David Bowie time travels with Jack the Ripper in End of the Century

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Chris Roberson's latest novel proves that he's the Secret History go-to guy for the 21st century.

In End of the Century (Pyr, $15), he reveals the connections we never imagined between King Arthur and Alice in Wonderland, David Bowie and Jack the Ripper, swords and physics. To these elements, Roberson adds time travel, gaslight detection, Moorcockian extended families and temporal adventuresses, occult government research, cutting-edge scientific speculation and a sinister conspiracy that reaches to the end of time—and he braids everything together in three clever converging plots.

The first opens in a fifth-century Britain devastated by the Roman exodus and Saxon invasion. Galaad, a young man plagued by visions, persuades King Artor and his warriors to embark on a search for the glass tower of the visions. The companions find that, and a mysterious White Lady in need of rescue. But their attempt goes bizarrely awry.

In Victorian London, brilliant investigator Sandford Blank and his unofficial assistant, Miss Roxanne Bonaventure, investigate a series of brutal murders which baffle the local constabulary. Strange red-eared white hounds accompany a corpse-pale man associated with the murder scenes. And solving the murders may require finding the long-lost Holy Grail. The solution might be beyond even Blank and Bonaventure, were he not secretly in service to the mysterious entity known as Omega, and she not possessed of her own secret skill.

In the new Millennium, Texas teenager Alice Fell follows her visions to London. She seeks an impossibly shrinking gem, and finds herself pursued by red-eared white hounds and trapped in a strange glass tower. Now her only hope of rescue may be primitive Romano-British warriors and her own ingenuity.

Roberson has done an enormous amount of research. And it shows. He's suffered for his art, and now it's our turn. The early Galaad chapters contain far too many details about boot-nails and trade, government administration and abandoned architecture, when they need to cut to the quest. The initial Alice chapters also drag. Oddly, given their Victorian setting, the Blank/Bonaventure chapters move at a livelier pace. But the novel doesn't gain much traction until almost page 150, and nearly all the excellent speculative-science extrapolations are crammed into the last 50 pages.

If you're already a devotee of imaginative SF speculation, a fan of Secret History or time travel, an admirer of Holmesian detectives, a follower of Roberson's Bonaventure-Carmody series or an aficionado of Alice in Wonderland or Arthur or Victoriana or Celtic myth, you may well enjoy End of the Century. But if you're not, the book likely won't make you a convert.