Time travel can be an iffy subject. How much can you mess with the timeline and keep readers stretching their grasp on reality before it snaps? In THE REVISIONISTS, Thomas Mullen asks both the reader and his main character to do just that.
"Mullen creates a captivating theme throughout: Do the decisions we make really change anything but our own fate?"
Zed is an agent sent back to present-day Washington, DC by the Department of Historical Integrity to ensure that an event, a catastrophic event involving the death of millions of people, takes place and guarantees his society’s existence and way of life. In his timeframe, all of society’s problems have been solved --- there is no hunger or war, just a happy peace. Or that’s what the leaders in his time want him to believe. He begins questioning the need for his so-called mission, wondering if letting people die will in fact lead to the perfect society in which he lives.
Lonely, and convincing himself that it’s research, Zed begins interacting with contemporary individuals, finding that their lives and problems are not far from his own. Part of his mission is to leave as small a trace as possible of his existence. But his footprint is huge and continues to grow. There are too many openings and far too many people involved for him to walk away unnoticed. Furthermore, it seems that the Department didn’t do a very good job with his cover identity since individuals keep recognizing him. He wonders if it could be a coincidence, or if there is something mentally wrong with him. He knows he should break off all contact with the people he’s now interested in --- especially a young Washington lawyer, Tasha, reeling from the death of her brother in Iraq --- but he can’t. The circle widens; he can’t step back and soon ends up on the CIA, FBI and a covert intelligence group’s radar.
Mullen plays with the concepts of history and time, making for one confusing story, but not in a bad way. In a few areas, I had no idea why things were happening, and while some things are tied up neatly, I was left wondering where all this was going. But wasn’t that the point? This is a book about a time traveler with questions about his future and how the past plays into it, but he has no real answers because he doesn’t understand the implications of his mission any more than you do. Mullen plays with you; he dangles clues in front of you and doesn’t give you the answers you want. From the perspective of the time traveler, Zed, it’s brilliantly done. You agonize over his questions with no answers or solutions forthcoming.
Zed’s mission involves stopping people from the future (he calls them hags) who are trying to impede the great conflagration from taking place and hopefully save lives in the process. He wrestles with whether or not it’s right to let these people die so individuals in his time can live as they do. But he also wonders about his time and if it’s as truly perfect as he’s been led to believe. Has he been lied to? Zed can’t forget the questions he has, and this uncertainty takes a toll on him mentally and physically. Every character in the book struggles with right and wrong and where those lines intersect. While there’s no predicting how someone will react, or what will actually happen if someone who was supposed to die lives, Zed starts taking chances. It’s interesting to see where it leads him and several of the characters.
Mullen creates a captivating theme throughout: Do the decisions we make really change anything but our own fate? What you’ll find is that there are no answers, but an interesting story full of questions along the way.