PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

Time travel has always been one of the big ideas behind science fiction. Often these stories are simply some sort of elaborate wish fulfilment; a desire to undo the things that cannot be undone or just an excuse to dip into more complex fantasy. Daniel Godfrey’s New Pompeii is a more complicated proposition, but essentially it’s big dream of any historian, turned into a thriller.

The premise behind New Pompeii is quite fun. A small band of scientists have discovered a way to pull people forward in time. This means you can’t go back in the past, but you can grab someone from back in the day to ask them questions. Of course, then you’re stuck with a human being who is completely lost in the modern day. The people behind this discovery are business men first, scientists second, and have an interesting dilemma. They have the power to pull people out of the various disasters and tragedies throughout history but have no way of knowing if this is the wisest, kindest or most profitable course of action.

They then strike upon the idea of pulling out the citizens of Pompeii, moments before volcano time, into a replica of the town. They recruit historian Nick Houghton to keep things on an even keel for them, and it’s Nick’s perspective the story focuses on for the most part. Nick, for the most part, is a pretty sympathetic character. Smart enough to understand what’s going on yet not so brilliant that you can’t relate to him. Other characters are less developed, but then they don’t need to; Nick is essentially our avatar into this strange new world where the modern age clashes head-on with history. Nick’s biggest problem is that ancient Roman’s aren’t dumb and are pretty much aware that something weird has happened from day one; despite the (not so clever) lies they’ve been told.

New Pompeii is essentially a thriller that runs in three different directions. We have the conspiracy that is the big business interests behind New Pompeii, Nick’s own journey into Roman civilisation and politics, and a darker, murder mystery plot that peddles away in the background. Each strand weaves itself into the narrative, and the work is peppered with clever observations about history, as well as parallels between the Roman Empire and the modern world.

Comparisons to stories like Westworld and Jurassic Park are sort of inevitable here and aren’t entirely unfair. An exciting new talent, Godfrey has produced a solid tale of human motivations, conspiracy and a touch of super-tech that seems almost plausible. It’s clever, engaging and a lovely piece of pulp for the summer.

If you like Michael Crichton at his best, then check out Daniel Godfrey.



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