I’m not happy to admit the rest of the world is kicking our ass in literature. Of my current four favorite authors, THREE of them are from overseas: Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Angel’s Game) is Spanish, Erin Kelly (The Poison Tree) is English, Felix Palma (Map of Time) is Spanish, and thank goodness, Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) is American. These odds are not good, and I have a feeling American writing will soon be extinct simply because it cannot stand up to the Europeans.
I came to this conclusion after finishing the recently released Map of Time by Felix Palma, because frankly, his book blew my mind. If I’d read up on the guy, I should have seen this coming. He’s been publishing since 1998, in Spanish, of course. Based on the descriptions of his books, he resembles our generation’s H.G. Wells (more on him later). Map of Time won the Ateneo de Sevilla Award in 2008, and it’s his first (and only) book published in the United States.
The cover is enough to make you want to buy the book, but the synopsis on the front flap ain’t bad either: “Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.” There are cameos by Jack the Ripper and the Elephant Man, too, and much discussion over a supposed “fourth dimension.”
Not only is the story of interest to fans of science fiction, history, or romance, the narrative voice—reminiscent of another European, J.K. Rowling—is whimsical and relaxed. Palma utilizes a third-person omniscient perspective. He sees into the heads of multiple characters at one time, and he often converses with you—the reader. For instance, “I shall take the opportunity to welcome you to this tale, which has just begun, and which after lengthy reflection I chose to begin at this juncture and not another.” Wonderful!
Be prepared to deeply consider the ramifications of time travel. If you’re not prepared to do so, you’re not prepared to read Map of Time. Palma is not only a master of the written word, but he’s a science fiction genius, to have thought up the questions posed by time travel. He posits that we each determine our current dimension while, possibly, we also live on in other dimensions via the choices we did not make. In the words of Jack Kerouac, “What is waiting for me in the direction I don’t take?” It’s a serious mind-f@#%, for reader and fictional character alike, and it’s worth every word on every page.
I could tell you more about the plotline, but eh, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say that I felt personally connected to Map of Time because, with a lead character like H.G. Wells, it has a lot to do with the life of a writer and artistic self-loathing. I will also say that if American authors don’t want to be left in the lurch, we better up our game—fast. I leave you with some wisdom from Palma’s protagonist, H.G. Wells, as you go on, living in the personal dimension of your day: “I am only interested in writing about what is impossible.” And what a relief it is.