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Hubbell: Sea of Time—Past Perfect Paradox-Fest

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WARNING: If you want to read the first book of this series (Cretaceous Sea) without a spoiler, skip this review.

After its light treatment in his first novel, Cretaceous Sea, Will Hubbell has followed with a sequel that really digs into the philosophy and paradox of time travel. Sea of Time looks at the present-day and future of an age engendered by the incidents detailed in the first novel.

Alteration of the present by the past is an important concept in the story. At the end of the first story, Constance “Con” Greighton and Rick Clements are rescued by people from the future, and taken to their own past, to gold-rush California, where Rick and Con are married. (Con thus not only founds the family fortune in a California gold mine, but also becomes her own great-great-grandmother.)

What should have been a “happily ever after” ending to the first novel instead becomes a launching point for multi-dimensional murder. The evolved homo perfectus society that created the time machine is worried about awareness of the possibility of time travel by unevolved people in their past. Con is approached by one of them who warns her.

“They may alter your reality instead… If they were to change your past,” replied Sam, “from that point onward, the resulting reality would be the only one you knew. They might erase all who stand in their way, all who are precious to you.”

Minutes later, Con learns that Rick has been shot to death. In the ensuing weeks, her only son also dies of cold and starvation. Having lost all she holds dear, she agrees to come to the future with the “Kynden” Sam, to work against those who supposedly arranged her husband’s murder, in order to “undo” his and her son’s death.

In the future, however, Con finds things not quite as Sam presented them to her. There are three groups of people in this “perfected” future world: homo perfectus or “fecs”, home sapiens or “sapes”, and the Kynden, who sit between the two, and want to eliminate both species from 27th-century Earth. Sapes occupy something of a plantation slavery role in this society, due to a virus-imposed addiction to kana, a drug that is only available from the fecs.

Con has an advantage in the sape camp; because she doesn’t need kana, she can use her daily supply to barter for information. She learns that Rick Clements has also been snatched from 21st-century Earth, and decides to connect with him. Unfortunately, the Rick she finds is from the future determined by the death of Con’s son in 1851. This Rick has never met Con.

  ”Would you kiss me, Rick? I’ve waited so long.”
  ”Sure… Con. Just remember, for me, it’s our first kiss.”
…Con closed her eyes, lifted her chin, and puckered her lips. Then, with all his strength, Rick pushed her away. She slammed into the cornstalks and fell over backward. Before Con even hit the ground, Rick dashed into the rows of corn and disappeared.

Before Con and Rick can resolve their different pasts, they are confronted with yet another evolution of humankind, homo gaia, whose own future had been eliminated while they were harvesting food in Earth’s Jurassic past. These remnants of a larger civilization have been trying to eliminate Con as the root cause of their extinction, a tool created by the Kynden Sam to redirect the powerful flow of history. The Gaians tell Con why they killed Rick in 1851, and have been trying to kill her.

  ”…to change the shape of a river, a hand or a boulder won’t do… You need a dam, Something totally unnatural… [Sam] created an entity that is largely unaffected by the forces that keep the timestream on its natural course…”
  ”And I have this ability because I’m my own ancestor?”
…”You are able to change history,” said Oak, “because you are your own ancestor and you are your own ancestor because you changed history.”

How Rick, Con and the Gaians unravel this twisted thread of altered history to save the past and their future is fascinating reading. Hubbell has done a masterful job of presenting these confusing lines of cause and effect in a way that explores the innate paradox of travel through time. I recommend reading Cretaceous Sea first (it’s not too demanding, remember), to fully enjoy the contrast and the story of the second novel.

In a fine and suitably ironic way, Sea of Time is the mature child of its juvenile parent.

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