– J.W. Fox –
Extracted by RR Haywood was a Goodreads recommendation, getting my attention with its time travel premise. I haven’t read a time travel novel in a while. It is the first book in a time travel trilogy from a young British author who is best known for his zombie fiction. Unfortunately it suffers from issues that plague many book ones. The 400 page novel is more of a setup for the two sequels rather than a compelling story in its own right. In some parts it reads like a young adult novel, in others it has a playful, comedic Douglas Adams/Doctor Who feel to it. Either way, it suffers from a slow pace, painful dialogue, and a disappointing ending.
The book is about three individuals from three very different time periods. Ben Ryder is caught in a terrorist attack in a London Subway station in 2013. Just before the suicide bomber detonates, two mysterious men grab Ben and pull him through a blue portal. The same happens to Safa Patel, a secret service agent who is fighting off an attack on Downing Street in 2020. Mad Harry Madden is saved from freezing to death in Norwegian waters after he helped destroy a German submarine pen in 1943. The three wake up in a mysterious bunker, where their abductors inform them they’ve traveled through time. The three of them have been recruited to help save the future from an apocalyptic event that will take place towards the end of the 21st century.
Early on, the book sets a playful tone with its mysterious yet likable abductors, Malcolm and Konrad. They are meant as the comic relief, the straight men caught up in extraordinary events. Only they’ve become cynical, more annoyed with all the inconveniences of time travel. Neither they nor their boss Roland understand how the time machine works nor have much in the way of insight into the physical and philosophical ramifications. Extracted does not obsess over quantum mechanics, multiverse theory, or the grandfather paradox.
Obviously the book will not appeal to hard science fiction fans much. It seems geared toward younger, casual fans, particularly those who love Doctor Who. Unfortunately, the book just isn’t that fun. The characters spend a fair amount of time injured, drugged, and/or spewing out profanity. When they aren’t swearing at one another, they’re complete smart asses. Their supposedly witty banter was painful to read. One character answer a question literally, playing dumb to the obvious meaning and intent of the questioner. Hence, the speaker has to clarify his question three or four times until it is specific enough. It isn’t much different than talking to a grammar Nazi.
Time travel offers near endless narrative possibilities but this particular story was hampered by a flawed structure. It felt like it ended at the second act. There is a setup and rising action but the climax doesn’t provide any kind of resolution or closing of the plot. There is a fair amount of character development and the trio is an interesting dynamic but after 400 pages, they did not do much. The pace is painfully slow, spending way too much time on small events and conversations that do not seem to have much relevance to the plot.
The climax failed to impress as well. The book is supposedly about preventing an apocalyptic event in the future yet the novel mostly ignores the end of the world. The characters do very little actual time traveling, and when they do, nothing of real importance happens. The events of the bunker, limited to one point in time, drives the story.
Extracted might work as a YA novel but is probably short on the excitement and big finish needed to really satisfy younger readers. As part one of a trilogy, it fails to stand on its own. In a good trilogy, all three stories should be compelling in their own right, not having to depend on its prequel/sequel to make it interesting. The most exciting and interesting parts of the Extracted trilogy have probably been pushed off to the next two books.
It is difficult to recommend Extracted as it does not generate much interest in its sequel. Younger readers, particularly fans of Doctor Who, might like it but older readers, especially those that love hard sci-fi, should pass.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.