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Any Time At All

by Chris Roberson

(Clockwork Storybook, $14.95, 213 pages, paperback; September 30 2002.)

Eleven-year-old Roxanne Bonaventure, a difficult child, encounters a dying woman in the woods, and is given an amulet. By use of the amulet Roxanne is able to cover scantravel through the many worlds and times of the Myriad (rather like Moorcock's multiverse or my own polycosmos), although aging only at the speed of her own internal bodyclock. Recursive elements abound during her various adventures; the author's appendix gives brief details about such varied cultural icons as H.G. Wells, Sexton Blake and The Beatles.

No prizes for guessing the identity of the old woman who gives the 11-year-old Roxanne the amulet, but that's not the kind of game Roberson is playing in this highly enjoyable book.

I've had to choose that phrase, "highly enjoyable book", with some care. First, the word "book", because Any Time At All isn't really a novel in the accepted sense. It's not a collection of linked stories, either, or even a fixup (whereby pre-existing stories are cobbled together with additional plot elements to create the appearance of a novel). Rather, it's a pseudo-novel which takes the form of a fixup, the tales that comprise it not having the status of independent short stories.

This is a useful form for novelists to exploit, but one of its drawbacks is that, unless the segments are really well integrated and together build towards some kind of conceptual or emotional resolution, the expectations of the reader, whatever the intentions of the author, do demand that they can indeed stand alone: that each bears its own resolution. This is where Any Time At All tends to fall down; a few of its chapters are individually strong enough to satisfy, but too many of them have the status of "build-up" chapters -- and, as they do not in fact build up to anything, the reader is left with the feeling of having been stranded.

Even so, the book is, to return to the other part of my phrase, highly enjoyable in that for the most part the prose -- frothy and dancing, often delightfully elegant -- is a joy to read. Chris Roberson is obviously an author to watch, and this book is an ideal companion for a train journey, even if at its end one wishes it could have been something a little more. I look forward very much indeed to reading more by him.

Oh, and Any Time At All has a very nice John Picacio cover.

Review by John Grant.

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