Full disclosure: I’m already a fan of John Birmingham, and I talk to him occasionally on Twitter; so I read A Girl in Time with some preconceptions, and more than a little positive spin on my bias.
Birmo is a big fan of manipulating both time and history in his recent fiction; his very excellent Axis of Time series (three full-length novels and three novellas) plays hard and fast with 21st Century military forces being inadvertently sent back to WWII and the massive fallout from the way those forces align with both Axis and Allies. The alt-history of The Disappearance series (I’ve only read the first one so far) is equally compelling.
He’s a great fan of the pop-culture zeitgeist, and few authors are as adept at dropping hints (and frankly, unsubtle sledgehammers) as to how strongly they have the pulse of the times. A Girl in Time is the latest take on that; we get JB’s typical dives into the vibe of the now, though they don’t quite come as thick and fast as something like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (another book I read recently – I know, late to the party).
The rollicking speed of the action recalls the work of Matthew Reilly as well, with barely a breath to be drawn between set pieces and yet another moment of danger. If we’re drawing parallels to Birmingham’s contemporaries (especially the Australians), we’re only missing parallels to Max Barry at this point.
With callbacks to the election of Donald Trump, and what that might mean in an alt-darkest timeline (or maybe this timeline is the darkest) totalitarian USA I have to wonder how long before the election he started writing, and how long after it he finished.
As a part of this rollercoaster, we also visit Victorian England and the dim, dark, dangerous world of late-1800s London, and even take a dive into Spartacus’ Roman times (I fully expected Batiatus to be described looking like John Hannah and Crixus to look like Manu Bennett).
In terms of our protagonists, Cady McCall as our flawed heroine is appealing, appropriately sardonic, driven, and whip-smart, even with her flaws that bring her close to screwing up a few times (who are we dream casting here? Liv Hewson, maybe? Emma Stone in Easy A/Zombieland snark mode?) and Titanic Smith (Jason Momoa with a shorter haircut and no beard?) is a lot of fun with his Western homespun wisdom and hard man attitude.
I’m keen for the next instalment.