The Tourist - Robert Dickinson

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The Tourist - Robert Dickinson **

When you dealing with time travel, you don't expect it to be easy to get your head around all the complex comings and goings. There are also a lot of ground rules, variables and paradoxes to address right from the outset. If you go back in time, can you change events and establish a new time line? But what if this new time line prevents time travel back to the past? Can you travel to the future and find out what happens and then go back to change it? It seems like you need to establish a lot of scientific precepts before you even get started on an adventure. Robert Dickinson finds a simple and adventurous means of establishing the conditions of time travel in The Tourist, but somehow the novel still seems to become overly complicated and lose direction along the way.

The simple part of the time travel conundrum - relatively straightforward at first anyway - is the idea of a time travel tour company. Spens is a tour guide from 2345 who takes holiday-goers back to the early 21st century, a primitive time before the ominous event disaster known as the NEE. The future is already known to some extent, since some information has come back from the 25th century - even though no visitors are permitted to travel forward but are 'bounced back' from the 25th C - and nothing seems to have changed events in the past, even though some Anachronists have attempted experiments in changing history. It seems fairly safe then for Spens to know that nothing untoward can happen to any of his tour groups, as he would already know about it.

Except something does go wrong. Even though he is aware that a minor incident will occur with a bus group, there doesn't appear to have been any notice given that one of the group would disappear into the 21st century. As the authorities get involved, Spens discovers that his company Tri-Millennium has been used for quite a while for drug dealers bringing tonin from his time back to the 21st century. Is this what has happened? Who is the missing person? Can they be tracked? What were they transporting and who were they acting for? OK, this is where it gets complicated...

There's another person whose story is developed in alternate chapters of The Tourist. In answer to the first question, it seems likely that Karia Stadt is the person who has gone missing in the 21st century under an assumed name. The answers to the other questions are not so much harder to come by as much as understand why and where it all fits together. It would seem that Karia, who we first encounter her in prison at some point in some future (it's imprecise), is sent back to fix something that went wrong the first time she went back there, although since it hasn't actually happened to her yet (?). she doesn't know what it is, and Reimann - a figure who appears at different points at different ages to direct her - doesn't entirely follow a linear path himself.

It's hard to establish exactly how things work here with the visitors from the future coming back to look at the strange habits of the people of the 21st century, but there are some amusing and interesting details. I like Spens description of the internet - "there's a lot of information mixed with misinformation and opinions and attempts to sell you products that may or may not exist" - which does give you an interesting perspective on the absurdity of our own times. Dickinson also introduces intriguing glimpses of the activities of the Anachronists, including those who go back in time to make authoritative secret recordings of concerts by famous composers beloved of Spens. On the other hand, quite how the 21 century co-exists with the tourists from the future, the 'Resorts', and how the Number Cities and City East and City West feature can be somewhat confusing.

The reason for the confusion is not entirely down to the usual time-travel paradoxes - although it does become confusing, I found, which Karia/Aurora you are dealing with at any given time. The problem is that The Tourist never seems to get to grips with the larger picture or grapple with the bigger questions that the whole time-travel situation presents. Instead it seems to just get wrapped up in ever decreasing circles around Spens and his colleagues and their attempts to trace Karia with the help of Reimann. Or perhaps it does answer some of those questions, and somewhere along the line I just missed the point entirely. The situation has enough intriguing possibilities that I'm almost tempted to go back and read it again to see if the ending changes the next time I visit it, although I can think of some better uses for going back in time than that.

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The Tourist by Robert Dickinson is published by Orbit on 20th October 2016.

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