15 Minutes is a 2013 science-fiction thriller by Jill Cooper and published through the Amazon CreateSpace platform, which allows original work to be published in a print-on-demand format. This is the first novel in the Rewind Agency series, of which there are currently four titles (three novels, one novella), and stars the character of Lara Crane.
Right on the cover, this book promises that “Every time-travel law is about to be broken,” and this is both true in the sense that — within the context of the novel — there are set laws governing time travel that are broken during the course of the narrative, but also in the metatextual sense that there are unspoken rules to how an author tells a time-travel story, which Cooper gleefully breaks from page one, making for a dynamic and interesting read for anyone who has grown up on stories of chronological displacement that have followed the same stagnant formulae.
15 Minutes doesn’t just experiment with the structure of telling a time-travel story, but with the traditional structure of stories in general, in that Cooper chooses to omit a first act entirely.
In writing terms, one of the most popular storytelling techniques is the three-act structure. In the first act, we learn who the main character(s) are, we see them in their normal lives (usually at work and at home) and then we see the inciting incident: the inciting incident being the thing that sets them on their journey. In terms of a “road-trip” movie, the first act would be everything before they set out on the road. It’s usually just setting up the pieces you’ll need later in the narrative: the meat of the story — all the exciting bits — are in that second act, when you’re on the road.
In a time-travel story, the first act typically takes place in the present (or default) timeline, and we see the character as they presumably have been their entire lives. We see the “normal” timeline. Think of Back to the Future: in the first act we see Marty and all the principle characters — Mom, Dad, and Doc — as they are, and we establish that Marty doesn’t see his parents as “people.” This is around the line “I think the woman was born a nun.” (People can quibble over where the inciting incident is, I’m just picking one for effect). The reason we see all this in the first act is to contrast how different it is in the second act when we see Lorraine in her youth, and then in the third act when we see her happy in the ‘new timeline.’
In 15 Minutes, Cooper wisely omits this. We start right at the beginning of the second act, with Lara Crane traveling back in time to save her mother from being murdered. This sets up motivation instantly: we don’t need ten scenes with a character to know why they would want to save their mother, that’s obvious to all of us as humans: so why have them?
We then jump to ‘the present’ where everything is different: Lara did what she did to save one parent, but has now damned the other, as her father ended up being implicated in the attempted murder. But how can we see how things are different if we didn’t get to see them as they were? Cooper makes the inspired choice of having the novel told from the first-person perspective of Lara Crane, meaning that we hear her thoughts as she notes the difference between the two realities. Again, this is a stroke of genius in storytelling and takes advantage of the medium: this is something easily done in print and hard to do in film, making it an ideal choice when a story takes place in the print medium.
This book is part Frequency part Batman: Year One and part Memento, but I say that just as a log-line so you can gauge your own interest. It is it’s own dynamic, fun, action-packed story that will keep you interested. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable entry into the sci-fi thriller market that everyone who’s a fan of the genre should check out.
I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.
What bothered me about this story was the process of erasure that occurred once Lara had changed her own past, in which she slowly began to forget her memories and the world as it had been, and assimilate to the way the world as it now was. This “re-writing” was very akin to an illness, such as Alzheimer’s or a stroke, which erases memory and alters who you are as a person.
This invokes a strong theme of identity, which is a powerful theme any time it crops up in fiction, as it’s something we all must wrestle with at some point in our lives. It is a “Universal Theme,” one that speaks to the human condition, and as such makes the novel instantly relate-able. There is strong evidence to support this analysis of the text, as each time a person acts in a way they would not have in the previous reality, Lara makes some variation on the statement: “Who is this person? They would never do this?”
It also makes a strong case for the “Nurture over Nature” debate, as the novel implies that who we are is not set in stone, but rather that by changing the events that shaped us as a person we in fact change who the person is.
There are in fact several strong themes in this work. ‘Free will’ is one I could point to, as well as the inherent flaw in our view of the ‘dead, who can do no wrong.’ Lara wants her Mother back in her life, but not all the choices her mother made. When she envisioned her mother back in her life she envisioned her as a snapshot of as she was when she was five years old, not as a different woman with 10+ years worth of choices and changes that Lara may not have agreed with.
For a novel that’s only 234 pages, that’s a lot to unpack, and this work may be in need of a “deep reading” in order to unearth all the treasures hidden within. 15 Minutes is a diamond in the crown of the time-travel genre, and one that deserves close examination.
15 Minutes is available in print, eBook, and audiobook formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent fiction and those who like my work.
‘Other Indie’ is a recurring series of articles on Engen Books in which authors highlight the best in independent publishing, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. Engen Books is an independent small-press publishing company based in St. John’s Newfoundland and is proud to highlight the talent of independent authors not our own. 15 Minutes is © 2013 Jill Cooper. This review is © 2016 Matthew LeDrew. ‘Other Indie’ banner photo credit: Steve Lake.