The Tourist (not to be confused with the book and film of the same name by Olen Steinhauer) is a story of time travel, imagining a future where people can take holidays to the past and experience the genuine 21st century in all it's glory.
There are three main tour operators offering holidays to the past and our protagonist Spens works for the least expensive. A simple excursion to a 21st century shopping mall should be just like the previous boring trips he's made for the company. A coach picks everyone up, drops them off, the time travelling tourists have a look around and perhaps buy the odd thing then it's back on the coach and a return to the holiday park. Reports suggest that on the way back there will be a minor traffic incident - no details but doesn't look like anyone hurt so this should add a bit of interest.
On return however Spen notices one of the group are missing, worst still the records don't show the woman going missing at all. Now she is a woman whose disappearance could change the world.
The book switches between the perspective of Spen and that of a future criminal who is sent back to the 21st century for reasons that don't become clear till near the end.
So how come Spens doesn't just look up records of what happens instead of running around looking for this trouble-maker? Well in between our time and when time travel is invented there is near-exctintion level event which destroys not only much of society (and presumably a lot of people) but a great deal of records that existed then too (let's hope it isn't Trump related). For a long time afterwards people were presumably too busy trying to survive than worry about recording who had done what. This obviously makes things a lot more interesting (there wouldn't be much of a story without it) and the author makes good use of the lack of knowledge.
It also raises the point that written history isn't always the same thing as fact, having been written and edited by the victors, or in the case of cataclysmic events, the survivors. As such even with no such event, knowledge of the past can be limited and while big events (like Brexit or Trump) might be documented, peoples jobs, journeys and activities not so much - although social media and a heavily surveilled state do help.
I liked the idea of tourists being able to visit the past and experience first-hand how people lived, in a safe, controlled manner. The author does a few things really well in these descriptions of the future / past. One of these is that as language is an ever-changing thing people from even just a few hundred years ahead will likely not understand us without learning the past language. The world-building is quite credible and the pacing is good, reading in style like a thriller.
The story though is quite bland, even from the viewpoint of these future terrorists little actually happens for 80% of the book - with Spens chasing ghosts as he becomes detective to try and track down this woman - all because there isn't any record of him not catching her.
Credibility-wise this is quite weak. I just can't accept that an organisation such as those carrying out large-scale time travel wouldn't have better security in place than someone who counts heads on and off a bus. To then expect such an inept individual to become a detective and hunt down someone who clearly has more experience, intelligence and ambition just doesn't ring true. Surely they would have some specialist, trained security people whose job it is to stop or fix just this issue. Are we to believe that no-one has ever thought that someone might use time travel to change the past and screw things up?
The story arc of the future criminal going into the past is drip-fed in small measures - even though this could be the more interesting arc - although things do pick up towards the end. The end however matches the rest of the story, a weak ending that doesn't really satisfy and leaves more questions than answers.
The Tourist is a promising story that doesn't live up to it's promise, it could be so much more but despite some really good ideas, like an easy jet flight without a pilot, it doesn't really go anywhere.
Written on 10th December 2018 by Ant.
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