Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Scotsman Abroad | Once More Unto The Breach, With Feeling!

So here's a question: how do you feel about huge books?

As a rule, I'm not a huge fan of the things myself. The doorstoppers... the tomes... the books that would serve as well as bookends. And yet, time and time again, I find myself caught up in the midst of one, enjoying the hell out of it, and wondering why I don't give these monoliths of literature a shot more often.

Which brings me to my latest XXXL conquest -- and what a timely one it is, too! The Company of the Dead is about time-travel, and the Titanic, which sank almost exactly a century ago from the date of this book's publication in the US and the UK.

David J. Kowalski's debut isn't perfect, I'm afraid - name me a first novel what was! - but I enjoyed it a great deal, all the same.

Anyway, my review is already live over on Here's a bit from the beginning of it:
At the funeral of Michele Angelo Besso, an engineer remembered primarily for his friendship with a young Albert Einstein – from their time together in the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich and latterly the patent office in Bern where both of these bright sparks once worked – the famous physicist famously remarked that though Besso had "departed from this strange world a little ahead of me [...] that means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

But what if it was not?

Which is to say: what if the impossible were possible, after all? What if the temporal division Einstein oft alluded to was exactly as arbitrary as he believed? And what if we could cross it? What then?

What, moreover, when?

The Company of the Dead is concerned, at length, with that very question. If we could travel through time, posits its author, should we? Furthermore, what would happen to the future if we "improved" the past? Would it too be transformed? And would that transformation in turn alter our alterations?

Happily, there are no easy answers. Not in the world as we know it, a hundred-some years on from Besso’s death and Einstein’s timeless assertion, and not in this novel, no matter how gargantuan it appears. At approximately 800 pages The Company of the Dead promises to be a comprehensive exploration of time travel – from practice to paradox by way of the tragedy of the Titanic, around which the greater tale revolves – and to a certain extent it is. But David J. Kowalski’s debut – a sprawling and neatly conceived alternate history of the world that powers on inexorably, through thick and through thin – also takes in airships, empires, and the legacy of the dead Kennedys... and if you’ll pardon the pun: that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The tip of the iceberg indeed. I mean... sure, it's true, but what in the world was I thinking? :/

That said, please do click on through to read the rest of my thoughts on The Company of the Dead. No more topical wordplay, I promise!

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