No Time like the Present

I'm a sucker for time-travel stories. Always have been, as long as I've been reading SF. So of course I had to write one of my own.

My gimmick was that individuals could not travel back into the past in their own persons. The only way was to go as a self-invited "guest" in the mind and body of someone who actually lived in the time and place being visited. The visitor had no control over events -- all he or she could do was observe.

In other words, my time visitor was very much like a detective who visits a crime scene, looks at the clues, and draws conclusions. The time visitor could no more alter what had already happened than a police investigator could change what had gone on at the scene of a crime before he got there. (Good training for writing mysteries?)

So .the solving of historical puzzles is front and center in Pillars of Salt, both factual ones and ones I made up. In the plot, a student is assigned to visit Elizabeth I at a time the queen was suffering from smallpox. To her astonishment, the student learns that Elizabeth actually died of the disease -- in 1562, not in 1603 as the history books say.

Other such anomalies begin to surface. Abraham Lincoln, Mozart, Julius Caesar -- all of them died earlier than the records say. The rest of the story is made up of the search for answers: How could these things have happened, and, more importantly, what was behind them?

Pillars of Salt has something of the same problem as An Exercise for Madmen -- it's overcrowded with incident. A certain number of side excursions into history was necessary, to establish the "world" of the novel and the ambience surrounding time-travel research. I picked events from the past that have always intrigued me, for one reason or another. And while I still find all these little side trips interesting in themselves, there are too many of them and occasionally they get in the way of the story. Eager new writer, still trying to crowd everything in.

Early in the story there's an episode about a young bride -- a very minor episode. But when an Italian-language edition of the book was published, the cover showed this voluptuous babe wearing a diaphanous gown and a wedding veil. I cringed at the thought of the Italians spending their hard-earned lire for what they thought was some nice soft porn...and ending up with little history lessons.

Review from The Pittsburgh Press:

"Ms Paul has written one of the better time-travel novels of the past several years...Paul displays not only a magnificent writing style but an amazing knowledge of history as well. She has written an outstanding novel."


N.Y.: New American Library, 1978, ISBN 0-451-08619-8
Milano: Urania/Mondadori [as Ragazza del 2051], 1980

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Page created June 28, 1995; last updated August 6, 2000.