Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thomas Mullen: The Revisionists

When I first picked up Thomas Mullen's The Revisionists, I thought it was going to be a traditional Time Patrol novel.  Some agency in the future sends operatives back into the past to either capture criminals who have gone back to use their superior technology to commit various crimes or to prevent those who would like to prevent certain events from taking place or perhaps to bring about a different future. For example, one might attempt to prevent the holocaust by assassinating Hitler long before he ruled Germany.  The agency then would attempt to prevent the assassination because of the fear that this would change the future, even though it meant allowing the deaths of millions of people during WWII.   Preventing WWII  might make for a better future, but it could also bring about one that was worse: averting WWII in the 1940s might bring about a nuclear war in the 50s.

Thomas Mullen gives us this, but he also does something more.  Normally, the focus would be on the Time Agent's attempts to either prevent something that would happen or to make sure that something did happen, so as to ensure that the future remains unchanged.  In this novel, Zed (or Troy Jones, his false contemporary identity) is sent back to counter the efforts of the hags, or historical agitators.  These people, from Zed's own time, are dissidents who believe the government is a dictatorship and go back into time to prevent events from happening which would lead to the years of warfare that would eventually bring the future world-wide government to power.

While this all sounds very typical, it is only part of the story.  Mullen not only follows the Agent, but he also introduces several plot threads which all eventually, and logically,  come together at the end.  It is a tangled plot which seemingly involves the FBI, the CIA, Enhanced Awareness (a company that creates and sells advanced surveillance technology to anybody), various whistle blowers (one from a law firm and another from the CIA), and a young Indonesian woman who somehow manages to become a domestic slave to a South Korean diplomat living in the US.

The tale is closer to being an espionage thriller than a typical time travel novel, especially if one ignores the "Z" chapters which focus on Zed's activities as he strives make sense of what has become a very confusing situation.  He must now contend not only with the hags but also with various contemp (Zed's term for the people of the time he now inhabits)  forces, all of whom seem determined to stop him.  Along with Zed's problems, the various contemp heroes and heroines (Leo, Tasha and Sari) all find themselves being confronted by various strangers, all of whom carry badges from one or more agencies--some governmental, some quasi-governmental and claiming to be working for a governmental agency, and some who seem to be thugs really to kill somebody or anybody for some inexplicable reason, at first anyway.

To add to the general confusion, Zed encounters a fellow Agent, who has also been assigned the same task, which is something that normally never happens.  In addition, when they compare notes, they find that each has been given only partial information about the present situation, again something very odd.  To complicate matters even further, the fellow agent expresses some doubts about their mission and their government.

Zed is a complex character, or at least, he becomes one, as he moves from total acceptance that the world he comes from is the best of all possible worlds (or so he is frequently told by the government, so frequently I began to suspect propaganda rather than a factual appraisal)  to confusion, and then to doubts about the government, his role, and even his identity, especially as he gradually loses most of the special technology that allows him to function in ways superior to the contemp forces.

Is he really an agent from the future or is he psychotic and reinterpreting his past to fit in with his delusions?  Troy Jones was a real person whose short life actually resembled Zed's life, including the loss of his wife and children.  Zed also only needed minor plastic surgery to make him resemble Troy.     This is why Zed was given this identity.  Since his superior technology no longer works, Zed really has nothing to prove that he really comes from the future.  I think P. K. Dick would be very happy at this point.

Overall Comments:  I'm going to take a close look at other works by Thomas Mullen, as his writing style (clear and striaghtforward), characterization, and plot construction  really impress me.


  1. I do like time-travel books, Fred. I've never heard of this author of his books so I'm glad I read your review. I'll be adding THE REVISIONISTS to my TBR list immediately and we'll see what happens as I whittle down the list to manageable status. Not any time soon, but soon. Know what I mean? I am so way behind in my reading this year.

    Have you read any of Connie Willis's time travel tales? Her time travel technology is rather specific in conccept. She has it that time itself would prevent major changes from taking place, hence the bad guys wouldn't have much mischief to make if they ever got back there. I'm not quite clear how this works, but it's either the mechanics of time or time or fate itself. Terrific stuff.

  2. Yvette,

    I know exactly what you mean. I add a book or author to my list and hope I can get to it sometime next year. (sigh)

    Mullen doesn't really tell us much at all about time travel technology. One reason is that Zed is an agent, not a scientist. Also, it would be dangerous for him as a traveler into the past and engaging in dangerous activities to know too much about the technology, or so I figure it. The contemps of course know nothing about time travel, unless they read SF.

    Yes, I've read a number of Connie Willis's works. One of my favorites is _Fire Watch_. She's rather vague about what protects past events from interference.

    In one of the novels, I vaguely remember a discussion about the issue. I think one theory was that people sometime in the far future were preventing major changes, while another theory was that, as you say, time itself was doing it. If I remember correctly, the issue wasn't resolved.

  3. I hadn't considered that Zed might not really be from the future. What an intriguing possibility!

  4. PattisPages,

    It is something to consider, isn't it? If it had been written by PK Dick, I would really be uncertain about it, but I do think Zed is from the future, probably.