Tuesday, March 5, 2019

ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES, first time-travel novella in what I hope and expect will be a long series


ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES
KATE HEARTFIELD
(Alice Payne #1)
Tor.com Publishing
$3.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

My Review
: I love writing about an excellent alt-hist novella by a woman, about women acting to improve/change the timeline, in women's history month.

Why does there need to be a women's history month? Same reason there needs to be a Black Lives Matter movement, an LGBT Pride month, any number of other celebrations of not-white not-straight not-male not-US-centric etc etc history/achievement/identity. Y'all've had the megaphone long enough. Hand it over.

Kate Heartfield earned my delighted approval when I read her novella The Course of True Love in the five-star Shakespeare-as-fantasy anthology Monstrous Little Voices. What a pleasure it is to encounter an author whose command of the demanding art of novella-writing is so complete. Her gift for concise but not reductive prose is flatteringly highlighted in this form. With more scope than a short story, not as much elbow room as a novel, the usual fate of the novella is to exist like old Lycra workout shorts: Way too tight at entry and exit points, uselessly baggy everywhere else.

Ha, says Canadian Author Kate Heartfield, hold my soy chai latte.

This novella, single-needle tailored to fit three women who share a spirit if not a soul, tells the origin story of an eighteenth-century temporal crusader named Alice, her anchor Jane, and their twenty-second century quarry Major Prudence Zuniga of the Teleosophic Core Command. We'll start the admiration engine here: Teleosophy. Time travel, that is. "Tele-" means to, or at, a distance; "-soph-" from "sophos" means wisdom, learning, knowledge. Seeking knowledge at a distance; going far away to impart wisdom. Combined with "Core" or central point and "Command" or the illusion of control, it makes the whole concept of this story's time travel crystal clear: Traveling in time to create or control events in accordance with a master plan. Implicit in that is both hubris and desperation.

I'm putting my own words to Author Heartfield's ideas, and can't be certain they represent her thoughts, but there are others just as lovely that she explains. I'd suggest to all who belong to Goodreads that they consult Heartfield's Kindle notes, where she offers sixteen "end notes" about various inspirations and sources for tidbits in the story. I was made particularly smug by "Fleance Hall"'s note; I'd thought to myself, "Oho I see the Shakespeare-based novella wasn't an accident!" and was proved correct.

That type and level of intellectual play is a joy. The idea that someone would use the well-worn time travel trope of coming from the future to save the past in this piquant and creative way is a surprise. The demise of Netflix's extraordinarily well-made and -thought-out series Travelers had rather dispirited me as to the trope's pop-culture future. This novella, and its sequel, exist; there is a pulse in these veins, so there is hope yet!

Alice is unusual in any number of ways. Her created identity of "the Holy Ghost," a feared highwayman, as a means of avenging the powerless and simultaneously assisting the father she still adores; her secret self, lover of the young and supremely intelligent Jane; and her given existence as the dark-skinned Caribbean daughter of a well-to-do white Englishman are none of them ordinary. Alice is over thirty and unmarried. She has carefully kept it that way, despite her attraction to one particular, though completely unsuitable for marriage, man. She makes the awful discovery that a deeply unsuitable and unpleasant man wants to offer her marriage in the course of the story. Jane, no fool and surprisingly quick on the social uptake when her happiness is at stake, squashes both the intent and the desire to marry in the suitor with simple, elegant finality.

Prudence, the Major with a mission to change Time, meets these ladies in the course of the Holy Ghost's highwayman-ing. She's been through the mill, spending a decade making a serious attempt to save an unworthy-but-better-than-the-alternative man from his fate. It should tell you all you need to know that it took a decade...apparently character will out no matter what. As Prudence learns she's failed and her superiors in the Teleosophic Core Command are reassigning her, she concludes that teleosophy is not the answer to humanity's problems. A long-cherished and well-planned act of sabotage, assuring that time travel will stop and not be restarted, is her only hope. She needs someone at several points in time to execute a technological action. Jane, known to be a technological tinkerer but also a socially inept naïf, is her target for 1788, but she gets Alice instead. Alice is anything but a naïf...and anything but socially inept....

Oh dear. Things go pear-shaped in several spectacular ways, and the teleosophical implications are simultaneously dire and delicious. The second volume of the series, Alice Payne Rides, is out now. How you can resist dashing away to buy them both is beyond me.

Oh, you haven't. Addressing empty space never felt so good.

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