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Review: Falling into History by Peter Fleming

A man, a woman, and a talking Martian plant walk into a bar…

OK, that doesn’t exactly happen in Falling into History—among other things, the plant doesn’t walk; it glides. However, Peter Fleming’s time-traveling tale is about a sentient, super-powered plant transporting itself and two human companions through time and space, and an eighteenth-century London pub is one of the stops in the book.

The story is a sequel to Fleming’s Falling to Destiny. The plant, named Hymoliga Eight, travels with Kim Hawthorne, a “space ethicist” from the near future, and narrator Ishmael Starbuck, an oft-befuddled, amnesiac Australian everyman from our time. The traveling trio deals with a variety of ethical issues while interacting with actual historical characters.

If that sounds like a Douglas Adams novel crossed with the early ‘90s TV show Quantum Leap and aspects of the Bill and Ted movies—well, that’s about right (although the tale shares elements with many time-traveling stories). A key difference is that History doesn’t seem terribly concerned with action or having an engaging overall storyline. Its vignettes don’t really jell into a complete story. As a result, it might more accurately be titled Time Travelers Chatting about Philosophy and Ethics.

Fleming’s writing is sharp and effectively satirical in places, and he comes up with some intriguing twists on how time travel affects reality, even down to the existence of the Starbuck-penned manuscript that supposedly became this very story. However, the tone simply seems too dry and academic for this type of narrative, and the resolution to an important climactic scene seems overly “clever”; it’s a bit unsatisfying in a book that’s too buttoned-up in the first place.

Fleming promises a third novel with these characters. Hopefully, the next one will balance the social commentary with a little more fun and a more structured adventure.