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Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein

weighingThis is a book with an interesting concept but there were a few things that didn’t work for me at all.

Ann Decker is working in a tech store when she’s approached by someone who wants to recruit her for a special job. Her life isn’t too exciting, so she jumps in a van with a perfect stranger who takes her to a strange location where a group of people give her a number of invasive tests and even a naked physical examination before saying, congratulations, you’ve got the job!

As I was reading, all I could think was that Ann was clearly getting duped into some kind of sex trafficking ring. But no, she’s actually given the opportunity to jump around in time, explore history, and make subtle changes that will improve how the world turns out.

If you’re thinking this plot sounds awfully familiar, you might be thinking of Time and Again, which I read just a month or two ago. The first few chapters of this book were very, very similar (for example, in both books the time travelers get free lunch in the cafeteria). Only Time and Again felt more realistic in subtle ways, because our hero in Time and Again shows a lot more caution with this strange new job than Ann does.

The history/time travel parts are fun, and I loved reading about ancient Egypt and medieval Carcassonne, but I had some  problems with the way this book was written. I was bothered by the heavy-handedness of lines like “She felt a strange lightness building under her breastbone. It took her a while to figure out what it was, and then she realized: it was happiness.” Also, the dialogue is all written in a completely modern, casual tone. For example, in the thirteenth century one of the guards at Carcassonne says “It isn’t a good time, to be honest.” Sure, the travelers are schooled in whatever language they need to use and supposedly they learn about the cultures they are visiting as well, but that’s done by magic pill rather than months of training. And finally, I’m not a big fan of when science fiction writers change one or two words to make their language sound futuristic. In this book, “place” is replaced by “tace” (time and place) and “there” is replaced by “thern” (there and then). I just find it a distracting device.

More interestingly, the Company uses computer algorithms to test which small changes will have positive results (the meaning of the term “weighing shadows”). Only they expect the time travelers to follow orders without questioning their rationale.  Ann starts to question and who wouldn’t? This is a company of time travelers from the future who have decided they know what’s best for the world but won’t explain how they make their decisions. Ann meets a fellow traveler who claims that the Company is trying to subvert ancient matriarchal cultures in favor of patriarchal cultures, so that men will be more dominant throughout history.

It’s a fascinating idea although it feels a little one-sided in suggesting that all matriarchal cultures are good (less war and no one goes hungry) and all patriarchal cultures are bad.

Once I got into the story, it was a quick and enjoyable read, but I never really got past the issues I had with tone and language. And unlike Jack Finney who spent a ton of time on how people were different in the 1880’s compared to the 1970’s, this book feels like it kind of breezes past those differences.

I know people are really excited about this book because it’s feminist science fiction. I’m all for seeing more feminist themes and women writers in science fiction, but I wasn’t really a fan of this one.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Edelweiss and publisher Night Shade in exchange for an honest review. This book was published November 3, 2015.

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