Expectations for a writer’s first published novel aren’t normally high. Unless there is strong advanced publicity or recognition of who the individual is within the genre or writing circles in general, then many new works sneak under the radar. It is of course understandable, a writer’s first published novel is a step toward being a better writer and not a finishing point. As such the work isn’t going to be flawless, quite the opposite. But what sometimes make a writer’s first novel worth reading are the ideas. Ideas that established writers wouldn’t dare try for fear of losing a segment of their market share or getting a mauling by the critics.
Robert Williams first major novel The Storms of Eternity takes several of these ideas and turns them into a strange, melancholic tale of science fiction that is both thought-provoking and satisfying in it’s own right.
The Storms of Eternity is told though the eyes of four friends; Josh and Jen who are siblings, Mike who is their best friend and the black sheep of the group Reese who befriends Josh after he suffers a terrible vehicle accident. Although friends, the group is a mix of complex emotional links defined by Josh’s accident. In hopes of recreating the feelings before Josh’s accident, Mike suggests taking his father’s boat up the Alaskan coastline as he had done a year ago with Josh and Jen in happier times. On this trip however they become the victims of fate, encountering a waterspout that impossibly launches them into a series of future Earth’s that barely resemble the one they left.
From the outset Storms proves to be anything but a play-it-safe genre piece. Beginning with the terrible vehicle accident that cripples one of the characters from the waist down, William’s takes the reader through a tale that, whilst starting out seemingly as a general fiction piece, uses many of science fiction’s most intriguing questions in a story where your never quite sure of the ending. In a marketplace of predictable, over-sized, multiple-book series this is the first thing to recommend Storms.
Time travel has been a stumbling point in science fiction writing for many years and although Robert Williams does nothing to dispel this idea with his version, the explanations around which the core story depend are relatively easy to follow and don’t hinder the narrative. Time travel will always be a device for the writer to create certain events, and as long as the writer can convince the reader of the validity of this device then the story will live or die by the whole narrative and not one flawed tool. With Storms science-fiction storyline heavily dependent on time travel, it is interesting that the actual means of time travel, on the surface at least, is through the use of a natural, rather than technological, phenomena – the waterspout. Williams does attempt to explain the science behind the time travel jumps late in the novel but like the characters Reese and Josh I couldn’t understand much of it., which is how it is best left, in the background.
Each of the four main characters offer suitably different viewpoints on events and their reactions to them, although there seems to be an unnecessary need to over-explain the characters emotions and thoughts. Particularly at the start of the novel this over-explanation and use of extended internal dialogues slows the pace of the narrative to a crawl. Given the events to come, Williams would have had more than sufficient time to establish the individuality of each character through their responses to the events, without needing the first four chapters, which essentially amount to character biographies and backstory. That being said, getting to know so much about the characters so early in the novel means the reader is free to follow the story, which really starts to flow at a frenetic pace, without needing to question much of the four friends interaction with the various environments.
What Robert Williams does very well is create a fast-paced story that allows the reader enough time to gain a feel for each new world the four encounter, before throwing them forward to the next. Each version of Earth is distinctive and different, the description of each is well written without hindering the, at times, break neck speed of events. More over, each incarnation is suitably evolved from the last to suggest that events are moving forward and for the reader to believe that significant periods of time have passed. I think that the story should have allowed for one or two more stops in the timeline and a greater emphasis on how what the group does is affecting the timeline. This is one of the few criticisms I have, that had Williams begun the story and then added segments from the first four chapters in along the way, there probably would have been more opportunity and space to expand the scope of the novel. However this is a minor point given the already impressive array of ideas that Robert Williams has chosen to approach.
One other small grumble is the ending. The group’s enemy unfortunately turns out to be something of an under-whelming cliché’ and disappointing when considering the big build-up. I won’t spoil it because the journey there is highly enjoyable, but the ending is also a little too open-ended for my taste and as this is not a series, a touch more finality to proceedings wouldn’t have gone amiss. To answer my own criticism though I would point out, upon reflection, that an author’s first few novels often finish with the reader-pleasing ‘happily ever after’, that Storms doesn’t is another reason why it stands out and warrants purchase.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it won’t be to everyone’s taste and there are some faults which prevent it being an outstanding piece, but for those willing to invest in a work of interesting ideas and storytelling from a new author then look no further than Robert Williams’ The Storms of Eternity.
Sffworld.com’s interview with Robert Williams can be found here.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005