The Seeds of Time, Kay Kenyon

Bantam Spectra, 1997, 513 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-553-57681-X

Metals. Petals.

The debate rages on: Should SF focus on the hardware or the software? Is Hard-SF inherently soulless? Are characters studies doomed to be scientifically laughable? Is scientific obsession the path to environmental bliss or collapse? Kay Kenyon’s first novel, The Seeds of Time, makes good use of these themes, and offers a compelling read.

Clio Finn is one of the select few able to pilot spaceships through time. The goal is nothing less than to save the Earth: All flora is dying out, and the only hope is to find another planet with compatible, resistant biology. (Other planets by time travel: As you know, solar systems move through space and time…)

Of course, a lot of things will happen to Clio between page 1 and 513. She’s not exactly the kind of meek, slavish heroine so prevalent everywhere. Nor is she an imperturbable ice queen: Brash but vulnerable, she’s one of the most engaging protagonist in recent memory.

A memorable heroine isn’t the only good thing about The Seeds of Time: The novel can boasts of a fast-moving plot enhanced by a completely readable style. Unlike other books that wander aimlessly around the main plot, this book stays focused: Events quite simply happen. Chapter after chapter, characters die, sleep together, or beat up the heroine. Or so it seems.

The future(s) described by Kenyon is depressing: In 2018, Earth is dying, extreme paranoia against AIDS (we presume) is the source of severe repression against deviant social behaviour, a Nazi-like institution rules over the United States… Experienced readers are already shaking their heads in déjà-vu, not to mention the unlikeliness of such social drastic changes in 20 years (even if stranger things have already happened.) But wait! Before long, alternate realities are brought into the plot and everyone can shake their heads, at least contended that there is a rational explanation.

The last hundred pages are unsatisfying, a case of “too much too fast”, but the ride up to then is quite a blast. Besides the heroine, most characters are sharply drawn and despite a large cast of supporting characters, no one is confused. (Although a few names are unintentionally suggestive: This reviewer couldn’t help but imagine Harlan Ellison in Ellison Brisher’s role, and Rene Russo playing the eponymous “Captain Russo” character.) There is also a fair amount of melodrama in The Seeds of Time but to Kenyon’s credit, it didn’t appear forced or too annoying.

More about the conclusion: The alternative offered to Clio seemed a bit too… radical. A compromise would have worked better on several levels, not the least of them being the metal/petal debate, which seems too sharply divided to allow for real shades of opinion. SF isn’t about easy answers… and this seemed like one.

A superior protagonist, a fast-moving plot and competent storytelling makes The Seeds of Time a good book, and an excellent first novel. Despite a few reservations, one could do worse than buy it.

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