New inventions inspire wonder, at least up until the point where they become commodities. In Robert Dickinson’s The Tourist, this even extends to time travel, which people from a far-flung future use to return to the 21st century, eager to sample the delights of a bygone age.
As with any industry, what is leisure for some is merely business to those tasked with making sure that everything goes smoothly, which is where we find our protagonist ‘Tunnel Boy’, as one of those tasked with making sure the time-travelling sightseers don’t wonder off and cause an incident – a task made easier by the foreknowledge of the past making people aware of any such events. So when somebody does go missing, things take a turn for the topsy-turvy.
The Tourist draws its inspiration from various areas of classic science fiction – from the constant references to a far-off NEE (Near Extinction Event) evoking Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, to the future numbered cities (governed by departments like Happiness, Safety and Awareness) not-so-subtly reflecting George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four – and initially at least, it’s greater than the sum of its parts.
The story is slowly but surely teased out, intermittently dropping little details while advancing the plot at a breathtaking pace. The first two thirds are among the most gripping we’ve read of any sci-fi fiction this year.
Unfortunately, as in most time-bending literature, the final third grinds to a halt, building out to a peak before fizzling out. All the characters remain so enigmatic and the future similarly unknowable that it’s hard to really invest anything in the emotional well-being of the leads, or be gripped by their potential fates. It doesn’t so much end as stop.
If it had carried on as it had begun, it would have a higher score. As it is, it falls short.