Sunday, November 26, 2006

Oracle by Ian Watson

Author: Ian Watson
ISBN # 0575602260
First Published: 1997
287 pages
Rating: 8/10

The Blurb:
When Tom Ryan stops his car late at night on a dark road for a man dressed as a Roman Centurion, his first thought is that he's picked up one of those amateur re-enactors... but the man, Marcus Appius Silvanus, appears to speak only Latin. He insists the year is AD60 and that the British Queen is Boudicca - and that he and his men of the Fourteenth Gemina are in hot pursuit of her.

Tom and his sister Mary shelter the Roman, but inadvertently attract the attention of an unscrupulous journalist. He's not the only one interested in the Ryans: An IRA terrorist who was once Mary's lover in Northern Ireland tracks her down to tell her the plane crash which killed her parents 20 years ago was caused by the British security services.

Deep in the English countryside, those same servants of the state are busy exploiting the theories of a young prodigy to build "Oracle", a probe that can view the past - and, they hope, the future, so that threats to national security can be stifled before they ever occur.

The Review:
Whenever I pick up a book who’s plot involves time travel, I get a bit wary – I read in constant fear of a paradox ruining the story for me, as I’ll invariably pick it apart, proving that such-and-such couldn’t happen because so-and-so did this, that or the other. It’s rare for an author to pull it off without writing him or herself into a corner, but Ian Watson has accomplished it with flair. Not content with planting a first Century Roman Centurion in modern Britain, he also manages to delve deeper, adding politics to the mix and making it an integral part of the plot, even managing to show substantial comparison between events witnessed by the Roman and those happening in modern-day Ireland.

He doesn’t faff around with phoney scientific explanations for the sudden appearance of a man from the past either – he gives the reason, but doesn’t offer up scientific theory, which makes a refreshing change and also means that as science progresses, there will be fewer holes picked in this novel than in some others (hurrah!).

This would have been awarded 9/10 but for the ending which was rather abrupt and felt like a bit of a cop-out – it felt unfinished, like Watson had more to say but was edited in the final chapters, so a point is retracted. Still, what remains is an intense political thriller with terrorists and a Roman soldier in tow and it’s a while since I’ve read something of this kind that was so good. It’s well worth a look.


Post a Comment

<< Home