TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT arrived recently, intended probably for my science fiction reading partner, but something in the blurb made me want to snaffle it first, and I'm very very glad I did.
This is one of those books that come along every now and again to tip the whole concept of "genre" on its head. It's a crime story, in a Science Fiction style world. Set in 2027 Western Australia, 'Spider" Webb is an ex-cop, recently separated, working now as a Time Machine mechanic. In 2027 suburban Malaga, a lot of people have time machines, but the future isn't completely mad - these machines come with some limitations. You can slip backwards and forwards to visit, say the relatives, but you can't interfere with major world events (you only get to visit in "ghost" mode). Time machines though, have their problems, mostly to do with cats it seems, and there is a never-ending stream of them needing fixing passing through Spider's workshop. (In a very nice twist it doesn't matter how long it takes to fix one of these things, Spider just goes back in time to just after he picked it up to deliver the repaired machine back!).
Spider's own life is complicated (of course!). He lives in a hotel since his wife threw him out, yet he's forever being summoned to his old home to fix whatever it is piece of technology that's playing up. Urgently. He works long hours, at a job he doesn't like; for a boss he can't stand - even if he does insist that everyone call him Dickhead (McMahon). No matter how hard he tries he cannot coax a decent cup of coffee out of the robot coffee machine (even though the company receptionist has no problems at all), and with all the advances in science and technology, traffic jams are still the bane of his existence. It almost seems inevitable that one day, a repair job is going to get complicated, just to prove to Spider that his life really does suck. So the arrival of a woman's dead body when he's trying to analyse an unstable Time Machine, well it had to happen.
Despite the authorities taking over the investigation, Spider can't leave well enough alone, and as events get more and more complicated, Spider finds himself in the fight of his, and his wife's, lives.
Given the advent of Time Machines, it's hardly surprising that investigating a crime could go in a very different direction from what you'd expect in 2009. But there are some unexpected twists and turns that make the expected or seemingly obvious, well not. There's also delightfully bizarre stuff going on with Spider who ends up working with Future and near-Future versions of himself as he goes backwards and forward in time, and right out to the End of Time. Or somewhere. It all gets very crazy at points with Future Spider sleeping with current Spider's unrequited lust, with Spider's wife being threatened, or not threatened, or dead, or alive, or something... At some points things do seem to get a little muddled, but I'm not sure that it was muddled in a totally bad way. I liked the idea that even a time-travelling repair man, ex-cop, accidental detective, saver of the universe could get a tad confused about where or who or what on earth was going on. Or not on earth as the case may be.
For an infrequent Science Fiction reader, this book had real appeal if for no other reason that it was incredibly entertaining. Mind you, I gave up looking for the detail in any of the alternate timelines and just opted for going along for the ride. The ride greatly enhanced by the character of Spider, whose reluctant hero status was actually quite appealing. Add to that the surprise package of Dickhead, so gloriously over the top that he just had to an anti-hero - somehow.
The only possible complaint is that the book did sort of crash to a bit of an ending, and it may be that a crime fiction fan would find that the investigation component took a secondary seat to the alternate timelines and a threat to the entire world type scenario, but who's to say what the rules are in a cross-genre book like this. Personally I just thought this was tremendous fun. And I profoundly hope that I never have to meet up with my Future / Near-Future or Past self. There are some things from the past that would be best staying there, and I certainly don't want to chat to my future up close and over breakfast.