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Time Past    by Maxine McArthur order for
Time Past
by Maxine McArthur
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

In her surprisingly adept first novel, Time Future, Ms. McArthur introduced Commander Alvarez Maria Halley, Commander of Earth's first and only space station, Jocasta, in 2122. It was blockaded by an alien fleet and dangerously overcrowded with refugees of many species. A mainspring of the plot was the unlikely arrival of a ship from Earth with jump-engines, which are jealously monopolised by the four senior races and forbidden to all the others.

After the climactic events which preserved the station and the death of her ex-husband (one of the H'Digh warrior race with overpowering sexual pheromones), Halley became obsessed with exposing the secrets of the jump-drive. In secret, she was able to rebuild the Earth ship and equip it with the salvaged jump-engines. She set out to test drive it and arrived only three days flight from Earth, but inexplicably could not return through the jump point, and was forced to abandon the ship after discovering that she had travelled nearly 100 years back in time to a date before the first alien contact, by the Invidi in May 2023.

She finally landed safely, though her escape pod disintegrated, and got a lift to the nearest town. This was Sydney, Australia, and, ironically, Halley found herself another helpless refugee without papers or funds in the huge tent town of homeless refugees which had sprung up around it. Her only hope of returning to her own time is to survive until she can somehow contact and obtain the help of the alien Invidi. But her time is running out; it is now April 2023, and she still has not been able to obtain a black market laser, with which she might have been able to rig up the necessary communications device.

Then Bill Murdoch, the chief of Security on the station arrives, after being sent back by An Serat, the Invidi who appears to be using them all to play his own enigmatic games. The strong mutual attraction between them remains, but Maria is haunted by the memory of her dead husband. They are finally able to return to their own time, after hijacking An Serat's vessel. The second half of the book is full of action, as An Serat links with The H'Digh terrorists and their Q'Chn, almost invincible creatures designed and dedicated to battle and killing.

In the end a surprising truth is revealed, and the station Jocasta achieves independent neutral status, for which Halley has been striving. However, the great strengths of this book, like the author's first, are the finely drawn characters and their complex reactions to the exciting and often tragic consequences of their actions. Time Past is a worthy successor to Time Future, and a welcome harbinger of good things to come.

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