“If you could meet anyone, who would it be?”

That was Scott Baker’s elevator pitch for The Rule of Knowledge, which he gave to the audience at an event on blockbusters at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

I’m not sure the pitch, as catchy as it is, really described the essence of the novel.

The book follows the adventures of a school teacher, Shaun, who likes to write physics papers about the space time continuum in his free time. Theoretically, he believes time travel is possible. But there’s one big practical issue that makes him think it can’t be done in the real world.

He is invited to go to England to present on his ideas, but on the way he and his wife run into a hobo. The hobo has a diary on him which catapults Shaun into a race for his life from mysterious gunmen. The diary reveals that someone has managed to solve Shaun’s problem – time travel is possible. In fact an agent has already gone back in time to Ancient Rome to interview one of the most important people in history.

The gunmen want that interview. And now Shaun has seen the diary, they want him dead.

The question Baker raised at the festival – if you could meet anyone in history, who would it be – never really rises in the book, which sets out clearly who Baker believes that person would be. Instead I feel the story was more about: “If someone changed history, what would that mean?” or even “If you don’t see something happen, did it?”

Because the book is a time travelling thriller, it inevitably becomes a bit of an Inception-type brain teaser where you try and figure out what it means for the present if someone goes into the past and sets off a new chain of events. Indeed, Shaun’s time travelling experience becomes a convoluted Möbius strip.

I personally don’t like it when time travel novels do this, because I feel that surely the chain of events has to start somewhere. We can’t just have an infinite loop sustaining some desired status quo. Even so, it’s a very entertaining novel that surprised me more than I had expected. I also enjoyed the second narrative that plays out in Ancient Rome.

I’ve seen people criticise Baker for the historical accuracy of the novel, or lack thereof, but I have to say that I wasn’t in an historical fiction mindset when I read this. I was in a thriller mindset. Any inaccuracies passed me by in the spirit of entertainment.

Baker likes to describe the novel as a cross between Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. My advice would be: if you like American-style blockbuster thrillers, read this book. If you like historical fiction, don’t. I’m giving it a 4/5.

Baker has worked in the film industry, so it’s not surprising that he has two awesome book trailers. Check them out:

 

 

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