A Scientific Romance

{4.5/5} “One suspects that the future isn’t what it used to be; that I’m more likely to land in Bognor than in Bora Bora. We’ve been living a long time on nature’s savings, and there are signs her bank account is overdrawn. It seems to me that if I go ahead a few decades, or even generations, I run the risk of landing in a mess. So I’ve made up my mind to follow Tania’s clue to the middle of the new millenium. Five hundred years — long enough for a new dispensation; and why be hanged for a lamb?”

A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright, published in 1997

The term “scientific romance” is what science fiction used to be called before the term “science fiction” was invented. Today it typically refers to works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as those of H. G. Wells.

In A Scientific Romance it turns out that H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, is acquainted with an actual time machine. Wells is skeptical, but nevertheless leaves a letter to be opened in 1999, when the time traveller (his mistress) is supposed to return. The letter is placed in the hands of the narrator, David, in 1999 — and he decides to see what the future has in store.

David starts out from London, England so that’s where he is when he gets to the future. But there’s been an apocalypse of some sort — buildings are in ruins and there are no people anywhere to be found. His only semi-regular companion is a puma. He goes exploring through England and Scotland, visiting many places he’s been before, finding tantalizing hints about what happened to civilization. David was an archaeologist, so he’s well suited to deciphering clues about the past.

While David is in the future he philosophizes about the destiny of humans on Earth. He also thinks about the past, in particular his relationships with Anita (his former lover) and Bird (his friend who was also Anita’s former lover). I was a bit impatient with the flashbacks. Unlike the flashbacks in Raising Hope, which are brilliant, here the flashbacks aren’t quite as interesting as the main story.

The plot doesn’t really have much that’s new, but the writing style and the interesting details make it a book worth reading. My new favourite quotation: “If a dinosaur can become a hummingbird, all things are possible.”

There were a lot of references to things like poems and Shakespeare — a few too many for my taste. You’ll get a bit more out of the book if you have some knowledge of poetry, British geography, and British phrases (for example, I had to look up “why be hanged for a lamb?” which ends the quotation above).

Wright was born in Britain and is now Canadian. This was his first novel. He’s also written nonfiction, including Stolen Continents and A Short History of Progress.

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