I am a great admirer of Ian McDonald's science fiction novels. The Dervish House and Luna: New Moon are complicated and intelligent stories about how societies deal with advanced technologies. The next (and final) McDonald's novel in Luna's trilogy, Moon Rising, will not hit the bookstores until 2019, but we'll have a new story of him to help us while we wait: Time Was.
This book is a short novel by Tor.com about Ben and Tom, two engineers who fall in love while working on a secret project for the British government during World War II. When they disappear during an accident, it is presumed that the two men were killed, but they are still alive, simply separated in time. They search each other through the decades, leaving clues in the books as they try to make their two timelines come together again to meet. It seems a heartbreaking story.
Here is an excerpt from Time Was, which arrives at the bookstores on April 24, 2018.
They came like vultures, vacillating, fluttering, dragged by the pheromone of dying books. Many knew it, the world of croupiers is small. The tall Lionel with that same charcoal suit, shining in the ass and elbow, working the plastic containers like a hunting heron: perfect quiet, the stabbing of a volume bound in cloth. Louisa in Louboutins, wearing a dust mask, high-heeled shoes and branded red soles, staggering in the garbage can while turning over volumes with broken backs with a garbage collector. He feared mushrooms that grew in the bonds of old, wet books. Terry Prentice-Hall. I thought he died years ago. I'm sure I went to his funeral. He is still looking for the mythical first editions of Harry Potter. Some faces he knew for his reputation: Nancy and Flea, Parasites of Enfield. Q. R. Rice, arrived from Oxford. His manuscript cotton gloves left no one in doubt that Spitalfields was unbearable for someone of refinement. Some he did not know by face or gossip: a woman and a man in his twenties throwing academic textbooks in a wheelbarrow. "Charity workers," Tall Lionel resolved. To be a big man, he moved in silence. I had not seen him slide near my ear. "They are sent to Africa, India, to some needy hole of shit." Fuck me aside, Niall Rudd. The last thing I knew was that he had been at Ford for three years. He was always a shitty forger. "
Some were not even traffickers. I recognized Martin Parr, the photographer; that blogger from Spitalfields and his cat; Dan Cruickshank the architecture historian and television presenter. The Golden Page opened its doors for the first time in 1933: for a long time it had been an organ of Spitalfields.
I have drunk the legendary Vietnamese coffee and I have eaten the sulfurous broth of vegetables on the collapsible sofas. I've sat through poetry readings when I could not afford electricity at home, I've sat through fifty shades of red political theorists and I've booed Bliar Blair and his warmonger. I've curled up on the gas heater on February nights, with a lot of carbon monoxide. I've crawled through the Saturday hangovers to check the house authorizations when they got out of the back of a van: first rejection of anything with a touch of war about it. That was my specialty, the Second World War. You specialize There are too many books in the world. Tall Lionel was hunting old pocket SF books, Chris Foss is preferred. Louisa, in Louboutins, was engaged in crime, the more pulpy, the better. War for me, in hard cover. There will always be a market for war.
Now The Golden Page was dead. The actions that Richie could not stop, even at ten for a pound, were stacked in plastic boxes, on trestle tables, thrown in a steel container on Folgate Street under a menacing rain from the November sky. Liberty has always been a liminal place, trapped between the City and the city, a ditch of refuge, a lot of differences, pressed from both sides. Jews and Huguenots. The towers of finance and Banglatown. Gentrification won. Richie had not been able to resist the offer of the building. I would have done it too Fuck Vietnamese coffee. Capuchino in Umbria for Richard Frowse.
When we were satiated, when we could not stand any more books, Tall Lionel suggested Hawksmoor, to raise a glass to the old place, but my colleagues discouraged me, by their greed, by the weather, by the thin drizzle now turning covers of old books into pulp in the garbage container that fills up slowly. I wanted to get away from these dreadful fossils. I was from a different generation than my colleagues, but I understood that first day when I caught another eye greed working on the Clapham High Street War on Want bets: this would be my cohort, my university, my congregation, for the rest of my life. career. lifetime. Fingers around the hot whiskey on a cold afternoon, regretting the shipping costs, eBay T & Cs and the increasing transaction times of PayPal.
I made my excuses. Loot to login, titles to investigate, purchases to publish. And the possibility of wonder. My frozen fingers detected a discontinuity in the bound sheets of one of my acquisitions, a book of poetry that would not otherwise be remarkable and, to me, unknown; Time was By E.L. The anonymous initials were enough to arouse my curiosity, as was the date. May 1937, Ipswich. No publisher appears in the list. Decent paper, hand-sewn bound, header ribbons in good order and good cloth binding. Bas-relief of gold leaf of an hourglass, half-way. As a free book, a dumpster finds, it was worth picking up. But my fingers had sensed something more rare and valuable: an inclusion. A marker, perhaps from a library of dead language long dead in a European capital, perhaps further away. Istanbul. Cairo. Maybe a sample sewn by hand, marking a page. A postal. A love letter. Dried flowers; a bouquet, a bouquet, a rose cut the night before the battle. Photographs; best of all with love, with signatures, with farewells. Origins, I called them. If they were connected to the book, a story of a campaign, a military biography, a popular thriller or a crime film that was mentioned in the letter or card, I sold them. They added value. The orphans, the refugees, I saved.
The subway was crowded and smelly. I let the book open where the insert demanded. The smell of rusted paper, the damp cover, erased the stench of fast food and electricity.
A letter. A single sheet, still crumpled from the envelope despite the years between pages. My hands trembled as I read it.
I watched the lights along the Western Harbor drift away until they merged with the dark horizon. I had the taxi driver take me along Al Max until I could not see the lights. I never thought that they would take you like this, on a transport vessel. I suppose His Majesty needs his photographer more than me. I guess we should have done more of the time. We never do We become so lazy in love. But love is laziness, the gift of another's time, waste or invest. I remember your arms, I remember a terrible gin, I remember the perfume of your hair. Your skin smells like honey Those precious times, those beautiful rooms, at Osborne House and Heliopolis Club. Rev Anson always suspected.
The discharge balloons are rising along the Corniche. The air is wonderfully still, I swear I can hear the weapons from the front. Light sparkles along the western horizon. Christ knows what is happening out there. It reminds me of Russia, when all we could do was see how the world burned.
In three nights flight. I know what you would say: Alex is the oldest city of pleasure: being bright, being gay, drinking more than the terrible gin, drinking a drink. This city has no attractions for me. Next to you, your pleasures are dry and rancid. I need to be where you are, wherever you are. It's ironic that I go later and arrive before you.
I fear that the next translation is not far; one has a meaning for her, like smelling a storm. I'm afraid of being separated from you. If we separate, I'll leave a copy behind me, here in the usual place.
Time was, time will be again,
I have lived twenty years on this stone street. I have known it in all the seasons and all the elements, in their many temperaments.
I know it in the easterly winds, when the sky is black as judgment and the wind seems to strip the earth as the skin detaches itself from a jaw and the sea sticks hard into the tiles and the sound of the pebbles becomes in a thunder so big that I can hear it from Ferry Road.
I know it in the snow, those rare days of undifferentiated gray when the turnstiles look towards the white whip of thin flakes of the Baltic, when each pebble wears a layer of snow, blocked by the ice. How many pebbles from Bawdsey to Orford Ness? There are people who could tell that, but I am not one of them.
I know it in the rain, when it becomes an undulating black river, bright as a dog swimming, and boats, nets, cabins and terraced houses and the Martello tower seem to duck, seeking refuge in a land without shelter .
I know it in the full summer sun, when the sky and the sea seem to be anchored together and the whole world lies exhausted among them and nothing is stirred, not even breathing, when the sky is heavy like the water of the tides and the sea seems to be free of mere geography. In those days, Shingle Street is a wide wrought iron blade, and at night, when the gulls rise with a wind, only they can perceive.
In all the states of mind, I take out the bicycle and I walk along the path of rocks rounded by the sea.
There is a skill for that, and an art. The ability is to mount a Red Ariel Hunter of 1938 at full speed on a treacherous pebble road that could be displaced and spilled at any time. The art is to read the stones: what is constant, what has changed, what was moved in relation to what. This is a landscape dragged and moved by the tides, each pebble raised and fallen, lifted and fallen by the race and the ebb, each advance and retreat take a little higher. It is never the same twice.
I usually walk to where the pebbles end and the sweet waters of Orford and the salt of the North Sea meet in eddies and swirls of silver. But today I feel the presence of war as a climatic front. The sky is obstructed by contrails, the straight lines of the bombers, the circles and spirals of the fighters that revolve around them. Felixstowe took it three nights in a row. The Luftwaffe has moved to Ipswich. The sky and the sea feel polluted, stained and impure. I leave the bicycle next to the Martello tower and walk towards the abandoned village. I look out the window of one of the empty houses. The tenants were rushed out. The lost things remain: covered in the kitchen, a bread in the bread tray now a cube of blue mold, newspapers and coal under the stairs, calendars on the wall, permanently stagnant on May 15, 1940. I tremble, a sensation sudden that they have somehow offended the house, that the people who lived there, wherever they are, felt my intrusion and angry looks.
The traces of steam in the sky, the nocturnal flicker of anti-aircraft fire; rumors of mass barges along the coast of Holland, Kriegsmarine minesweepers exploring the Canal defenses. This is the coast of the invasion.
I like more emptiness. Empty When I came here as a child, when I wandered, I met and learned from E.L., I saw their faces pressed in the same windows, frowning. Who was on his land, in his opinion, on his horizon? Suspicious people, possessive. Folk sandings A landscape of gray resentments and long grudges. He's gone now. Moved out. Fuck. This is mine now.
HE. I would have liked
I have your book with me. I'm rarely apart from that; He sits carefully in the pocket of my service dress, as if it were made to order. The flap buttoned, pressed against the heart. I am not consoled by your close presence today. There is war in all the elements, and I am restless, itchy, headache, as it used to be before a storm.
No images here Nothing to recover and try to fight on a page. Sea and stone have told me enough. I kick the engine to life and travel through the deepening twilight. My blackout lighthouse is a wan light slot.
War is not a reason to change your drinking habits. I have been frequenting The Swan in Alderton since I was fourteen years old and selling fire lighters from door to door through the Sandings. "Frecuente": the word of an old man, thumbs in the vest, ass to the fire. Be the beer; I know the owner; I know the seasons and the temperaments. I used to sit quietly on the window seat, or on the bench under the same window in the long summer, and reduce the words, frown over rhyme schemes and assonances. Sometimes I read; Sometimes I just feel, in the sun, like an old man. The girls from the Block Receiver come here, to the consternation of the owner Rydal, who considers that the women in his pub are a triumph of Doomsday, also those of enlisted men and research divisions who find that the messes are too outrageous and rude.
"Ahoy, Tom the Rhymer," they greet me. I can hear the capital letters. I smile, I nodded. I know that I am a funny figure and that some detest me for imaginary pretensions. I find it strange, even for Signals. I accept the ribs, the murmurs. It is a wooden decoy duck, staked at the bottom of the marsh. He pleads guilty to a minor charge to escape a major one.
The radar girls sway along the way, dressed and invented, Victoria rolls and painted seams, chatting and laughing. From my summer bench with a pint heated to the sun I admire his strong confidence. The war has been the making of them, saved them from marriage or service or other menial labor. They greet me from afar.
"What are you working on?" Lizzie always greets me.
I lift the notebook.
"War, time and memory", I say. She smiles. The art attempt does not embarrass her. She knows me I know. You know these things. She is not distracted by the lure.
"Paint for the Rhymer," Lizzie orders Rydal. With arms linked, the radar girls march three abreast in the back room from which they have expelled the old drinkers and who have claimed with the flag of the RAF Bawdsey RDF Receivers, until the kingdom comes or ends the war, amen .
There is always a pint for the poet.
I can hear Charlie Nair from five fields away. I imagine that those stealthy Kriegsmarine minesweepers can hear it in the open sea. "You have to order your chain," I say. "It will break and take your leg below the knee." Let me do it. "I could do it easily, ten minutes of work, Charlie does not leave me, I do not know Nortons, he says, I know Nortons and I know Charlie and he will never let me fix it.
He stops at a noise and a racket, smokes and raises his glasses. I must admit that mounts that he abused Norton well.
"Does anyone have a round?", Always asks. I have never. I will never do it. It's my Norton record chain. Leave the bicycle in the hedge and drop by my side on my bench. I just took my pint to a safe place. Now I can hear the motors of the main drink party and glimpse the green roofs of their cars on the coverage lines. There are two more cars than usual.
"We are introducing the new boys," Charlie announces. The drinking party arrives in white powder.
Memory. I took the offices myself. A new research division was moving to Dairy. There were rumors of secret projects, new ways of feeling, of seeing the distant and hidden.
The doors of the car opened. New boots in the gravel. The scientists seemed uncomfortable in the uniform. All but one. Oh, one. One whose boots were firmly planted. One who wore the uniform as skin, as the sky, which remained high and secure, and put his hands to his eyes when he looked at the place where he had been taken, that protected his eyes and could not see me look. Looking at me as if there were nothing else in the world, looking like a radar girl at a single point on my screen, my gaze extends across the world and echoes back. Until he dropped his hand and I was not quick enough to look away, deliberately, and his gaze caught mine. We knew We communicate through the waves. Then he was dragged through the door to Beery's camaraderie: Boffins Corner, we called him, and I sat on my bench with my beer in the long afternoon sun and all my notes, all my words and rhymes and rhythms and images, all My thoughts and all the things I had in my heart were nothing.
I missed my stop. I missed the stop later.
There were enough clues in the letter for them to place and approximately date. References to Osborne House and Heliopolis Club immediately identified Cairo; Al Max and Western Harbor marked the map of Alexandria. The line about listening to the weapons placed the time around the first or second battle of El Alamein. The front was only fifty miles west of Alexandria, Montgomery's line in the sand, and on a still night, through the waters of Mareotis, notorious for how they distorted the sounds and closed spaces so that a distant conversation would be so intimate as a whisper. it would be possible to listen to the artillery. I can not imagine any of the troops turning home in the darkest hour of British Egypt, so I leaned more towards the Second Battle of El Alamein in October. A place and a time Five minutes online would give me the British battle order in Egypt in 1942. I looked at the letter again. I suppose His Majesty needs his photographer more than me. Ben served in Intelligence. This would be fun. It was then that I realized that I had dreamed of my stops and regained enough presence of mind to push the platform when the doors were closing.
A love letter. Each war is a profound sexual revolution. Social customs are altered, norms are nullified. Stuck in the final role of Bill Slim's Defeat into Victory, I found a picture of a couple dressed in khaki before the Taj Mahal: the brief scribble on the back insinuated love in class, religion, country. Slipped between the pages of a final edition of September 1942 of Film Fun, I discovered a gloriously uninhibited sexual fantasy of a Lincolnshire Land Girl for her Brooklyn Bomber Boy. Now, in a volume of small print verses: Tom and Ben. Monosyllables solid, unromantic, dull as a shovel. Twenty lines, however, conjured me a world like this: another love fertilized by the exciting otherness of the war era of Alexandria. The streets and souks were opened to universes of possibility.
Costa was still open. I found my usual table closest to the Wi-Fi router. I photographed the book and the letter and prepared them for the site of my supplier, AbeBooks and eBay. A party in the house shook the street with slow dubbing. In the bass and the drum I saw balloons of fallen prey on the Corniche, two men clinking martini glasses in the bar of Cap D & # 39; Or, making a face at the terrible gin. I saw them kissing in the darkness of an alley, under an awning. I imagined the hurricanes roaring above my head. I took the letter and clicked on publish. I wondered what would become of Tom and Ben. Too many of the war loves he had followed did not survive. Peace killed them. People returned to their old lives and love; quickly the old order was reasserted, the same order for which they had fought.
A superficial search did not yield anything, but I did not expect much. Photoreconnaissance was a classified area, and as romantic as it was, the idea of Ben flying over the desert in the nose of a Blenheim light bomber was much more likely to have served in Interpretation. Or something more intriguing; Intelligence covered more esoteric and romantic disciplines, all seasoned with the clandestine and, therefore, quite irresistible to me.
The poetry book was sold before it was until my first coffee. He made a decent price. I lingered until Michaela pushed me into overturned chairs and dragged me back to the floor. The police arrived when he left. Two patrol cars and a van with grilles on the windows, to put out a loud dubbing party.
Flat, I say. Two rooms with shared kitchen and bathroom on Littlebury Street. One room filled the floor to the ceiling with books, the other filled me, pushing me further into the corner next to the window. I slept among the tombstones of ancient wars. Mea culpa, mea culpa: I broke the rule to never use what you push. I detested my rooms; I gave them the least possible time. Rona, my landlady, wanted me out, I could get six Somali boys to work hard in my two rooms, but I was too lazy to chase after anything that came close to zeal. She said she was concerned about the health and safety implications of my batteries collapsing and burying me. He knew that he was afraid that the weight of the books was slowly distorting their roof beams. She pushed the rent religiously; I scraped, changed and paid. I dreaded having to carry several thousand books, double row, four flights of stairs. I was afraid to have to help me.
I have become fixed in my habitual vices. I work and read at dawn; I sleep a lot and I get up late. The sale of books is a business that is best done from your own bed. At three thirty in the evening, at four o'clock, there is something old and wild and quite beautiful in Clapham. The wind seems to be blowing from a direction not marked on any compass; the new and fresh music goes far away, imbued with a solitary splendor that I never hear in the flat metallic light.
I worked in the morning, delving into the stories of the regiments and the most obsessive corners of amateur military history. Mysteries you were, Tom and Ben. The drivers went blind; the avenues of investigation were with blank walls, like a city lost in the dunes. Finally, as dawn crept across the sky and the rumble and boom of suburban trains toppled the nightly music, I posted everything on Facebook – a dozen bibliophile and war history groups – and rolled to my bed.
I awoke with my face in full and painful sunlight, Rona told me that the man had intervened in the wiring and the whistle of an answer in my notifications. On the Facebook page of East Anglia Desert Rats, someone had recognized Tom and Ben.