The Tourist | Robert Dickinson | 2016 (20 October) | Orbit | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
Time travel – the tourism of the future into the past. And for those who live in the relatively grim and unappealing 24th century, there’s nothing quite like the 21st century for a holiday destination. Resorts have sprung up all over the place in this bygone century, the locals are almost used to the idea of these time travellers in their midst. As for the travellers – all those trees, shops and so many people! Something happened later in the 21st century, something apocalyptic. Discussing it with the indigenous 21st century population isn’t the done thing but these descendants of the survivors relish the chance to immerse themselves in this more innocent time.
The tour guide is kept busy escorting groups back and forth though time. He would love to go back further into time – the chance to watch the great composers present their masterpieces – but the rules of time travel are complex and watched over by the disapproving eye of the mysterious people of the 25th century. But it’s a good job. Until the day when he returns home and a female passenger is missing. She has been left behind and, it’s soon apparent, the tourist is not quite what she seems. The tour guide follows her trail and the mystery deepens.
I’m not going to say anymore about the plot for two reasons. Firstly, I wouldn’t want to spoil anything and, secondly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you even if I wanted to. The premise of The Tourist is fantastic. I love novels about time travel, even more so when there’s an apocalyptic tale in there as well. I’m also a big fan of science fiction thrillers and I read a fair few of them and even if I can’t understand the science behind them (I’ve enjoyed a number of quantum physics thrillers recently) it doesn’t stop the fun. My issue with The Tourist is not with the science particularly – this was left suitably vague – but with the plotting, the frequent jumping between past and present, and the mix of perspectives (first person and second person – the latter a difficult perspective to read at the best of times). It’s fair to say that for the vast majority of the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on, which character I was with, and what the mystery was all about. The ending left me none the wiser.
There are some elements of the novel I did enjoy. Its mood and atmosphere are wonderful and I found myself thinking about the novel whenever I wasn’t reading it. It wasn’t difficult to pick it up even when I felt so clueless. There are some fantastic ideas in it – the resorts, the people from the future who choose to live in the past, the interaction between people from the past with the guests from the future, the odd 25th-century people, the apocalypse. And I was waiting for these themes to be explored far more than they were. I wanted to get to know the characters better because they intrigued me. But there were too many times when I didn’t even know which character was which due to the confusing structure.
Ultimately, for me, The Tourist didn’t succeed as a thriller because I couldn’t follow it. The science fiction elements were more successful but weren’t developed enough for my curiosity. The author undoubtedly writes well and his imagination and creativity are vast and original – just what I want in science fiction – but I do hope that in future novels some allowance is made for the poor reader who wants so much to understand. Having said all that, this isn’t a novel I’ll forget in a hurry thanks to its atmosphere of foreboding and its pleasingly unusual treatment of time travel.