Review by John for: The Revisionists ~ by Thomas Mullen
An excellent and thought-provoking science fiction thriller, featuring an agent from the future who is sent back in time to ensure that cataclysmic world events are allowed to happen. His perfect future depends on near-apocalypse for today’s world.
About: Zed is an agent from the future - a time that is regarded as the “Perfect Present”, as there are no wars, no racism and no religious tensions. One of the ways that the Perfect Present is protected is by erasing all memories of the imperfect past; another way is by sending special agents into the past to ensure that historic events happen the way that they were supposed to. Time travel technology has been invented but historical agitators (so called “hags”) are using the technology to travel into the past to try and prevent catastrophes from happening. It is the job of Zed and his colleagues to prevent those interventions and to ensure that historical catastrophes are allowed to run their course. After all, if the past was changed perhaps the Perfect Present would never come into being.
On a special mission Zed is sent back to Washington in the early 21st century, to a time just before the Great Conflagration and an ensuing global strife. Even though he is determined to stop the hags from messing with events that would lead to near-apocalyptic events, his feelings begin to change.
As an agent he is supposed to blend in, not be noticed, not interact with contemporary locals, and to restrict his actions to ruthlessly taking out the hags. Agents are trained to be almost paranoid about any actions or personal contacts that might leave a trace in the timeline. But Zed has been on the job for too long, he is tired and lonely, and is becoming increasingly cynical. On this Washington mission he becomes involved with a young lawyer grieving over the loss of her brother in Iraq, an idealistic ex-CIA agent who is now working for a private spying enterprise, and a young Indonesian domestic servant working (illegally) for Korean diplomats.
As Zed become increasingly involved with these people from the past, he starts to realize that perhaps the future is not as perfect as he is trained to believe; perhaps the motives of his bosses are not what they seem. He begins to question whether he should prevent a coming calamity that will destroy the lives of people he is beginning to care about.
John’s Thoughts: This was a thoroughly entertaining read – clever story, original ideas, complex and believable characters, plenty of plots twists and truly thought-provoking. It creates a bunch of interesting questions the reader can ask him/herself: What price might society have to pay in order to stamp out racial, religious and political strife? Why is there so much suspicion and hatred in the world? Who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? What could happen when important national security functions are contracted out to commercial organizations? Are national interests more important than personal freedoms?
It’s terrific story, so don’t be put off if you don’t normally read science fiction – this really is a mash-up of genres and doesn’t fit neatly into a single category. Several aspects of the plot are futuristic, but the main story is firmly planted in today’s world with characters and situations that are all too believable. What the author does is to shake things up a bit and make you look at things from a very different perspective.
In addition Zed is a complex and intriguing character. He starts as an intense, powerful and driven character, but as the story progresses he becomes ever more uncertain and confused. He dwells on his wife and daughter – their history, belongings and references were all meticulously removed after their untimely deaths; his solitude and lack of family then led him to his current job. He might be from the far future but he is all too human.
However, Zed does look just a little different. It was interesting to read in an interview with Mullen how he was influenced by a cover story from Time Magazine. In the article computer graphics were used to create a view of what humans might look like in the far future after all ethnicities had basically blended into a single race – that provided Mullen his model for Zed. He is a mixture of everything, so much so that no-one in the story could quite figure out what he looked like or where he came from.
The Revisionists was a big sprawling story, and I loved it. It ended with a few ambiguities and uncertainties, but not in an irritating way - you didn’t feel like you had to look out for volume two to figure out what happened (which is just as well as and I don’t believe there is a volume two planned). In the end this novel gets a 4.5 stars from me. Who will like it? It does cross genres, so if you love any or all of science fiction, political thrillers, spy novels, literary fiction or speculative fiction – I’d recommend that you give it a go.
As always John will be addressing any comments around his review.
Thanks for reading.