who’s ever lived.
You saved the world from an alien invasion. If it wasn’t for you, everyone would be dead.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
That’s exactly what happens to Geoffrey Stamp, but there’s just one problem – he can’t tell anyone. You see, Geoffrey is a Time Rep – a tour guide for the 21st Century, meeting people from the future who travel back in time for their vacation. Everything he does needs to be kept a secret from the people in his own time, otherwise he risks changing the course of history.
And that caused enough trouble in the last book.
But now a new company called Continuum is offering holidays to the past, and they allow people to go back and change whatever they like. For Geoffrey, this sounds like a dream come true, until a future version of himself appears out of nowhere with no memory, a bullet in his back, and a Continuum business card in his pocket. Geoffrey soon finds himself in a race to solve his own attempted murder, but begins to wonder if his investigation is the very thing that nearly got him killed.
What is the truth behind Continuum, and after saving the planet, why would anyone want him dead?
Anyway, that’s my announcement. I hope you’re excited to see Geoffrey back in action!
So I was driving home from the supermarket the other day and saw a billboard advertising the upcoming film Pan. (I assume this film is something to do with Peter Pan, rather than an anthropomorphic biopic set in a kitchen where all the pots and pans come to life, and there’s one pan that everyone picks on (let’s call him, I don’t know… Pan?). Pan would be really down on his luck – Teflon would be peeling off his griddles, there would be bits of burnt bacon stuck to his edges, and he feels totally worthless. He also really fancies the sexy Cafetiere that lives in the cupboard with the glass door above the kettle, but doesn’t think he has a chance with her because he’s all rusty and smells a bit. He’s also constantly bullied by a rolling pin called King Pin. However, one day a contrived set of dire circumstances manifest themselves in such a way that puts everyone at risk, and only Pan can save the day! He does so by using all his characteristics that were previously thought of as flaws to overcome the odds, and in the end the Cafetiere falls for him and the owner of the kitchen throws out King Pin because she gives up on baking.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – the poster for Pan. It looks like this:
Looks fairly innocent, right? Well look again. What does it say at the top?
“From the studio that brought you HARRY POTTER”
Now, call me cynical, but I think this link between Pan and Harry Potter is a little bit tenuous. What’s happened here is that Warner Brother’s PR team all sat in a room and had a conversation that went something like this. (Incidentally, to help you picture the scene, I’ve called my two PRs ‘Bliss’ and “Trev” :
Bliss: “Harry Potter was really successful. If we convince the people that saw that film to see Pan, it would be super-super-amazing!”
Trev: “Yes, but how do we do that?”
Bliss: “We need to think about what these films have in common, then point it out to people!”
Trev: “But what do they have in common?”
Bliss: “Well, they’re both fantasies, they both feature a boy with special abilities as the main character, they’re both fish-out-of-water stories…”
Trev: “They both have P’s in their title…”
Bliss: “Yes yes… but what else? What else?”
Trev: “Wait a minute! Why don’t we say something like “from the director of HARRY POTTER”?
Bliss: “We can’t, because the director of Pan didn’t direct Harry Potter.”
Trev: “Oh, I see. Well, are any of the cast the same?”
Trev: “What about Rat Pac Entertainment and Berlanti – you know, the production companies? Were they involved in Harry Potter?”
Trev: “Okay then, what about the writers? The producers?”
Bliss: “Well, the Exec Producer Tim Lewis was involved in the last four Harry Potters…”
Trev: “What’s an Exec producer?”
Bliss: “Exactly. We can’t say “from the exec producer of some of the Harry Potter films” – that sounds ridiculous. But I tell you what – Warner Brothers made all the Harry Potters, right? And they’re also the studio making this!”
Trev: “Yes, but… Warner Brothers make thousands of different films. Is that really a connection?”
Bliss: “Shut up. I’ve got it – We say “From the studio that brought you HARRY POTTER”!
Trev: “Do you really think people will fall for that?”
Bliss: “I do! I really do! Waiter – can we have a third bottle of wine for the table please? All this creativity has really sapped me!”
Okay, so Warner Brothers were the studio that brought us Harry Potter, but to infer that Pan has any creative similarities to Harry Potter just because Warner Brothers is behind it is a little bit disingenuous in my opinion. So what if they made Harry Potter? They also made such classics as Battlefield Earth (shudder), Catwoman (whoops), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (remember that classic?), Carpool (oh dear), and the god-awful remake of Arthur with Russel Brand.
Now, I’m not saying that Pan is a bad film – I haven’t seen it, so I’m not here to comment on that. I guess my point is that Warner Brothers is such a huge organisation and has such a broad reach over so many films, their involvement as the over-arching studio of both Pan and Harry Potter doesn’t really mean anything, particularly when the films only have a solitary exec producer as the common denominator. So it shouldn’t be touted as a selling point. To put this in context, It would be like me trying to convince Douglas Adams fans to read Time Rep by saying “from the species that brought you The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…”
I also like the tag-line at the bottom: “Every legend has a beginning.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but every whatever has a beginning, doesn’t it? Given everything has to start somewhere, the word “legend” is interchangeable, which could be potentially amusing. So to finish, Here are some suggestions for other films about something or other, using the “Every [insert the thing that has a beginning here] has a beginning” formula:
Every walk to the post office has a beginning
Every haircut has a beginning
Every beginning has a beginning
Every argument about who’s turn it is to buy the milk has a beginning
Every book about shopping in Tunbridge Wells has a beginning
Okay, I’m done. Until next time.
As you are probably aware from my post last week, I went to see The Martian recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, if there was one thing that spoiled the experience slightly for me, it was the sound of people all around me eating and munching and chewing and slurping and rustling and gulping and crunching and chewing and eating and eating. Now, aside from the fact that any sensory stimulation whatsoever coming from the people within the cinema completely breaks the immersion (asides from emotional reactions to the film, such as laughing or screaming, which I’ll accept), this is a film about a guy having to ration potatoes and bread to stay alive, so having the sound of the guy two rows behind me munching through his Doritos wasn’t the most appropriate of things to be hearing in this film!
I’ve come to the conclusion that many people just don’t understand that when they go to the cinema, they are not sitting in their own private living room, and therefore they cannot behave however they please. They are sharing a space with other paying viewers, and have a duty to display a degree of self-awareness and behave appropriately. Now, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo from Wittertainment already have a very good code of conduct here that details very specifically how one should behave in a cinema to ensures everyone enjoys the film. However, I would like to add my own thoughts to this, specifically around eating. Here are my rules:
- Really, really think about not eating or drinking anything in the first place
This sounds radical I know. I mean, the cinema is all about eating a box of popcorn as big as yourself, right? It’s all about paying an insane amount of money for a Coke, isn’t it? Well, maybe for some people, but for me it’s about going to see a film. Is it really so unbearable not to eat or drink during the film? Is it really that hard to have something to eat beforehand so that you’re not munching during the film? Or heaven forbid, just waiting until the film is over before stuffing your face? I don’t think so.
To be honest, if I was ruler of the world and took a particular interest in the food policy of cinemas, that would be the only rule: No eating. However, I do appreciate this is a little heavy-handed, so for those people who absolutely have to eat something during a film, here are some additional guidelines:
- Don’t bring your food into the cinema in a plastic bag…
Rustle rustle rustle. Rustle rustle. Rustle rustle rustle rustle rustle. Rustle. Russelrusslerusslerusslerusslerussle. This is the sound of someone hunting around for their Maltesers underneath the tins of beans, the loaf of bread, any everything else they’ve bought for later. If you need to carry your food into the cinema in a bag, make sure that bag is silent, like a nice Jute bag or something.
- …and the same goes for packaging…
News Flash people – a bag of crisps is noisy. A chocolate wrapper is noisy. The foil you need to peel off of your tube of Fruit Pastilles is noisy. I know this sounds obvious, but it if was, then why do so many people fail to realise this?
- …and the food itself
Here’s another thing that seems to be a surprise to some people – when you put something in your mouth that makes a noise when you bite into it (let’s say, a crisp), that noise does not stay within the confines of your mouth. Your mouth is not soundproof. You are not the only person able to hear the crunch of the crisp because you are hearing the sound coming from within your own head. Sound travels. Everyone else can hear it. So think about the food you are bringing into the cinema. Preferably, it should be silent food (like jelly babies, decanted into makeshift pouch constructed out of kitchen roll), but if it isn’t – if you really need to eat those salt and vinegar crisps – eat them quietly! Put one crisp at a time into your mouth, and suck on them until they silently disintegrate onto your tongue! Crisps taste better and last longer that way anyway, right?
- Time your eating with events in the film to disguise the sounds you might make
Are you watching a crazy car chase with the sounds of screeching tires, car horns and explosions blasting in your ears? Then now is a great time to rip open that bag of Skittles as noisily as you like, stuff as many of those sugary pearls in your mouth as you can, and chew like crazy. At the same time, when you’re watching a quiet, tender moment between two characters, don’t take that as a green light to rummage through your Sainsbury’s bag for the Minstrels. Michael Bay films are perfect for the conscientious noisy eater, since on average there’s usually a large explosion every 45 seconds, so they can munch and rustle and chew as much as they like.
- No-one wants to smell your food
Don’t you just love the smell of that pungent, artificial cheese they pour over the nachos you can buy in the cinema? Well, neither does anyone else, so don’t bring them in with you!
- Think about people with allergies
Yummy, peanuts! Oh wait – the person with a nut allergy two rows down has had to leave the cinema because their skins gets unbearably itchy, even if they are exposed to the scent of nuts in the air. Oh well, never mind – at least you got to eat those peanuts! I mean, you couldn’t have possibly watched the film without those nuts, could you? They make the whole experience!
Anyway, that’s it! Do you think I’ve missed anything in terms of guidance for eating in cinemas? Let me know in the comments section!
So I’ve just returned from having seen The Martian, and I have to say I rather enjoyed it. In fact, I would go as far to say I loved it. There are many great things to say about the film, from the witty script to the fantastic performances (particularly Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney), however one of the things I appreciated the most about it was all the things it chose not to do. So for bit of a change, I’m going to review this film by listing all the crap things it could have done, but chose not to do instead. It goes without saying that if you haven’t seen The Martian yet, this next bit contains loads of spoilers, so don’t read on if you know what’s good for you!
No, I really mean it. This next bit has serious spoilers in it, and I don’t want to hear any whinging about how you weren’t sufficiently warned. And if you haven’t seen the film and are thinking to yourself ‘well, I’m not going to see the film anyway, so I might as well read on’, that’s a bad idea. See the film. It’s great. Then come back here and read the next bit. It really is that good.
Last chance. Spoilers ahoy.
Okay, let’s go:
1) No protracted first act leading up to the bit where things start to go wrong
A lesser film might have decided to start at the mission launch, or the first touch-down on Mars with some emotional speech from the commander about how they are the first humans to set foot on the planet. Instead, The Martian ditches all that, and within two minutes the setup is complete – there are some astronauts on Mars, and everything is starting to go wrong.
2) No member of the crew goes insane / disagrees with their orders / tries to sabotage the mission
We all know this trope in sci-fi: everything’s going fine, but then a member of crew loses it and screws everything up. This film had ample opportunity to have a crew member go nuts (in particular when they take a vote about whether to spend another couple of years in space to get Mark Watney back), but it chose not to go down this road. All the astronauts just followed orders and did their job, which was refreshing.
3) No family for Mark to worry about
This was a great omission. There were no scenes of Watney welling up as he held a photo of his wife, or crying as he watches footage of his kids (I’m looking at you, Interstellar). He just cracked jokes and got on with surviving.
4) And he didn’t go mad either
Again, the film had ample excuse to have Watney slowly going mad, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The guy’s alone on Mars for a ridiculous amount of time, so the filmmakers had every excuse to go down this road. But they didn’t, which is good.
5) No attempts to shoehorn in self-indulgent artistic shots for no reason
Like that bit in Gravity where Sandra Bullock adopts the fetal position. I mean really.
6) Nobody died.
I was really expecting at least one death in this film at some point, and a cheap death at that. Perhaps the captain would sacrifice herself to save Watney at the last minute to make up for the fact that she left him on the planet. Or some arbitrary accident would kill a member of the crew. This would have been deeply unsatisfying, given they all spent so much time going back again for the sake of one man, so losing one crew member would have rendered the rescue mission pointless, returning with a zero-sum total. I was really expecting someone to buy it, but they didn’t. Which was nice.
So that’s my list of everything The Martian could have done wrong, but didn’t. If you haven’t seen it, then I’m very disappointed that you have read this far, despite my warnings. I told you there were spoilers, but you didn’t listen did you? Did you?!?! Now go away and think about what you’ve done.
That’s right – I’m pleased to announce that those lovely people at Diversion Books are going to publish my third book! The release date is still TBC and I’m not going to give away what it is about for now, but if you keep checking my blog every now and then (every few minutes would be good so I can get my numbers up, but don’t worry if you can only do it hourly), at some point I will start dropping a few teasers, before finally revealing exactly what it is I’ve been working on…
For now I will give you three hints:
1) It’s a comedy
2) It involves time travel
3) It’s a sequel