The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

TL:DR version: If you like actual sci-fi, you’re a woman, or you dislike meta books, avoid this.

I was super excited to read this book. The back promised me time travel and Dracula and genre-bending madness!

Well, two out of three were wrong. And two outta three…ain’t…bad?

I blame my dislike of this book on three reasons:

1.) Marketing

It was marketed to make it more exciting. So is everything else. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is how a nice novel like The Map of Time ends up with a completely misleading and trashy false blurb in a place like the back of the book. I’ve come to expect this from movie trailers, and I always take the back of a book with a grain of salt, but if they had just marketed it as it was: a Victorian thriller true to the time in both style and plot, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But instead they made it seem steeped in science fiction and fantasy and that doesn’t really come into play for more than two thirds of the novel.

But, because they wanted to add some spice, they lost me. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me and wave their wordy fingers and say, “Ooh, look, I’m Dracula popping into a book otherwise about H. G. Wells and look how much I bend genres!” like the wonderful Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. Instead, I got a bogged down, “Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m Bram Stoker, the dude who wrote Dracula . I barely fit into this novel at all. All I can bend are my fingers. To type things. Because I’m Mr. Stoker. NOT MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE AN APPEARANCE AND WAS ONLY TALKED ABOUT ON THE BACK OF THE NOVEL TO SPECIFICALLY INTEREST MELISSA.”

Because I like vampires, okay?

It was like expecting to drink some water and getting a mouthful of vodka instead. They’re as different as an elephant and an elephant seal, m’kay?

And I’m totally fine with the Victorianess of it and the lengthy wordiness of it and even the unreliable narrator-y-ness of it too. I love those things. I write those things. But don’t tell me it’s going to be something completely different — DOCTOR WHO MIXED WITH DICKENS is what the back basically said to me — because then I won’t like those things. Those things will just piss me off. Give me the truth. The truth sets everyone free. Just not Tom Cruise in real life A Few Good Men.

2.) Feminist hackles.

Look. I understand that most novels are written by dudes and for dudes — wait, what? That’s comic books? The majority of readers are women? Well, THEN YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES.

The only main lady character (not that I need all of my characters to be ladies) tells me how non-matronly she is. How she doesn’t want to get married and have children solely because that is what she is supposed to do and that she feels as confined and restricted as the very corset wrapped around her body (ooh, symbolism!). Cool! I like this! Defying stereotypes and being more than just what others expect of her. I respect this!

But oh, a man from the future! Wow! She hasn’t even seen his face and she falls in love with him. Because he must — he simply must! — be different than the cads around her. And *spoiler alert* HE MANIPULATES HER INTO SLEEPING WITH HIM. And, another alert, he continues to manipulate her because otherwise, she will commit suicide because of his brutish actions.

I just…I can’t…

NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS. Yes, it’s a Victorian setting, and I have a different viewpoint about women and their roles in society than say, H. G. Wells and Stoker do, but that doesn’t mean that Palma has to continue this legacy either. I’ve read plenty of Victorian novels involving women and NONE OF THEM ACT LIKE THIS EITHER. Even Lucy in Dracula is stronger than her husband in many ways and when she stops getting his letters (because he’s skrawnking some vampire chicks and stuff) she doesn’t just off herself because she can’t survive without a man. This is unrealistic and insulting.

I don’t demand that things appeal to my sense of how women should act. There is no right way to portray women because all women are different. JUST DO NOT ACTIVELY OFFEND ME AND WE’LL BE OKAY.

The idea that a woman would commit suicide simply because someone she’s barely met doesn’t reply to her letters is outlandish at best and rather offensive to those with any sense of self-respect. It’s not just plot holes and bad (or lack of) editing at this point, it’s just plain lazy writing. A lack of talent in the field of character development is no excuse for a poorly conceived and executed second half and cannot be made up for by Palma’s otherwise intricate and well-designed plots and graceful way with words. Write your women the same way you do your men — with a well-rounded psyches, with realistic expectations and desires, with a sense of independence that doesn’t rely upon a man — and leave your stereotypes at the door.

3.) Meta-ness.

I enjoy a bit of the ol’ genre-savviness meself. I really do. But there is a point when it becomes too much.

The next paragraph will spoil the ending, so don’t read it if you want to keep the surprise, but do know that the ending is so self-referential, I almost stopped to check if it was written by the same guys who write Supernatural.

H.G. Wells gets a letter from his future self saying that if he gives his unpublished manuscript of The Invisible Man to a time-traveler who wants purportedly to help him, the (actually) evil time-traveler will attempt to kill him and the stress of almost being killed will reveal his previously unknown powers of mind time travel. (The only way people can ACTUALLY time travel in the novel is with their minds, a la The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, that’s not the only thing that is lifted directly from the Niffenegger [spell that five times fast] novel, but that’s another quip for later.) The letter goes on to explain that he has a choice: go through events and become the very man writing him that letter (meaning he will disappear from history only after his second novel) or change history and make things different (or what we known to be true in this timeline, i.e. he goes on to write many more novels like The War of the Worlds and so forth.)

Blah, blah, blah, he chooses to make his own path, as scary and unknown it is and bam! H.G. Wells is saved and history as we known it is kept sacrosanct and the world is all right. But, if he could write a novel about his experiences, it would be a lot like a novel that I just read and it would start the same way that the very one I was reading would and oh, my, fracking God, are you serious? You are referencing the very novel you are writing!

That’s not clever, that’s egoism. And unacceptable. Any suspension of disbelief on my part was then puked upon and put back onto a shelf never to be read again and kind of to be looked at in pity as a couple of dollars wasted. Which no book should ever make me feel like I wasted money on it, and yet, the previous good yet feminist-hackle-raising 600 pages almost doesn’t make up for the last mind bogglingly vainglorious two.

Three stars out of five. Infuriating, but I couldn’t help but sense that with a better editor (and a real-life knowledge about women and how they act) it could have been spectacular.

The Jade Skull

Speaking of my car, Sir Blimey, not only is he the inspiration for a great many character quirks, but he has even inspired my own superhero comic. Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN SKULL!

What, I can’t use that? That’s already a Captain America villain?

Yeah, but he’s kind of a crossover special. Surely no one will mind if I use it?

They will? But…but*…Cap can’t have a monopoly on all colored skull villains, can he?

Fine. Fine! Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN JADE SKULL!

I switched out the gear shifter in my Jeep for a green skull and then got to thinking that my car had an alter ego and went out and became a vigilante at night, all Christine style. Then, BAM. Inspiration.

Story goes that a witch lady who used to possess people a while ago got tricked into possessing a green jade skull figurine and couldn’t get out until she redeemed herself by doing deeds of good. She takes this to mean kill evil doers and proceeds to possess whatever the green jade skull is attached to. Sometimes it’s a necklace, sometimes it’s a 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ.

Backstory!**

The Green Jade Skull, back in the 70s, was attached to a walking cane of one Sir Reginald Blahblahblah (official surname in the delicate planning process) and she took care of business. This, of course, attracted the notice of the local law enforcement, who couldn’t find a link between all of the victims, other than the fact that their bodies were charred, LEAVING ONLY THEIR SKULLS, WHICH HAVE BEEN TURNED THE COLOR GREEN JADE.

Sir Reginald Blahblahblah dies and his beloved walking cane is put into a safe with the rest of his items until…

Actual story!

…it’s sold in an estate sale to one, LUCY SWEETFACE. (All I know about her is that she’s just gotten out of a divorce and is sweet. Kind of like Diane Wiest’s character in the greatest movie known to mankind, The Lost Boys.)

She takes the green jade skull off of the walking cane and puts it on her 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ because it looks cool and the Green Jade Skull comes back to life to accomplish her mission of justice! (Or maybe vengeance!)

Lucy has no idea that her car is going out at night and killing people, but again, the local law enforcement starts a-sniffing’. Enter one SGT. STEWART. (Only so named because I think of the Green Lantern Jon Stewart when picturing my cop character.) He links Lucy to the crimes and is about to arrest her, but feels there’s something missing.

What we don’t know — until we do know — is that Stewart had a run-in with the paranormal when he was a child! Oooh. Which makes him want to understand that world, which brings him to the case files of the 70s and to the shocking conclusion that it’s not a WHO, but, rather, a WHAT that has been cleaning the streets of San Francisco for him!

I mean, it’s still kinda in it’s early stages, and I really need someone to draw because my skills stopped progressing somewhere around age six, but the story is there, waiting.

*…but WE used to use soap!

**My friends and I play the Settlers of Catan card game and there’s a destiny card that gets flipped over when certain actions happen. It’s a house rule that when you flip the destiny card, you whisper the word, “dessssssstiny,” in a suitable, movie-trailer voice, way.