A Tale of Time City

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A 1987 novel by Diana Wynne Jones.

It's 1939 in London, and Vivian is being sent out of her home city to escape the bombings. But while she's looking for her Cousin Marty on the train platform, two boys swoop down, abduct her, and ferret her off to their homeland--Time City, a Place Beyond Time from which scholars observe the whole of human history, from the earliest days of mankind to the Depopulation of Earth in Hundred and Seventeen Century. Due to her name--Vivian Smith--they think she's really Faber Vivian, one of the city's founders. And, in fact, one of the people they think is slowly destroying their city! The boys, Jonathan and Sam, quickly realize the error of their ways. One problem--Vivian is from an Unstable Era, and no one is allowed to come out of an Unstable Era, lest the whole of human history be altered!

Now they must pass Vivian off as their cousin, and she must adjust to Time City life. But the city is still falling apart! Will she, Sam, and Jonathan be able to figure out what's causing the city's destruction before it's too late?

Tropes used in A Tale of Time City include:
  • Artificial Human: Elio. He's called an "Android," but he's not a Ridiculously Human Robot--he's made of flesh and bone, just different.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Leonardo da Vinci was a megalomaniacal student from the sixty-sixth century, actually. Maybe.
  • Big Eater: We really don't know where Sam puts it all.
  • Blitz Evacuees: Vivian.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Time City.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Cousin Vivian, in the end.
  • Eternal Love: Faber John and the Time Lady.
  • Fan of the Past: Elio loves movies, especially older ones like Snow White. This gives Vivian something to bond with him over.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water
  • Food Porn: Especially of the butter-pies.
  • Historical In-Joke: Some of the ripples in time caused by the upheaval of Time City are actual historical events, such as the eruption of Pompeii.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: Sort of. The Lee family seems to be an interesting mix of traits from several different ethnicities; Chinese is the only confirmed one.
  • King in the Mountain: Faber John sleeps under Time City. Except it's actually his wife. He himself is very much awake.
  • Living Memory: The Time Ghosts.
  • Oh My Gods: "Great Time!"
  • One Steve Limit: There is quite the abundance of Vivians running around this story. In addition to Vivian the protagonist, she's imitating a Cousin Vivian who appears later--no one seems to care by then, whose father is named Viv (short for guess what). And, of course, the Time Lady's real name is Vivian.
  • Place Beyond Time: Time City, naturally.
  • Scavenger World: The Age of Gold, where humanity still keeps certain aspects of technology, but has largely reverted to a pastoral way of life--with lots of raiders.
  • Shout-Out: Elio, who enjoys movies, at one point starts watching "an animated film about rabbits."
  • Sufficiently Advanced Technology
  • The Spock: Elio does not have very strong emotions, normally, but he does have a slight sense of humor. And when he realizes he's failed Jonathan, Vivian, and Sam, he comes to understand despair.
  • Rubber Band History: The Fixed Eras are explicitly like this--while the Unfixed Eras change and warp, Fixed Eras stay the same so long as not too much gets weird in the Unfixed ones. This all changes when Time City starts its cycle again.
  • Time Crash: What the protagonists want to prevent.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The time-travel almost--but not quite--makes sense if you assume that time is two-dimensional.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Sam loves butter-pie so much, he can eat over a hundred of them in a single sitting!
  • World War II: Vivian's home era.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Vivian's home era being Unstable (i.e., shifting in time) means it's difficult for her to go home. There's also the fact that she's a walking time disrupter. In the end, when history re-settles into new eras, she still can't go home, but Faber John agrees to bring her parents to Time City.
  • Zeerust: The oldest portions of Time City bear a slickly futuristic look. The newest portions have gone for a more classical appearance.