My Friday Book: “Just One Damned Thing After Another”

imageAccording to Jodi Taylor who obviously is not a historian, this quote is supposed to come from economic historian Arnold Toynbee and is supposed to be “History is Just One Damned Thing After Another”. If you google the quote, you instead get “Life is One Damn Thing after Another” and was said by  Elbert Hubbard, while H.A.L. Fischer traded Life for History. In other words, this was not a very original thing to say nor a very original title for a book! But maybe I am somewhat biased, since I was not too happy about ordering a book with such a name. Unfortunately I had to order it, since I by mistake bought number four in the series, as a Christmas present for my husband, Amazon being very blurry about which book was which in the series. And these books have to be read in order, trust me.

While my husband started on other Christmas books, I ordered this one, and when it arrived, decided to read it myself first, since time travel has fascinated me since childhood. As a child I dreamed of jumping back to a time which seemed much nicer than the one I was born in to myself, which I found incredibly boring. And as a HISTORIAN, I would love to jump back in time, to see things with my own eyes and not just rely on sometimes unreliable accounts. But as a HISTORIAN, I also realize, that we can never ever allow ourselves to do such a thing, even if it ever becomes possible, because to jump back in time, will undoubtedly mean altering history. And one might assume, not for the better!

How would I classify this book? On Amazon they rave on this book series, saying that it contains so much that you can not classify it, but of course it is Science Fiction. It can never be anything but. And I am not an avid sci-fi reader. Sure, I have watched Star Trek, parts of the Star Wars films, Stargate Atlantis etc. But to read it, has not been my thing and I doubt it ever will, since I am one of those people who make pictures in my head of everything I read, and I can’t create all the technical things described in this book, in to my head, as pictures. I can not “see” what Taylor sees in front of her, as far as the Pods the people time-travel in and the equipment they use.

As I started to read the book, I did not realize how technical it would get. Nor did I expect all the foul language used by the people in the book, of course determined by the author. I absolutely did not expect the graphic descriptions of the sex Max and Chief Farrell have. And the further I got in to the book or the closer to the end I got, my rating of  the book went down. Partly because of the above, but also because things became too unbelievable. And then I am not talking about the time-travel.

My biggest problem with the book is with the heroine Madeleine Maxwell, never called anything but Max. Max is not someone I would have liked to meet. People might think that she is exciting and someone they want to meet, in book after book, but I started to resent her so much in the book, that I am sorry to say, that I will not give part two a chance. Max is NOT believable, because she is portrayed as a superwoman. And the sort of superwoman that she is, does not exist. No matter how you stretch your mind and no matter how much of a feminist you are. Women can, yes, but they can’t go beyond the biology of the body. If you are so pissed that you do not hear people, can’t see straight nor stand on your feet, you can’t sober up in a second and think out an elaborate plan for a dangerous mission! Taylor will not let nature take its course, and then it becomes too much of fantasy for me! Perhaps time for you to make your mind up, whether you agree or not?

Storyline:

Max, is a woman who, by the clues given, has grown up in an abusive family, but without the social services intervening. Teachers knowing fully well what she was growing up with. Not believable! Failing school, she is given one last chance, by a Mrs. De Winter. She not only grabs it but goes on to graduate with a Ph. D. from the University of Thirsk. Upon graduation, the same Mrs. De Winter suggests that she applies to St. Mary’s for a job, and escorts her there herself. Max is introduced to everyone, on a walk about the premises, with “she has not had the interview yet” and feels that there is more to the place, than what she is shown. While being interviewed by the boss, Dr. Edward Bairstow, she finally asks why she was introduced in that manner, whereupon tons of papers are pulled out for her to sign and she gets to go on a second walk about, where everything is revealed. Clients hire St. Mary’s to go back in history to observe and document things. Unfortunately, things are not entirely safe, since a LOT of the historians die in the process. Two time-traveling pods have disappeared, without a trace, being searched for by the others, but neither historians, dead or alive, or pods have been found.

Max is all excited about joining the group. And starts her training at once, with her fellow trainees. This being a problem of course, since they travel in teams, two by two, man and woman. Why is that a problem? Too many people! Taylor has to have trainees fail and die in rapid succession. In Max, you have the typical abused person who trusts noone, a loner who likes to do things her way, who talks to noone, becomes friends with noone. But she is finally forced to work with a partner named Sussman. A man full of himself, knowing exactly how smart he is. A man as intolerable as she is.

Max is a combination of Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Greengables as a child, and all other smart anarchist girls you can think of. She will cheat when she can. She can do anything. And of course is the smartest of the lot. And this had me tired of her, half way through the book. Like when they are to do their solo jump and all the other trainees emergency extract themselves from where they have jumped to, when they realize that they have not entered the time period they were supposed to go to. And she just stays in her pod for weeks, eating of the rations, sunning herself and just waiting for the date she is supposed to go back. This woman is ice-cold and has no fear. Supposedly a result from her family life.

When the final test arrives, she decides to cheat and not go on the survival trip they are supposed to go on. She is too lazy and does not like to be uncomfortable going without shower, food and getting rained on etc. So she works out a plan for hiding in the paint store. There she will sit and review everything for their written exam. Only, they have decided to do inventory the day the trainees leave for their survival test and she is almost caught. Almost. Because she finds a cloaked pod in there and Chief Farrell, chief of the technical officers. He lets her hide in his pod, since he has more than a soft spot for her.

She qualifies for historian, as does Sussman. And historians continue to die, from accidents during time travel. Like one of them helping a mother and her two children during a riot, getting his head slashed in the process. And this is when the book does not make any sense anymore. They are not supposed to interact with history, they are only supposed to observe quickly and get out off there. But they do not. When the publishers describe the people on the cover as disaster-magnets, they make the people sound funny, like it is them being clumsy or something. But the accidents which happen, are because they interact and because they are not the only ones travelling in time, the others being on the scale of Voldemort!

Max first real mission, is one which should not have taken place at all according to the statements at the start of the book. “Not to intervene”. Because they sit there and plan to intervene. A WWI anniversary is coming up and people are questioning a fire, which took place in a casualty clearing centre, in an old manor house, close to the Somme. Sussman, Max and experienced Kalinda Black, are going back to stay for a week, investigating what happened and when. Good enough. But they are not to observe only. Kal and Max will be working as nurses and Sussman as an ambulance driver.

You might think at this point, “how fun!”. I did not. There is no way a 21st century person can don a nurse’s uniform or an ambulance driver’s and not stick out. People around you will notice that you use words not used at the time, you will have mannerisms they do not. In WWI they will most likely shoot you as a spy! There is no way to melt in and less so the longer you stay. And a pod that looks like a small hut standing in the middle of things? But Taylor makes it work even though there is a fat chance of it working in reality. Kal and Max gets a crash course in medicine and work as nurses day after day, meeting up with Sussman every day, just to make sure they are all alive. All the historical “events” they go to, are described quickly, just to make us believe this is an exciting novel about history time-travel, but not enough is described to make me A HISTORIAN impressed. It is more about relationships and a growing darkness.

Upon meeting Sussman one day, Max volunteers to do one of his chores, getting blankets from the linen storage and when she opens the door, she is hit by a ball of fire. She gets out, even though she got a door slammed on her head, because SHE is a superwoman and outside she and Kal help as many soldiers and patients to safety as they can. Once again interfering with history, perhaps saving people who should have died and not having offspring. And confusing officers, who wants to take THEM to safety, reporting THEM, as missing and dead. As they get back to the pod, burned, Sussman sits in the pod, all safe and has not helped a single person to safety, but himself. He is surprised to see Max alive and Kal tells Max, to never ever trust Sussman, that their lives always are dependent on their partners and that Sussman is not a partner to rely on.

Getting back, it is time for Sussman and Max to start preparing for their next mission, which is going back to the dinosaurs. Months of preparing. Here I get angry, because Taylor, Historians are Historians! We do not study stars, nor do we study flora, fauna and the behaviour of dinosaurs. But she is so desperate to send them there, for her story, that superwoman Max can do this as well, even though it has nothing to do with history. At the same time, Chief Farrell is trying to speak to Max, who is always off in her own world or drunk, according to him. When he does not get the opportunity to speak to her in the garden one day, he decides to talk to her, when she, Kal and Helen the doctor, has gone off to a hotel for a spa weekend. Why he has to talk to her is beyond me. Why her of all people? Because otherwise the storyline will not hold up!

This is when the story has had it for me. Suddenly the author says that Max has been to St. Mary’s for five years. How is that possible when the training only takes a couple of months and she has just qualified? And she puts on a gold dress and goes to this hotel, letting us the readers know and understand that usually people at St. Mary’s never set their feet outside their place of work. That is not normal nor believable. It is not normal to not know who the prime minister is in your country, whether you are a historian or not. On the contrary we are very well aware that while we are studying the past, today will also be the past one day, so we pay extra attention to current events.

Chief Farrel gets to talk to Max finally, in her room, when she is drunk as usual and thinking that they are going to have sex. He tells her that he is from the future and so is Dr. Bairstow. But Bairstow came back in time before him, to found St. Mary’s and has aged of course. Chief was married and had two sons and a mother in the future, but his wife abandoned him and an influenza killing everyone under the age of 20 and above 50, or was it 60, killed his sons and mother on the same day. He started drinking but was saved by starting to work at St. Mary’s. But that St. Mary’s is a totally different institution, going back in time for profit instead of knowledge. Voldemort or Clive Ronan, from that time, has stolen two pods and killed historians from Max’s time. That is why the Chief has come back, to try to prevent the future from becoming the way it has. Weird.

Sussman and Max jump back to the Cretaceous period and suddenly 74 days have passed there, without a word about those days. They only have about two weeks left of their mission and is going to go exploring the North Valley, which they have avoided up to then. This is when she is woken up by Sussman standing naked above her with an enormous erection and eyes intent on rape. Superwoman to the action. She disables him and gets him out of their living pod, putting a voice lock on it. And she decides to keep everything businesslike from then on. What was it before? Walking off towards the valley, she gets struck by something from behind and tumbles down a hill, getting trapped under a tree trunk. She hears raptors and stay as quiet as she can, till she knows the danger is over. Upon getting back to where she fell, she finds Sussman’s foot and shoe and lots of blood. He is gone. Dinosaur snack. But does she go back to her own time? No, she coldly finishes the mission.

When she gets back, she gets to see how Sussman filmed the attempted rape. And when she is alone, Chief shows her that it was Sussman who hit her on the back, so that she fell. And after she fell, lots of people arrived on-screen, arguing with Sussman. Arguing and then killing him. Basically. Sussman had for some reason been paid to kill Max and take her back to St. Mary’s, in order to put a stop to their non-profit missions. But he had tried to rape her and hurt her instead, since he had hated her from day one, being jealous of her being a superwoman. The person mortally wounding Sussman, in the Cretaceous period, was Clive Ronan, from the future. And Max starts suspecting that Sussman was on his pay roll already during the WWI mission, when Sussman sent her to the linen storage. He was after all surprised to see her alive.

But Ronan is the real villain and he makes no sense. According to Chief, Bairstow, Ronan and this woman Annie, were a dream team in the future. Till Annie went back to James VI  and Annie was tortured because people suspected her of witchcraft. When Bairstow and Ronan arrived to save her, it was evident she was ill with something and while Bairstow wanted to treat her in the pod, Ronan pushed him out of the pod, shot him and abandoned him in the time of James VI. A search time went back for him, even though Ronan had said he was dead. Annie on the other side, was growing worse in sick bay and Ronan was getting in trouble for breaching protocol, so he took the very ill Annie, to escape in a pod. In the shooting which ensued, she was killed and he set out on a career of crime and murder. Now this storyline brought nothing to the book. It does not make any sense. Nor was it needed. It just makes it in to a bad sci-fi soap opera. Because from then on the book goes down hill, Ronan appearing everywhere to hurt and get revenge.

And not just that. The department puts together a spectacular hologram show for the University of Thirsk, who paid for the dinosaur expedition. The show is a success and it seems like St. Mary’s now will survive even though it has had a difficult time to make ends meet. It was fun to read what was shown in the “film” but when Max and Chief is on their way home in Bairstow’s Bentley, they crash. And here the book reaches a real low. On the main road, they have what I would call crude sex on the bonnet of the car. No other cars passing by? Is this typical British behaviour or a wishful dream of Taylor’s? And Max has no problems with Chief calling her Lucy, at the heat of the moment? Honestly! But Taylor’s sexual fantasies do not end here I’m afraid and maybe that is why this book series have become such a hit? I guess a lot of dirty minded women out there enjoy the thought of being 35 and having a silent, handsome, muscular man of 40, having sex with them six times in a couple of hours. On the bonnet of a car, against a pod wall, against a tree, in the shower…. Taylor obviously have not realized that this is physically impossible for anyone but a teenage boy. A man in his 40s does not have that stamina or physical apparatus unless he has swallowed an entire bottle of Viagra. And I am sorry, it just makes the book in to trash and made me end up giving it two stars on goodreads. There is too much crap in this book to give it more! To use the author’s vocabulary. No, she would have said worse things actually!!!!

Back from their sexual frenzy in a prehistorical setting Chief usually goes to, to be alone, they fall in to a party where the different departments fight over which is most important. After a brawl with the rest of them, Max tells Dieter, Chief’s colleague, that he can come with her back to the Cretaceous, to gather some last … what? Why go back? Because otherwise the book would be finished here! So they go back and they find a circus in the North Valley. Captured dinosaurs with targets painted on them, tourists to shoot them, the missing pods plus a strange big pod, pop music blaring out of speakers. They get back to tell the rest of the staff and now a big plan is concocted where basically everyone at St. Mary’s will be involved. They have to get Ronan scared.  They will go with all available pods, turn off the electricity and storm the camp or circus site. But things go wrong since when they cut off the power, all the dinosaurs get out of their cages.

The mission goes pear-shaped and another enemy of Max’s, sees her chance to get rid of Max. Isabella Barclay of the IT department, claims that the four people who should have come back with her, in her pod: Chief, Guthrie, Markham and historian Peterson, are dead. She refuses to send a rescue team and she takes over St. Mary’s, since Bairstow is on sick leave, having got hurt on the mission. Max is thrown out of St. Mary’s without pay, without references, with basically only the clothes she is wearing at the moment. She walks to the nearest town, where she just stays for four months, not working, not eating, living in a flat full of mold. She miscarries a baby she did not know she was expecting and lives with a chest infection. This is when Mrs. De Winter finds her, feeds her and together with Bairstow, they steal Chief Farrell’s cloaked pod. Superwoman Max who has anemia from the miscarriage, is undernourished and with a chest infection, goes back to the Cretaceous period and rescues the four stranded men. She saves their lives, by letting a T-Rex chase her all over a forest. Taylor, one word of advise. When a person has anemia they can not run. I have it myself and can not even walk up the stairs in my own house. I have also gone through three miscarriages and you are not up to any running what so ever for at least eight weeks. But Max can do everything. Anemia, blood loss and chest infection, at the same time and being malnourished, she can plan missions, run like the wind and you name it. This is not nice to read! It just makes you gag!

But it gets worse. They get back to St. Mary’s and take charge of the place again, humiliating Barclay and sending her packing. Max is told to not drink, that she needs weeks of rest and convalescence to recover from all the above ailments. Yet, the same night, she drinks herself into a stupor with Peterson, both intending to quit the place, after Chief has called her a slut for obviously having got pregnant with someone else, but him. Her having refused to tell him about the miscarriage and everything else she has been through and him getting it all wrong through the grape-vine. I know, do not blame me. Author!

In Max’s drunken state and being at death’s door, with all the physical illnesses added, she suddenly is superwoman again. She is sober in seconds and works out a plan how they can save St. Mary’s. In the morning she presents it and I do not see how what she plans on doing, is so much better than what Ronan is doing. They are going to rescue items that were destroyed in the past. Like the library in Alexandria. Suddenly she is not ill at all and the doctors who prescribed bedrest seem to have amnesia, because they plan for the mission, alongside her. And off they go to a burning library. They save as many scrolls as they can and take them to some caves where they will put them in urns, which an archeological team from the University of Thirsk will find, in the future, having been tipped off by St. Mary’s as to where to go searching. Only Ronan arrives with his gangsters and a shoot out takes place where valuable people get killed. Suddenly they are all gun slingers. But I guess Historians can do anything and everything. Where have I gone wrong?

Ronan steals the specially designed pod that Chief had designed and built for the mission, and it is the pod that they saw in the Cretaceous time. The one that got destroyed there. The book ends with Bairstow having paid Shakespeare to write a final play and having buried it so they could find it, at St. Mary’s, in their own time. How exactly is this different from what Ronan is doing? History travel to make a profit. I would say that it is Max that creates the horrible future Chief wants to prevent at St. Mary’s, with her plans to go back and save things from destruction. Altering history. And for Bairstow and Chief to not to see this?

I will not read any more books in this series since I hate series. And I hate how Taylor repeats “Historians are like this” over and over and over in the book. Making us sound like we are another species entirely from the rest of humanity! It makes me as upset as when Isobel (in Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club) in book after book drags up the fact that Jamie is so much younger than her and so beautiful and why is he content with her. You just get sick and tired of hearing things over and over again. Move on for heaven’s sake. I also hated the sex scenes described and Max’s Superwoman powers, which no human possesses. What could have been an interesting trail through time, the historians meeting interesting people, having perhaps a difficult time to get home, getting too much involved in history, would have been interesting. But not the direction that this book ended up taking!

 

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