Metachronopolis Triple Feature!
Posted by Pierce T. Oka
Obscure midlist author extraordinaire John C. Wright, who has a talent for mashing together sub-genres I love, has written another tale of Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time. I am a big fan of Wright’s previous two Metachronopolis yarns, and after reading the preview chapter of Wright’s latest story eagerly anticipate it’s publication. But, it seems, it may take a miracle for Suicide in Metachronopolis to to see the light of print, and so I urge you to respond to Wright’s call for prayers, wishes, good vibes, etc. Take a look at the preview chapter as well; it features one of the Helenne of Troy, a Phillip Marlowe-esque time traveler, and the newest entry into my Scariest Time Travel Monsters hall of fame: the Tin Woodman!
Also, consider getting a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 1 & 3, which feature other tales of Metachronopolis as part of excellent collections of time travel short stories. Capsule reviews after the jump.
UPDATE: Both works, plus Suicide in Metachronopolis (now “The Plural Helen of Troy”) and several other time travel stories by Wright are now available in the anthology City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis.
Capsule Review: Choosers of the Slain (Clockwork Phoenix 1)
On the surface, this story is a scene of hard military sci-fi intruded upon by a time traveler from the future, and on this level it works very nicely. There is some very cool military hardware which bears much resemblance to that found in Wright’s Count to a Trillion, leading me to believe ‘Choosers of the Slain’ takes place in an earlier age of Trillion, and the traveler’s description of Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time, is poetic and intriguing. What moves the story from an enjoyable read to a great piece of fiction is that Wright’s tale grapples with a question that has been asked ever since the era of courtly love : are all other things worth sacrificing for the sake of romantic love? Do you sacrifice country? Do you sacrifice duty? Wright does not leave the reader with an indecisive answer, and proudly plants his flag in the ground. Where? That would be telling. Also very cool is the appearance of one the eponymous entities in two distinct forms, one from antiquity and one from futurity; be sure to keep an eye out for both of her.
Capsule Review: Murder in Metachronopolis (Clockwork Phoenix 3)
In Wright’s second story, the audience gets to see Metachronopolis proper through the eyes of Jack Frontino, Time Patrolman turned private investigator. Frontino’s position as Time Patrolman allows Wright to make his hardboiled detective schtick more than just an affectation by the character or a stylistic homage to the likes of Blade Runner: Frontino is a 30’s detective, or was, before he got involved in time travel, which is achieved in Metachronopolis through the use of crystal destiny cards, similar to the Trumps of Amber. The story opens with Frontino called upon to investigate a future murder: his own. Actually, that depends on where you start reading the story. Wright has ingeniously crafted his story to be read in two ways: the order in which it is printed (starting with chapter 16), and numerical order (chapter 0 is on page 227).
Reading the former gives a tale rife with flashbacks, flashforwards within flashbacks, and jumps in story that give a good idea of how disorienting time travel would be to someone with a ‘hardened’ memory that allows them to remember the events of multiple timelines. Reading the latter gives a more linear (or ‘flatliner’s) view of the tale, makes certain motivations clearer, and contains some well done foreshadowing that I either missed the first time through or is not present when the story is read in printed order. Fortunately, I cannot go back, read the second order first, and compare results. Yes, fortunately.
You see, Wright’s time travel story is actually an anti-time travel story. The Masters of Time are the enemy rather than the heroes, and the Time Paradox Proctors, who carry out such deeds as preventing Hitler’s existence or the burning of the Library of Alexandria, are terrifying secret police instead of champions of goodness. Time travel itself is harmful and self-destructive: paradoxes beget paradoxes, and the Piper must be given his due. In many ways, ‘Murder’ reads as an examination of and response to Heinlein’s “—All You Zombies—“, presenting both a horrible fate that would engulf the protagonist of “Zombies” and a brighter alternative for a wiser man.
Wright’s flair for dramatic, mythic, and gee-whiz science fictional imagery is out in full force in ‘Murder’. Here we have no less than one trenchcoat-and-fedora gumshoe; a 17th century musketeer; a Heinlein-style steel gorilla of a soldier, which also allows Wright to poke fun at the ludicrous bare-headed Space Marines of Warhammer 40,000; a Time Lord armored in ice and enshrouded in mist; immense, soaring, golden towers and balconies; and a handgun that merely serves as the three-dimensional cross section of a massive weapons battery. Wright manages to make this colorful menagerie all fit in the same story without any feelings of discord or anachronism entering the tale.
‘Murder in Metachronopolis’ is an awesome mind-bender of a story, well worth the cost of Clockwork Phoenix 3 alone. To paraphrase Junot Diaz, “‘Murder in Metachronopolis’ is a Murder Mystery turned Time Travel tale turned Choose-you-own-adventure turned causality parable….It’s a kaleidoscopic mash-up and yet despite all this whirl of disparate influences the damn thing holds together.”