Saturday, April 5, 2014

Science Fiction/Modern Historical Fiction Review: Time Shifters by Shanna Lauffey

Time ShiftersTime Shifters by Shanna Lauffey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cool story, interesting science fiction mixed with modern day historical fiction.

Time Shifters opens on a restaurant in Southern California. Akalya is having dinner with a couple of friends when a commotion in the back heralds what she thinks is a raid on undocumented workers in the kitchen. That is it does until the action spills out into the dining room and people she recognizes as fellow time shifters are captured and taken away. Akalya abandons caution and protocol and shifts away, narrowly escaping a similar fate. After trying to warn one of her close friends, a little too late to make much difference, Akalya shifts back to The Strand in 1965 California, a time and place cherished in her fondest childhood memories, to collect herself and figure out what to do about the abductions. From this base of operations, Akalya steps outside of her comfort zone and begins a one woman cloak and dagger operation that spans decades.

One thing I enjoyed about this story was the experience of traveling to 60s and 70s Southern California. The feel of the time and place, in my opinion, are spot on and it's easy to imagine yourself there with Akalya, both as an adult visiting and as a child growing up there. The author gives just the right amount of nostalgia to draw you in without going into history lesson mode. I also loved the little pictures sprinkled throughout the book. They're just pictures of houses, beaches, skyscrapers, etc., but they are well placed and help draw you into the locations and the times in the story.

The thoroughness and consistency applied to the shifting science is noteworthy, particularly since this story is billed as science fiction. The science isn't overwhelming, but the explanations are logical and work well in the scope of the story, and the characters stick to the established conventions. I also liked how the most scientific of the explanations are kept in the forewords of each chapter so they don't get in the way of the narration, while the more organic comparisons are presented in the narration, such as when the main character renames grandfather theory as Bill and Ted Theory, after Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I particularly enjoyed the nod to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Though the main character doesn't outright say those are the time shifting dragonriders she's taking about when she calls it her favorite series, readers who are familiar with McCaffrey's Dragonriders will have no trouble making that connection.

I didn't particularly care for the quirky names for normal people and Akalya's people, kind of too much for such a small story, but as part of a ten book story, it will probably be ok. I also think calling normal people some kind of name as if they are outside your circle is, well, not endearing. Not picking on this story, I didn't like it in Harry Potter either. Of course, it's not farfetched that they would have names for themselves versus others. There are historical and modern day precedents for this.

Another thing I noticed was that the main character lacks a sense of urgency, most likely due to her ability to move herself through time. While it works for the story, it kind of interrupts the action and excitement when Akalya takes off on some leisurely activities in the past, such as renting an apartment, collecting furniture for it and considering taking on a job in the past to earn currency with the proper dates on it.

On a more humorous note, when Akalya tracks her people to a 'portacabin' on the beach, I, for some reason, thought it was some kind of weird word I'd never heard of, possibly in a foreign language. Imagine my chagrin several chapters later when I realized I should have been pronouncing it as port-a-cabin. Made sense after that.

Overall, I really liked this story. It is the first in what the end matter of the book describes as a 10 part series, but the story does have a complete plot and resolution, leaving enough in the realm of the unknown to lead into the next story without being too much of a cliffhanger. I think people who enjoy science fiction, especially the kind that includes time and distance shifting and the kind that includes realistic scientific explanations for the fictional science, will likely enjoy this book. Those who like books with extraordinary powers or science fiction that are set in mundane times and places may also find this in their realm of interest. Finally, I think anyone who grew up in California and experienced the beaches or jaunting out on the rocks and dodging the crabs and sea life there might enjoy the memories this story evokes.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.

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