The Hour of Lead
By Kathleen De Grave
with Earl Lee
First Published: 2012
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Time Travel, Dystopian, Alternate Realities
The Hour of Lead is the second fictional novel and first science fiction novel from Kathleen De Grave. It provides an entertaining mixture of catastrophic climate changes, futuristic psychology, and manipulation of the past causing alternate realities in the future. When an experimental psychology experiment on a young boy has disastrous results, the scientist in charge decides that it’s time to mix ancient medicine, including hallucinogenic mushrooms, with the most cutting edge nanobot techniques to probe his own darkest memories. Then, when he finds himself seemingly returned to the past with the ability to alter past actions, changes ripple through to the present in unforeseen ways.
The main characters in this novel are a brilliant 31 year old scientist, Weylan, and his wife Pandora. Weylan has invented a radical new nanotherapy technique to enable patients to recall and basically re-live every detail of past memories. He is encouraged to try it out on marginalized citizens who will not leave anyone behind to complain if anything goes wrong. His wife, Pandora, is horrified by the thought of doing potentially dangerous experiments on people. The novel opens with the worst fears of Weylan and Pandora coming true as Weylan’s first human trial is discovered to have gone horribly wrong. While Weylan desperately searches for a way to undo the damage or at least make some kind of amends, his marriage seems to be coming apart.
The Hour of Lead takes place in a future where the world has been devastated by extreme weather events thanks to global warming. In response to overwhelming world catastrophes, a corporation, CorGo, has supplanted most of the governments around the world since democracies were too slow and inefficient to keep up with the fast pace of world changes. CorGo has a few similarities to “Big Brother” from Orwell’s famous 1984. However, the focus of the novel is on the personal concerns of the two main characters and two of Weylan’s patients. The patients have undergone extremely traumatic events which have resulted in severe damage to their psyches. In addition, the reader soon finds that both Weylan and Pandora have also undergone traumatizing childhood events causing permanent effects. When Weylan, through desperation and accident, is able to make small changes to the past, the resulting ripples through time result in minor and major changes to the present.
This novel starts off a bit awkward and rough around the edges with the main characters’ emotions and actions seeming to be oversimplified and unrealistic. For example, it’s hard to believe that Weylan could be so shocked that an experiment on the most complex thing known to man, the human brain, could go wrong. In addition, there are at least 4 typos in the first 14 pages which add to the impression that this novel could have benefitted from more editing. However, once Weylan embarks on his experiments and finds he can change events in the past, the pace of the novel really picks up and everything else starts to come together. After each small change in the past, it’s fascinating to follow the results. It soon becomes apparent that the resulting effects can be wide and varied. Also, within the altered futures, the characters become more complex, realistic, and likeable.
There is a lot of interesting psychology in this novel which is especially focused on the effects of childhood events and traumas on the attitudes and thoughts of children and, later, adults. It is fascinating to see how the personalities and lives of Weyland and Pandora change due to small changes in the past and how these changes alter their relationship. As a bonus, the past ends up getting changed more than once so the reader gets to experience multiple slightly divergent futures.
The Hour of Lead is an intriguing first science fiction effort from a new author to the field. I recommend this novel for its unique look at how small changes in the past ripple down to the future and for its strong emphasis on human psychology. It also contains entertaining projections for the effects of global warming.