Find Time Heist on Amazon (I’m a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, and read this book through KU.)
Time Heist is a clever book. It tips its hat to a number of other popular books and films in the science fiction and action genres and starts off at a fast pace that it reliably keeps up for it’s 30+ chapters. All too often I’ve read the beginnings of books like this and found a character in the middle of a fight for their life and wondered why I should give a shit. With Time Heist, the opening perhaps did lean towards the instant gratification that so many openings are going for these days, but two things caught my interest: a character who had reached an all too familiar feeling of rock-bottom, and Vicino’s writing style.
The part of me that’s a reader before a writer devoured this book in just under a week – it’s a quick read. Anyone who prefers plot driven fiction with constant tension and high stakes will love this book, that I can pretty well guarantee. Countdown clocks have become something of cliché, but Vicino has risked using the idea, and it pays off not only for the pace of this book, but for the reminder that it’s possibly to take a cliché and make it work again with a certain amount of reinvention. Right from an early stage, the reader knows that although there’s a clock ticking, there are a number of possibilities for changing the clock. And thank God, the author does not put the timer at the top of chapter headings. There’s only one active use of it in the narrative at all (no spoilers here, let’s just say it’s done in the right place.)
Anyone who likes doing influence spotting will enjoy Time Heist. Whether the authors influences are actually the books and films I can name is anyone’s guess, but let’s just say if you enjoyed the film ‘Crank’ with Jason Statham, you’ll probably like this (I haven’t actually seen the film, just a trailer, but the premise and action vibe are similar.) The character Ash makes a nod to Kick-Ass’s Mindy ‘Hit Girl’ McCreedy, although later on escapes this image altogether and gives way to something even darker still (no spoilers). The idea of human kind having destroyed itself only to find some level of preservation and mixed with a creative use of nanotechnology and population control smacks of Hugh Howey’s Silo series but is by no means a copy at all – Vicino’s world feels very different (it’s above ground for one thing, and idea that gives the story a much needed open landscape ‘and breathing space’) and the use of nanites creates something not dissimilar from the gaiafields of Peter F Hamilton’s void trilogy. Time Heist plays on these recognisable science fiction ideas beautifully, and will probably evoke a different idea of influence for every reader.
There’s one particularly famous film I think it would be impossible for any s/f buff not to wave flags for when reading Time Heist, but on reflection I’ve decided not to mention it here because it might spoil things a little. You’ll know it when you reach it. Trust me. Go in search: you are the chosen one. And even then, this is not a plagiarising book – it’s a blend of sci-fi ideas effectively re-worked.
A comparison to other indie fiction: when I reviewed Michael Patrick Hick’s excellent Convergence earlier this year, I talked about how I found the use of the brain, the recording of memories and the use of ‘mind powers’ to be my favourite part of sci-fi/speculative writing, and in Time Heist I found most of the appeal in the same idea, but with a different kind of reading. Hicks went for reflective, denser narratives that went deeper into backstory and gave me an intimate look at the life of the first person narrator. Time Heist lacks this kind of depth, instead going for pace and impressing me with the ideas behind the set-up rather than the immersion in a life. What might have made this up to a five star review was if I’d gotten to know anything about the narrator Tom Mandel that wasn’t to do with the plot. He’s a believable character who does inspire some measure of sympathy, but there’s very little depth to him that isn’t connected to what drives him to push the plot forward. At the end I felt like I hadn’t known another person, and perhaps I hadn’t actually cared where he ended up – I’d only been interested in who came out the winner. But that said, I was still impressed.
Not to mention I envied the line ‘My brain forgot how to operate a human.’ Damn. My characters do this as well and now I can’t think of that line first! ‘How to operate a Human’ might make for a fun title for a mind-powers instruction sheet handed out to a class. This is a line where the author’s humour really did work for me.
Time Heist has a satisfying ending. No discussion here to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that I’m going to have to read certain parts of the book again, and if I still don’t get certain things there may be a few ‘email only’ questions to the author.
Vicino is an author skilled in knowing where to present the background information. I’ve read many pieces of advice on so called ‘info-dumps’ in science fiction, and what readers like and dislike. There’s no formula for how to do it, and it’s impossible to be a people pleaser anyway, but Vicino is up there with authors who keep it concise and appropriately placed. By way of comparison, it reminded me of how Joe Halderman does it in what I’ve read of ‘The Forever War.’ I tweeted to the author that his style was a welcome break from some of my writing heroes in that sometimes its nice to get away from the verbose and the technobabble (I’m thinking of Hamilton and Banks here, mostly.)
The style of Time Heist is highly showy – a style suited to a story where the characters display off their prowess at fighting and technology manipulation. In a world where sci-fi authors are competing for readers, it would be easy to draw the comparison that Vicino himself has put himself in a fighting ring determined to show off his chops. The praise here lies in that he mostly succeeds, although I imagine myself in a writing workshop with Vicino, I do reach for the phrase ‘Did you ever meet a simile or metaphor you didn’t like?’ (and I’ll admit, that’s probably rich coming from me on any day of the week!) Reading the author’s end notes to the reader, his blog and his twitter feed, the real life style suggests a flamboyant personality that transfers well to this kind of fiction, but there were times when I wish the flamboyance and showmanship had been a little more reined in. Some descriptions in Time Heist are superfluous, or overly heavy on hyperbole, yet none of it is bad writing – just perhaps chances taken on wild description that don’t always pay off.
When I got to a description of toothpaste ‘[reaching] escape velocity’ and the line ‘…but leprechauns were going a jig on my eardrums, and his words weren’t making it past the bouncer’ I did think the author was pushing the boundaries between a clever new description and silliness. The same went for ‘..we milked our legs for every ounce of speed they had to give,’ which although not designed to be taken literally did make me smile in a way I probably wasn’t supposed to. However a few moments like these were balanced out by moments of brilliance: ‘Someone with a shaky hand preformed surgery in my skull with an ice cream scoop’ and ‘an engine that purred like a tiger fresh from a nap.’ (anyone remember those old Esso petrol ads that said ‘Put a tiger in your tank?’) There are some brilliant one-liners in Time Heist as well. UK readers will enjoy the description of what’s now ‘the island formerly known as the UK’, and although I’ve heard the idea before, I loved the placing of ‘You don’t get to choose which part of your soul the devil takes.’
Vicino’s use of comparative language is often razor sharp, and in a world where violence and pain are pervasive, it takes this kind of description-searching to keep it fresh – it’s hard to keep describing the same thing and do it differently. Going through my Kindle notes, I feel like I’ve taken a class in pain description and how to write effective fight scenes. I’ll forgive the author for one or two moments where ‘the laws of physics’ get mentioned in actions scenes (something I always think is too obvious and that characters probably wouldn’t consciously think of it in a life/death situation) and for the occasional line where past and present tenses switch in a way I found odd.
Time Heist also succeeds in its surprises. Impossible to discuss in a spoiler free review, but I’ll say that there are enough loaded lines to make the reader second-guess, but they’ll most likely still not get it quite right. The slight of hand in this book is deft and sneaky.
I look forward to reading more from Anthony Vicino.