Saturday, December 23, 2006

From the Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes

The mosaic novel is at once a very new ‘brand’ of the literary tradition and one of its oldest examples. In the Afterword Bowes admits that he believed the term originated from Jeff VanderMeer, while VanderMeer explained that someone else coined the term. Bowes goes on to correctly place the mosaic novel’s origins in ancient Rome and Greece with the likes of Apuleius, Petronius Arbiter, and Ovid.

Why do I begin this review with the exploration of the origins of the mosaic novel as Bowes explains in the Afterword? The answer is because it took the Afterword to reveal to me what From the Files of the Time Rangers is – it is a celebration of speculative fiction, as well as the American Northeast that Bowes has known. While the pieces contained are dark, ominous, and rather pessimistic toward the human condition, the homage is one of love, hope, and remembrance.

The Time Rangers are international police force of a kind under the direction of the Gods, specifically Apollo, the God of reason. The Gods realize that through their own mismanagement and human kind’s self destructive nature the time of humans will end, and with it the Gods themselves. Through the endless parallel time streams the Gods and their proxies fight each other and other interests to keep the world from ending.

The pieces of the mosaic follow a small group of Time Rangers as they work to fulfill their mission of ensuring the success of the God’s chosen one. The setting is various times throughout the 20th century in the American northeast while Gods and myth flow through the back- and foreground of the stories.

The prose is powerful and dead on – if not always easy to read. The characters can be hard to follow through the often confusing web of time and space. The point of it all is elusive. However, when it all finally clicked in my head at the end, I was left with a sense of awe. From the Files of the Time Rangers is not an easy read, it is dark and disturbing and can be very confusing – clearly not a book for everyone. It’s not perfect, pieces were written at many different times and places, not necessarily with the others in mind, but the mosaic comes together and ultimately works (two of these pieces were finalists for the Nebula Award in 2002 and 2003). On my 10-point ranking scale, this mosaic homage scores 7.5 – in the end it was worth every bit of the effort.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't know where the term came from. I know "fix up novel" is the term used within genre, but that isn't a good term for something that has internal coherence and a planned structure because a "fix up" is literally supposed to be making a shorter work into a novel or splicing stories together to make a novel. But not out of artistic necessity so much as commercial necessity.

The best example of a series of short stories that become a novel--beautifully structured--is Nabokov's Pnin, which only becomes a novel when the last story clicks into place. It's literally a "click" in the reader's mind, too. It's quite amazing.


Neth said...

Thanks Jeff,

The term "fix up novel" doesn't exactly leave you with a good feeling regardless of how true it may be about a book. Mosaic just fits for the inter-connected feel.

I haven't read any Nabokov yet - he's on the 'Waiting List'.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the Christmas present. And, yes, Pnin is a wonderful example of what a properly structured mosaic novel can do.

Rick Bowes

Neth said...

You're welcome. It was a pleasure to read.


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