K A Bedford

Published by Fremantle Press (2009)

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Time Machines Repaired While U Wait is Perth writer K.A. Bedford’s fourth published novel, but it’s the first to have been published in Australia. All four of Bedford’s science fiction novels have previously been released by Edge Publications in Canada, including Time Machines, which won Australia’s Aurealis Award for Best SF Novel in 2008, and was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award in the US in 2009. Presumably this lead to Fremantle Press picking this novel up for domestic publication, which makes Time Machines something of a breakthrough novel for its author.

And it shows. This is an assured performance in a mode that reminds me a little of my great love Philip K Dick (especially in that our protagonist, Al “Spider” Webb, is a repairman) but also of authors like Robert Sheckley. The plot starts out relatively simply, with Spider picking up a dodgy used time-machine that may or may not blow up, potentially consuming the universe. There’s this thing called “the Bat Cave”, which to my mind is probably the coolest gadget in the book — it’s a sort of miniature universe for performing experiments or blowing stuff up. Turns out there’s another time machine hiding inside the first (this reminds me of an old Doctor Who episode where two spaceships get merged into one — kind of) and there’s a dead body inside. And Spider, an ex-cop with a chequered past, is itching to solve the crime.

I should mention that this must be the first SF novel, or probably first novel full stop, to mention Malaga in WA and to have it as a primary location! Having grown up predominately in Marangaroo and Greenwood, I know exactly where Malaga is and the kind of environment Bedford is imagining here. The cast of central characters is memorable, consisting mainly of Spider’s ex-wife Molly (she’s a nasty piece of work), Spider’s boss “Dickhead” McMahon, and even a receptionist by the name of Malaria. Later on, we get future incarnations of Spider himself, and that’s where the plot, such as it is, becomes virtually impossible to summarise here.

Spider lives in the year 2027 which, as it turns out, is much like our own time, only dirtier: “This wasn’t even the future he’d been promised in the early years of the twenty-first century. This was something entirely else, and he wanted to give it back, like something shopsoiled or the wrong size, and get something more to his liking. This future he was living in was too much like the past he knew so well.” (p. 198) For those of you who think widespread use of time-travel might not be that likely 17 years from now, there’s even a suggestion that time-travellers might have brought the machines *back* in time so that they could be used earlier. Or something. I’m not even going to go there with the time travel paradox stuff, and to an extent this is a policy that Bedford has adopted in his novel.

Further into the book, the scope widens into a far-future endgame involving a mysterious organisation known as Zeropoint. Turns out the head honcho of Zeropoint is none other than Dickhead McMahon, and more, his arch-enemy is Spider’s future self, “Soldier Spider”. There are these things called the Vores who are intent on eating the entire universe, but that’s all off-stage, so most of the drama really centres on the struggles between Dickhead and the various Spiders, usually over Spider’s wife Molly, who seems to turn up dead rather too often. The plot, dear reader, truly does thicken, and I won’t attempt to dissect it further.

Did I enjoy reading Time Machines? Yes I did. Did I find it uniformly enjoyable? No. To my mind, the near-future scenes were much more interesting than the far-future ones. The world of Malaga in 2027, replete with dodgy time-machines and, shall we say, “cramped” accommodation, really came alive for me. The far-future scenes, which take place on a couple of dingy spaceships, didn’t really do it for this reader. The whole thing seemed rather too dry and abstract, and thus I was glad to see that the narrative concentrated more on the near-future time toward the end of the book. There’s a sequel in the works, entitled Paradox Resolution No Extra Charge, so I’ll be on the lookout for that in the near-future to see how things turn out for our weary everyman, Al “Spider” Webb.