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Revisionists by Thomas Mullen

The Revisionists

a review by Nalini Haynes

Zed is from the far future and has travelled back to present-day Washington to ensure that disasters take place in this era that facilitate the ‘Perfect Present’ of his time, hence the title The Revisionists. Zed is effectively a time cop in a story based on the idea of an adjustment bureau as in the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, similar to the movie The Adjustment Bureau.

Leo apparently travelled around the world doing mysterious stuff that he can’t talk about. For most of the novel I was waiting for a reveal or confirmation of who he was, so the less said about Leo the better. Sari is a refugee from Indonesia who fled to Korea only to be brought to the USA as domestic help for a diplomat. The diplomat’s immunity effectively entitles him to treat Sari as a domestic slave and worse. Sari meets Leo on one of her limited forays to purchase food for her employer’s family. Leo speaks her language, Sari is lonely and desperate, so a relationship of sorts develops between Sari and Leo. Tasha is a black woman who lost her brother in the war, so now she’s struggling to find meaning in her life and loss.

Four very different characters walk in and out of each other’s lives with varying motivations and surprising impacts, much like the Law of Unintended Consequences. At first I thought The Revisionists had missed the potential ramifications of time travel and its consequences, but as the characters’ layers were stripped away, exposing them, their desires and their fears, it became apparent that this was an intelligent time travel story. Possibly the only factor of time travel not explored in this novel is the grandfather paradox. Mullen, as author, appeared to actively avoid engaging in discussions of paradox, focusing instead on themes that are more concrete and relevant to contemporary society.

Themes that I consider to be more concrete and relevant include discussion of diplomatic immunity and abuses of that privileged position; racial conflicts, their obscure origins and self-perpetuation; power corrupting; confidentiality versus accountability; media feeding frenzies and their consequences; and finally an exploration of existential angst alongside a debate over the ‘great man’ versus ‘everyman’ theory regards to change.

The plot was well-paced, with twists and turns that I found myself unable to predict. I devoured this book, relishing it as intelligent science fiction. I definitely give The Revisionists 4 – 4 ½ out of 5 stars, and highly recommend The Revisionists to fans of SF, thrillers, anyone who enjoyed The Adjustment Bureau (the movie) and to those who enjoy intelligent reads exploring contemporary issues. I would definitely participate in a book club discussion of The Revisionists if I had the opportunity.

Originally published in Dark Matter issue 6, November 2011.  This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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