We tend to think of Time Travel as the quintessentially Sciency Science Fiction. Time Travel narratives are narrative Rube Goldberg machines – the fascination comes from the surprising juxtaposition of events that lead inexorably down a path of barely-believable convolution. Deja Vu  is perhaps the perfect Science Fiction from that side of things, because of the intricacy of its looping narrative; yet, when H.G. Wells stamped out the template for the genre with The Time Machine  there is almost more fantasy than reality involved, because when the traveller arrives in the far-far-far future, he has moved from something we can connect to reality into an inverted Garden of Eden, and hence from realism to allegory. Many of the greatest time travel narratives function better as allegories than as narratives. La Jetée  and Back to the Future  are often read almost purely as allegories of the Primal Scene from Freud; yet, they retain the ablative iconography of Science Fiction. What happens, I wondered, when a narrative surrenders that protection, and admits that it is a fantasy? Is there an alternative to the farce and whimsy of Hot Tub Time Machine and To Say Nothing of the Dog?
Sadly, The Anubis Gates has nothing to offer in resolving this question. If the introduction to that statement seems like a bait-and-switch, that’s because it precisely reflects my experience in reading the novel. The opening prologue and first chapter all point to interesting questions of the type above. The prologue shows some ancient sorcerers trying to break apart the fabric of the world, and the first chapter shows a historical scholar being put through his paces about both historical knowledge, and the ability to fake the same where the gaps exist. It appears to be setting up for some really interesting exploration of the interaction between science and magic through art.
Unfortunately, the novel does nothing with any of these elements. It seems to completely waste every possible opportunity for using the perspective of time travel for anything interesting. Most unforgivably, it’s very predictable. It tips its hand very early, and nothing much that happened after the first quarter was more than mildly unexpected.
Despite all that, there remains a lot to like about the novel. There are enough interesting ideas simply on their own terms, that I wasn’t ever exactly bored. My favourite idea was the mad sorcerous clown Horrabin, who must walk on stilts because contact with earth is painful to him.