Book Review: A Girl in Time – by John Birmingham

Cady McCall is an iOS game programmer who just struck it rich by publishing a hit game which she sold to Apple. As she walks home alone from a meeting at night in Seattle, she is followed and then mugged. A rescuer comes along just as she passes out.

When she wakes up, she is in a moldy and dirty room in London in the 1880s, with a man named Titanic Smith, a U.S. Marshal from the Wild West.

As the two try to figure out what happened to them, they have a number of adventures in time, with one trip even to ancient Rome.

A Girl in Time is a time travel adventure story, and that’s how I came across it. The first third of the book was hard to read for me. The author, an experienced writer of many other books, mostly in the genre of alternative history, uses too many trite clichés that I found distracting. I have this pet peeve about meals always being “washed down” with a couple of beers. Here is another example:

They did not return to her apartment. Not this time. Instead they caught a cab to the Alexis Hotel after she’d grabbed a couple of adjoining rooms on Expedia.

Who “grabs” a room?

Also, the author applies a strange point of view switch, that, if it were executed correctly, could work quite well.

For instance, Cady is a 2016 American hip girl in her early twenties. And she speaks and thinks like one. Smith is a 19th century U.S Marshal from the West. He has a folksy way of talking and thinking. The author switches between the two points of view and gets into the heads of the protagonists, so we hear them thinking, but the switch occurs randomly inside paragraphs or chapters, which results in occasional confusion. Who is telling the story?

Generally, when an author does this, he works using alternate chapters with different view points, and it’s pronounced and clear. Now we’re seeing the story from Cady’s point of view, now from Smith’s.

A little editing of the books structure could have fixed this.

Now here is the cool part, if you’re still reading: About 40% into the book, Smith and Cady land by accident in Seattle in 2019, and a different 2019 it is.

Donald Trump is now president for life. The United States has become a dystopian fascist country. Homeland Security agents are executing brutal raids on citizens, reminiscent of the Gestapo in East Germany. People get arrested for criticizing the government. They get sent to “the Wall” to perform forced labor. Here is Cady talking:

“Oh, you mean when I rescued you from the fucking Fourth Reich run by an angry Cheetos demon and its talking peehole?”

I got a kick out of the Fourth Reich episode, since I found it so timely. I cannot tell when Birmingham released A Girl in Time; the book oddly lacks a copyright page. He must have written it before Trump was elected, and he simply played on the theme. We’re obviously not a dystopian fascist country yet, but some of the things being done now are very scary and Birmingham predicted them in this novel.

Some Amazon reviewers blasted the writer for letting his political views come through and using the book to lecture. For me, it was the opposite.

As far as time travel adventures go, this is a so-so book and I am not sure I’ll be interested in reading the sequel when it comes out – but I might.

As far as the sequence on Trump, it made this book, and therefore, even though I would have only given it a two-star rating, I bumped it up by half a star. It will probably boost Trump’s ego when he finds out he is a character in a novel, even though not a flattering one.

Trump, the angry Cheetos demon!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Girl in Time – by John Birmingham

  1. Ray Cullen

    Hi Norbert–!! I can’t believe you just read one of Birmingham’s latest–!!
    The reason for my disbelief is that I’ve just finished RE-reading his “alternate” trilogy of a very different WW2.
    I kept thinking at the time….I bet Norbert would enjoy this–!!

    In fact, I feel these (earlier) books by Birmingham were better done. I really hope you’ll give them a go….I still think you’ll enjoy them more than ” A Girl In Time”.

    Did you realise it’s time travel which is behind the entire premise of the “alternate” WW2 series-? (Weapons Of Choice//Designated Targets//Final Impact) At least those are the titles HERE–often publishers have differing titles for the same book–depending whether sold in Australia//U.K. on one hand, or U.S. on the other hand.

    I felt Girl In Time was possibly written to appeal to a younger audience, cf. Birmingham’s WW2 trilogy.
    …..I recently read Beverly Swerling’s “City of Dreams” after you put up a review of same. Did you realise this is but the first in a quadrilogy, all centred around New York.
    I’ve purchased, but not yet read, the others.

    I’m currently wading through another of “your” books//series….the Nathan Van Coops trilogy.
    See the “ripple effect”, felt even this far away, that sometimes occurs when you read a book and “post” about it-!!

    1. Wow, Ray! I had forgotten about the City of Dreams. Just re-read my review and did a re-post. I am glad you’re checking out the Van Coops books. Time travel at its best.

      Also, I had checked out the Birmingham series on WWII, and wondered if I’d like them, but now that you tell me…. You have filled out my reading shelf.

      I am honored that I had an impact on your choice of entertainment!

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