The world of science fiction, which encompasses so many sub-genres, has always had a fascination with utopian societies. The idea of creating a society set far apart from our own, has been a staple of the genre for years. Author Joseph Gray’s first novel, Past and Future Tense, sets out on that journey, but taking a somewhat more unique and unexpected course.
Past and Future Tense doesn’t set out to create a new world or a future one where humans set off on a course to another planet to start from scratch. Rather the book looks at time travel into our own past, where the fearless and intrepid begin reforming the very history of humankind, from the earliest human civilizations.
The book starts as Professor Arthur Penn is visited by an extraterrestrial entity (name of Merlin) on a spaceship, the Excalibur. Prof. Penn is chosen to be part of the beginning of a new civilization, a utopian society. Echoes of friendly visitors helping human stories are apparent, e.g. The Day the Earth Stood Still. But from there on out, it’s a story driven by human forces, personalities, and ambitions. As with any time travel plots, paradoxes are the ever-present problem, and the book really doesn’t address them too much.
The book moves at a steady clip, with tight and succinct prose. At times the plot gets overshadowed by dialogue, but the aim of the book is never far from the page. By exploring what it takes to create a new history, author Joseph Gray holds a mirror up to current events and shows how things went wrong. But he also creates a sense of real uneasiness over this new society, juxtaposing a Big Brother-type dictatorship-feel to the governance.
Past and Future Tense is not a groundbreaking work, but it’s a solid entry in the genre, and worth the read for fans of this style of science fiction.