New Pompeii

By Daniel Godfrey

New Pompeii, a novel by Daniel Godfrey
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For many people, the leading writer of speculative fiction in the 90s and 00s was Michael Crichton who was able to marry a level of scientific reality with some outrageous ideas. A theme park full of dinosaurs, intelligent apes, nanobots that can kill? He was able to deliver on all of them in a way that appealed to not only genre fans, but the wider audience. After his untimely death the publishing world searched for their next Michael Crichton and these words adorned many a book. Plenty of authors wore the label, but few could hold the weight. New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey is one such novel and has all the trappings of science based speculative fiction, but could it handle the pressure?  

Nick Houghton is a struggling historian who specialised in Antient Rome, but his career is floundering after his academic father is accused of plagiarism. With no University willing to hire him, Nick contemplates a mysterious offer from the private firm, NovusPart. This company has managed to develop a technology that can pluck people from history and bring them to the present. This controversial action is allowed if they only take those people who are about to die and would have had no more impact on the timeline. Such people as the residents of Pompeii. Why were so few bodies found preserved in the ash, many of them had been taken to the future, but for what purpose? 

Nick’s new job is to be the historic advisor for New Pompeii, a recreation of the Antient City before it was destroyed. The difference between this re-enactment and any other is that the city is populated by the original Pompeiians who are unaware that they have moved in time. At least most of them are. The thriller element of the book comes in the rising tensions as the Romans start to sense something is wrong. Nick arrived too late to fix obvious issues such as plump chickens, orange carrots and ruined parts of the city magically rebuilt. 

Godfrey plays the arrogance of the NovusPart corporation off the arrogance of the Romans. Just because someone comes from 2000 years ago does not make them stupid. NovusPart believe in the adage that any modern technology will look like magic to the yokels, but they fail to realise that Rome was not built in a day. In fact, it took centuries and was able to dominate large parts of the world with no technology more powerful than the sword. Nick is stuck between the two camps, but as a reader you cannot help rooting a little for the Romans, even if they are a vicious bunch. 

As outlandish concepts go New Pompeii bends what is believable, but Godfrey can make it work by adding a few interesting rules to the science. Firstly, time travel is only in one direction, from the past to the present. The second is that only those about to die can be taken. This makes the book a different type of time travel book as it all flows in one direction and it is Godfrey’s exploration of this that I found the most interesting. 

This time travel element of the story runs parallel to Nick’s, and we are given glimpses into the life of a paradox – a women stuck in once place over time. It appears that NovusPart are not playing by all their own rules. Nick for instance sees others ripped out of time around him, yet he is left. Why? Those in the future require Nick to remain in the present. Does this make him essential or on a limited timeline? 

It is when Godfrey is playing with his ideas of time travel that the book really pops. The Roman elements are a side show in terms of epoch-making events as the book would still have worked had any period been chosen. The choice of Pompeii was a good one though as it allowed for a separate threat to arise. Never underestimate a Roman, especially from a city that was rough, even for the time period. New Pompeii is a fun sci-fi thriller with historic elements that plays a little loose with science, but you are happy to forgive this as you are enjoying the ride.  

Written on 12th May 2021 by .

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