Echo Cycle

By Patrick Edwards

Echo Cycle, a novel by Patrick Edwards
Book details

Above all genres, science fiction is my favourite. Why? Because anything can happen. You can have epic space battles between alien races you cannot pronounce or go in the other direction and create a subtle alternative reality where words have the power to kill. Ideas run the entire gamete and they can be as crazy as a bag full of frogs. How about a time travel adventure that flips between post Brexit Europe and the age of Nero? This could only happen in science fiction and it works wonderfully.

Winston Monk does not fit into the future Britain, for one thing he loves Europe and another, he thinks he may be gay. In this dystopian vision of a Brexit Britain such ‘abnormalities’ are not allowed. After a disastrous school trip to Rome, Winston finds himself on the run. He travels further than he could ever have imagined when he falls down a pit only to wake up in 68CE and the reign of Nero. Follow Winston in the past and his former school pal Lindon Banks in the future. Will these two tales entwine?

Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards is a book with a prime WTF concept at its centre. Combining a future dystopia with historic Rome should not work, but Edwards ensures that it does. The book is part science fiction and part historic fiction. It is just that the historic element happen to star a character from the future – another form of science fiction then I guess.

I have wracked my brains to try and come up with the allegory in using the two time periods. Is Edwards suggesting that post-Brexit Britain will be akin to that of Antient Rome? I am not convinced and instead just think that it is meant to be two interesting time periods that can be explored. The key to Echo working is to make sure that both time periods are equally entertaining.

The year of the four Caesars is safe ground. It proved to be one of the most turbulent in all of Roman history and has been written about many times. Throwing a contemporary child into the mix adds flavour, but essentially this is a Roman tale like many others. Death, war, slavery, gladiators and redemption. At one point Winston evokes the film Gladiator and this 68CE storyline feels similar to that as Winston is thrown into several iconic Roman situations. As a fan of the historic genre and Rome in particular, nothing in this section felt particularly new to me, but it was great fun. Edwards was able to play with the reader’s emotions by having several cliff-hangers.

This is because the book jumps between 68CE and 2070CE. At the points of highest tension, we are transported back to the other tale. Although he does not feel as big a part of the story as Winston, it is Lindon’s tale that has the freshest ideas. This is a Brexit Britain for the Black Mirror Universe were everything that could go wrong does. The fascist fears that some hold have come to fruition and Little Britain has become Tiny England as the Scots have been walled off, Wales has rebelled, and the North is in riots.

The way that the slobbish English interact with the futuristic Eurozone can be a little heavy handed, but it is great as a thought experiment to think what could go wrong. Great science fiction often uses the future to explore the present. I would like to think that things will not go as badly as Edwards vision, but the bleak tone does lead to heightened tensions.

For large parts of book, the two main characters are kept apart, but there is a sense of closure as the stories begin to merge. Both 68CE and 2070CE are the past for the protagonists telling the story, therefore it makes sense that they should gravitate towards one another. Who else arrives is more of a surprise and leads to an entertaining ending.

I honestly cannot say why Edwards decided to link two such different time periods, but the book works. I may not be able to see a parallel between the stories, but what I could see was two entertaining narratives that captured the reader. Echo is not quite like anything else I have read and that makes the book a recommended read for those who prefer their speculative fiction from left of field. Where else will you get a bleak look at a Brexit Britain alongside a no punches pulled glimpse of Antient Rome?   

Written on 10th March 2020 by .

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