Book Review: In Retrospect by Ellen Larson

In RetrospectIn Retrospect
Ellen Larson
Five Star, December 2013
ISBN: 9781432827335

A wildly dystopian novel set in a never land somewhere east of Europe, yet not quite in Asia. Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia. Moreover, the time frame of this emotionally rich novel is a very long way in the future. Consequently, we are treated to a great many technological changes, and some surprising stasis. Communication for example appears to be similar to current experience, by mouth, by voice, by body language, communications devices, all of which have the same kinds of limitations we all experience, even today. Interestingly one attempt by the creatures who inhabit this world to alter and control their interactions is by shield. Everyone wears a face shield. They are of different colors and shapes but what they have in common is that this world exists largely without facial expressions as a channel of communication.

Two nations, Oku and Rasaka are at war. The year is 3324. When the novel opens, an uneasy peace through domination by the Rasaka has taken place, but the civilization is devastated and a great many people have been killed in battles and through massacre.

The theoretical question that is the platform for the story is whether history can be altered and whether in so doing, the future is significantly affected. The novel follows the lives of two women, Merit Rafi, called to be a trained Select in the Oku nation. She is now resurrected to travel back in time to learn who has murdered a beloved icon of the Oku. Because Merit is now under the rule of the despised Raskans, the task is beset with increasingly agonizing political maneuvering. The other woman may be Merit’s alter ego in another time frame. When they meet briefly, things get interesting.

Addressing the theoretical underpinning of the novel, the author has constructed her story on two interspersed time lines, thereby forcing us to keep the fundamental idea at the forefront of our reading experience. I found it difficult at times to remember where in time I was. Still Merit’s early experiences inform and explain much of her present thought and action.

The novel is well-written, emotionally engaging, perhaps too much so for some, and consistent in its internal rules. That’s always important in alternative reality fiction. This is a solid effort with some surprising twists at the end, by an accomplished writer.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.