Depending how your festive period went and perhaps how much liquid lubrication was involved in your Hogmanay celebrations; time travel may sound like a good idea. However, changing even a small event can have serious unforeseen consequences, so what would be the effect of saving the Titanic? This is the premise for the “The company of the dead” an alternative history novel of around 750 pages, by David Kowalski.
As this book features time travel and a number of “twists” I have done my best to write a review that does not spoil the book, at the expense of glossing over a few interesting events/thoughts.
I should say at the start that although the Titanic and her voyage does feature in this hefty novel, the majority of the story is not set onboard. Indeed, without giving anything away, as indicated on the back of the book, the majority of the story is set in a alternative world with the rival Imperial German and Japanese empires controlling the globe.
How could this be? Well the much loved “butterfly effect” in the company of the dead is the consequences of stopping the Titanic from sinking on that fateful day, resulting in the United States not entering World War One, and as a consequence the United States not remaining united. Indeed not only is there no United States, America is occupied by the Germans on the East Coast and by the Japanese on the West Coast. So does this world without the Cold War (or indeed World War Two) result in a utopia? Well let’s just say both sides have invented atomics, and empires regardless of nationality have a certain predilection.
Throughout this novel we follow the adventures of Joseph Kennedy (grand-nephew to John F. Kennedy), although David Kowalski does manage to hold together a number of different story lines with different protagonists, you are never entirely sure, whose story it really is. I also feel that Dr. Kowalski realised this and a number of story lines (characters) are “cleaned up” in a number of quite quick and convenient events. I should add that these are all certainly believable and have not strayed into the realms of complete fantasy (you know what I mean) to achieve this.
I did enjoy reading about the alternative world created in the company of the dead, and how with the outcome of wars changed life could have taken a very different route for all of us. However I also felt a little bit disappointed that although this was enjoyable (and the majority of the novel), the adventure within this period was just a sideline to the time travel angle, which I would have been quite happy to read more about. Indeed David Kowalski clearly has some clever thoughts on the consequences of time travel, including predestination and bootstrap paradoxes (thanks to Wikipedia for the correct terminology) on the psyche of those involved, both directly and indirectly, and indeed on time itself…
So in summary “The company of the dead” is largely a thriller set in an alternate history/world that has diverged significantly from our own. We follow a group of individuals, in a well-written and intelligent adventure, who are united through the ——– redacted due to possible spoiler ——-, and time travel (featuring, but not about the Titanic) and the consequences and paradoxes involved in time travel.
So if you were planning a spot of time travel in 2013, this book may be worth a read, the grass is not always greener on the other side and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Oh well, two days in and my New Years resolution about using clichés is already out the window, sigh.
Review by guest reviewer Dave. Book was provided for the purposes of review. Company of the Dead, £8.99, Titan Books by David J. Kowalski.