Australian speculative fiction author Sean McMullen was recently nominated for a Hugo award, the granddaddy of honours in the international science fiction scene — a huge achievement for which Sean deserves much congratulations. But that’s not what this blog post is about. Today, Literary Clutter is focusing on Sean’s new book Changing Yesterday. It’s a sequel to his YA, SF, time-travel, historical, adventure novel, Before the Storm. And so I’ve asked Sean to tell us a little about this new novel…
by Sean McMullen
The setting for Changing Yesterday is 1901, and this is not a time that’s been explored much in Australian fiction. I like it because we see a combination of really old-fashioned attitudes and social values with the really early versions of what we take for granted today — like radio, cars, motorbikes, and safe international transport.
There is some back story to Changing Yesterday. Australia’s first parliament gets bombed — the roof falls in, killing most of Australia’s political leaders and some British royals. Evidence is found that links Germany to the attack, and this sets off a world war that lasts over a hundred years. When experiments are done to send nuclear weapons back through time, two idealistic cadets, Liore and Fox, decide that enough is enough. They travel back through time to stop the bombing of parliament and prevent the war. They are aided by four Melbourne teenagers from 1901, Daniel, Emily, Barry and Muriel. In the previous book, Before the Storm, they prevent the bombing and discover that Germany had nothing to do with it. A British secret society, the Lionhearts, bombed parliament to start the war and unify the British Empire.
By the beginning of Changing Yesterday, the Lionhearts are still trying to start their war, but the alliance of teenagers is falling apart. Muriel and Daniel had been dating, but she dumps him and runs off to Paris with Fox to become an artist. Daniel falls apart pretty spectacularly, so his parents send him to an English boarding school to get a bit of discipline beaten into him. While all this is going on, Barry steals Liore’s deadly plasma rifle. This is a weapon from the future that can sink a ship, so its theft is a big issue. Barry sails for England on Daniel’s ship, and plans to sell the weapon to the king. The very angry Liore goes after Barry on another ship, but the Lionhearts now know about the weapon, and are also after Barry. They think the weapon would be ideal to trigger the war between Britain and Germany, and they are right.
Most of the story happens on steam ships travelling from Melbourne to London, and this was a problem for the plotting. Imagine the flight from Melbourne to London on a 747. Now change the 747 into a floating hotel, make the trip fifty times longer, and remove the air conditioning. That’s right, the voyage was very long, seriously boring, and pretty uncomfortable in the tropics. Once I started doing some research I found that it was not quite so bad, though. The ships arranged a lot of entertainment like concerts, banquets, dances and deck games, and a lot of romance went on as well.
In Changing Yesterday I had Barry Porter, a sort of teenage criminal-in-training, traveling first class on stolen money, and because he is rather short on manners and is right into petty theft, there is a lot of scope for comedy. Daniel is almost as good value, because he is trying to pine for his lost girlfriend on a ship where there are way more girls than boys. Most of them are bored out of their brains, and the handsome and talented Daniel looks like he could be a lot of fun if he could be persuaded to forget Muriel.
When Daniel’s ship reaches Colombo, Liore and her new friend Madeline come aboard, and the story becomes a bit like the Terminator on the Titanic. Several Lionheart agents also come aboard, but Liore has more fighting skills than they ever knew, and one by one they go over the side. Meantime Barry jumped ship with the weapon back at Colombo, and is ahead of them on a tramp steamer. When the Lionhearts catch up and relieve him of Liore’s weapon, it seems that all is lost, but Liore has a cunning plan. It might sink the ship, but it would definitely end the Lionheart threat forever.
Although Changing Yesterday is an adventure that stretches halfway around the world, it is also a novel about growing up. Barry does not want to grow up, because he’s too good at being a ratty street kid. Liore was never really a child, and she is already perfect as a warrior. Madeline had to leave school to run her mother’s shop, so she has grown up already. Daniel is fifteen, but has always been held down by his parents and older sister. Putting him on a ship, alone, is his family’s biggest mistake, and over six weeks he becomes brave, resourceful and quite independent. This sort of journey is one that we all make at one time or another, and although Changing Yesterday is set in 1901, the characters still make the same mistakes as we do.
George’s bit at the end
Given the fact that I LOVED Before the Storm, I am very much looking forward to reading Changing Yesterday. In fact, it’s already sitting in my must-read-soon pile.
Changing Yesterday was released by Ford Street Publishing on 1 July. For more info about Sean and his writing, check out his website.
And tune in next time for a visit from author Tristan Bancks.
Catch ya later, George
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