The basic plot of The Far Time Incident involves the mysterious disappearance of Professor Mooney from the Time Travel Lab at a Minnesota University while on a solo expedition. Foul play is suspected and Julia Olsen, assistant to the dean of science is assigned to help Campus Security Chief Nate Kirkland. The pair soon find themselves caught up in their own time-travel adventure, in ancient Pompei within sight of a rumbling Vesuvius.
The premise of The Far Time Incident is hugely promising, and the ideas of history protecting itself and of ghost zones are well thought out, but the story is devoid of emotion and the plot is not at all thrilling. I liked that the first-person narrator, Julia Olsen, is an ordinary person who leads a normal, unexciting life. I felt that the writer was aiming for humour with her choice of main character but just did not commit to building on the subtle ironic tone she establishes at the start of the book.
After waiting far too long for the action to start, I began to get the impression that the author was stalling, as if unsure of how to move the plot forward. That is the major problem with this novel. It never really gets going. Even when the action starts, it isn't that exiting — a definite prerequisite for a time travel novel I think. A second plot involving a family of former slaves who need help to find out who has ransacked their Garum store doesn't really work. Aside from not being very exciting, the reader already has a lot of characters to keep up with, all of whom are become increasingly sketchy and vague as the story progresses.
There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and a great deal of dull dialogue peppered with historical did-you-knows from the academic characters. Since this is a whodunnit, I understand the author felt she needed to include a wide cast of characters to keep the reader guessing as to who the culprit is. The problem is, Maslakovic is never able to explore a character in depth or build on the relationships between the main characters because she is too busy keeping the reader updated on each of their whereabouts. Instead, I would have liked to see the author build on the conflict existing between English Professor Helen Presnik and her ex-husband Dr. Mooney.
I wanted to feel like I had been transported into the past but the author's sketchy descriptions of the pre-erruption Pompei were not convincing enough. More sensory detail and well-drawn descriptions of the local inhabitants going about their daily life were needed.
Maslakovic's novel appears to be heavily influenced by the Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Like Willis' sci-fi novel, this is a time-travel thriller that kicks off in a university setting, its troupe of characters all academics. The novel suffers greatly by being so easily compared to Doomsday Book, in that it lacks the excitement, tension and humour that Willis is so adept at conjuring in her book.