Saturday, January 16, 2021

No Enemy But Time

Michael Bishop
Completed 1/16/2021, Reviewed 1/16/2021
5 stars 

I hadn’t heard of Michael Bishop until I read Unicorn Mountain for my LGBTQ challenge.  That book was nominated for a Lambda Award and won the Mythopoeic Award.  No Enemy But Time won the Nebula in 1982 and was nominated for a few others.  From these two books, I have to say that Bishop is a terrific writer and should be more well known and discussed than he is.  I had a little trouble getting into the premise of this book, but quickly became captivated by the imagination, detail, and word-smithing.  By about a quarter of the way through it, I completely bought into the premise and had a deep connection with the main character.

Joshua Kampa is the illegitimate son of an African-American serviceman stationed in Spain and a young, mute, illiterate prostitute.  The woman, who cannot communicate in any way, takes her toddler to an air force base and leaves him with some teenage girls.  A woman and her airman husband stationed there adopt him.  They call him John-John.  He doesn’t communicate until he’s about five.  However, the child has dreams about the Africa of two million years ago.  The family returns to the U.S. and except for the dreams, eventually grows up normally.  However, at age sixteen, he runs away from home and changes his name.  At the age of 19, because of his dreams, he gets recruited to participate in a military experiment that would send him back to Africa of 2 million years ago via a time travel device.  The goal is to figure out if a fossil recently found is a true ancestor of modern humans, and to see if Joshua’s dreams are accurate.

The book is written in alternating chapters, with one line being Joshua’s journey to the prehistoric past.  The other tells the story of Joshua (John-John)’s life up to that point.  Joshua is the narrator of his journey to the past.  The other narrator is third person omniscient.  Both tell extremely interesting tales.  Joshua may be an unreliable narrator, but when he’s accepted into a tribe of Homo habilis proto-humans, it’s exciting, engrossing, and believable.  The question of what really happened on his journey back in time is taken up when he returns as well, because of discrepancies that can only be explained by time dilation.  He brings back proof but even that is questioned.  To tell more would be a spoiler, so I’ll avoid that.  I’ll just say that I loved the character and rooted for him all the way to the end.  There are other characters that are well drawn, including his mother, his sister, and some of the scientists on the time travel project.  They’re all pretty believable, with good situations and dialogue, but it’s Joshua who I really loved.

The prose is awesome.  I loved reading it, despite my copy having a tiny font that gave my reading glasses an intense workout.  Each chapter was just long enough to get points and plot across without being too drawn out or so short that they jumbled the points of view.  The setting of the Pleistocene Era was outstandingly written.  I felt like I was with him on the savannah with his tribe.  And although he names all the members of the tribe early on, all dozen or so, I didn’t get them confused, which is quite a feat for me.

I give this book five stars out of five because I thought it was excellent, and I became very emotionally attached to the main character.  I leaked a few tears one of his tribe died, and my heart raced when they were faced with a volcanic eruption.  But mostly, it was the deep connection to the main character that pushed me over to the five-star rating.  I think at this point, I’d read just about anything by Michael Bishop.  I think he is one I’m going to have to explore more in the near future. 



1 comment:

  1. i am pretty sure i read this book a number of years ago, guess i will have to re visit it.