Let’s Do the Time Warp: Thomas Mullen’s The Revisionists and Other Talk

I wanted to like The Revisionists. Great premise: an agent from a dystopian future (known as the Perfect Present) is sent back in history to stop agitators from stopping events that change the course of history, such as 9-11 or the JFK assassination. In our story, the protagonist Z (pronounced as the English Zed) is sent  to protect a terrible war known as The Conflagration. This sets off my first bone with the story, so I’ll just get it out of the way: we’re told that Z has to make sure this war happens within a deadline, giving the story the urgency that a thriller needs. I mentally counted down the days as Z stayed in our present, waiting for the Conflagration to begin, or to at least start building…

And got nothing. It seems as if halfway through the book, Mullen decided that Z was really there to ensure a series of events that would sort of touch off the Conflagration. I won’t spoil it, but the steps that lead to the war in this book are flimsy. If I wanted to prevent the war, there would seem to be a dozen more likely targets in that distant somewhere future in which he set the war. This drains the story of its urgency right before the important third act. I think this decision doomed the story to a fizzle of an ending. I don’t know why he decided to do this, but it’s disappointing.

Pacing is this story’s greatest enemy, but other problems creep in, as well.

Some reviews said that the characters are indistinguishable at the front of the book. I don’t agree. They all seem to have their reasons for doing what they do, along with emotional landscapes. The problem is that almost all are entirely unlikable, such as the moronic former CIA agent Leo, who stumbles his way through the story doing selfish, stupid things and never learns from his – or others’ – suffering. I didn’t buy Z’s “redemption” either, but I think that’s partially because of another problem with the story: too many POV characters. We jump between the heads of four characters, some of which are only tenuously connected. I found myself frustrated as I settled into one POV only to be ripped into another, possibly in a different part of the story, making us catch up with events from which he cut away. In the case of Z, we never see the actual events that lead to his redemption, just a few hints when we’re in his POV.

Again, the plot had potential, but it seemed like he had trouble deciding which elements should rule: political thriller or romance? Combining the two is very tricky, but it can work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here. The romantic elements drag away the urgency as soon as they hit, and in the end the thriller elements feel sacrificed to those parts. The ending itself provides a big hint of what knocked the plot down a few pegs, as it focuses on the character at the center of the romance subplot…or plot. It’s never clear which is which.

But it’s not all bad. Good premise, at least one intriguing character, another character who has a complete arc and grows, and some interesting sci-fi elements. It desperately needed a rewrite. If you like dystopian fantasy it’s worth checking out, but with the caveat of all of the issues mentioned above.

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I didn’t set out to write back-to-back book reviews, it just sort of happened that way. That said, I am starting to enjoy this. I don’t review every book that I read, just the ones that I think either need/deserve it, or those that present some sort of object lesson, either good or bad. I don’t plan on becoming a review mill or anything like that, but if I’ve read it and it needs the reviews, then why not?

In personal writing news, Room 3 is coming along well, if slightly behind schedule. Two reasons for falling behind schedule: 1. Work schedule, and 2. Too aggressive a schedule. I may have to adjust the timeline, but we’ll see. I’m off this week, so it may come along better than I thought. I’ve set an aggressive goal of getting one chapter a day out this week, so we’ll see.

I’m also a bit burned out on marketing efforts. You know it’s a bad sign when you start getting bitter about something – yesterday I felt like setting a torch to the whole thing and just writing, period. I know that’s not the long-term answer but it might be best to take a few steps back for the next week or two. Thankfully, that should be right about the time that the book starts showing up on some other sites, as scheduled by my enthusiastic marketing self (whom I hope to retrieve in the near future).

Hope everyone had or is having a great holiday season. Well, I guess we still have New Years to go. Exciting!

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3 Comments

  1. It has been argued that writing more books is the best marketing you can do…

  2. “I’m also a bit burned out on marketing efforts. You know it’s a bad sign when you start getting bitter about something – yesterday I felt like setting a torch to the whole thing and just writing, period. ”

    Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling right now with my marketing efforts for Drift. The first two weeks were good but now the sales are dead in their tracks.

    However, I sent quite a few queries for reviewers and got back about a dozen or so yeses. Hopefully that will generate buzz and sales, although even then I’ll have to wait for those reviewers to publish it. And once I’m finishing querying reviewers, it’s time for other marketing efforts. The debut novel is about building up an audience (at least in my plan), even if Drift doesn’t make its money back right away.

    The whole book business can be frustrating indeed. Because it’s a business, not a job. Nobody hands you a paycheck every week and there’s no guarantee. But hopefully with persistence it will pay off at the end.

  3. Pingback: Turn the Page: My 2011 Booklist | Shaggin the Muse

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