Company of the Dead (book, David Kowalski, 2012)
From SFX #220.
Author: David Kowalski
Publisher: Titan Books
Titanic time travel troubles
Winner of two Aurealis awards when released down under back in 2007, The Company of the Dead is a subtle novel of counterfactual history.
In an alternative 2012, the world is about to be destroyed by war between the German and Japanese Empires. Joseph Kennedy, a cousin of JFK, discovers his entire reality is a should-never-have-been timeline created by the well-meaning meddling of an accidental time-traveller, and sets out to change it back.
Kowalski’s alternative Earth is lovingly crafted, inhabited by plausible characters all its own. Some historical figures are present and correct, but they are far outnumbered by original creations, refreshing in time travel SF.
This isn’t a book for everyone. Kowalski has a nice turn of phrase, but his poesy drags the pages out. The majority of the book is the story of Kennedy and his followers struggling to get to the time machine. Their adventure in time, where they return to the moment it all changed at the sinking of the Titanic, is a quarter of the story. It’s thus more akin to alt-reality thriller Fatherland than a time travel caper. For extra SF points, there’s effective use of time paradox, and the story also plays with the ephemeral nature of existence, and the possibility of a more actual version of history hiding just out of sight. It’s cruel to compare, but Philip K Dick did this more incisively in The Man In The High Castle.
A good book then, but not great.
There is a website with additional material, including an atlas and a timeline for the book’s alternative Earth here.