Paris has a way of resisting history, absorbing change gradually instead of being transformed by it. The same can be said of Hallie, the protagonist of E.J. Swift’s Paris Adrift (Solaris, 2018), who is compelled by the threat of a future apocalypse to travel through time to key moments in history—and manages to do so without losing herself.
In her conversation with Aubrey Fox and me on the latest episode of New Books in Science Fiction, Swift discusses, among other things, her personal connection to Paris and the city’s allure, the challenge of making the plot of a time-travel story hold together, the power of small gestures to change history, and some of the authors she admires.
Swift’s novel is both a suspenseful chrono-adventure and a portrait of Hallie, a young British woman running from an unhappy life. When she gets a job in current-day Paris as a waitress at a bar, she makes intense friendships among the staff of hard-drinking ex-pats. She also finds a time portal in the keg room.
Hallie’s brilliance is in her economy of effort. For instance, with a simple suggestion whispered in the ear of architect Paul Abadie, she prevents the construction of Paris’ famous Sacré-Cœur Basilica (and thereby carries out an important leg of her mission). In a delightful twist, the church becomes a massive green windmill, turning into a symbol for an “Occupy Wall Street”-like movement that will give Marine Le Pen’s right-wing nationalist party a run for its money (and require another corrective intervention from Hallie).
It’s easy to imagine that traveling through time would become addictive, and Swift explores that possibility, turning the portal into an organic consciousness that literally seduces Hallie, as similar portals have done with other travelers, literally turning them into disembodied spirits. Paris Adrift becomes not just a race to save humanity but a struggle to save Hallie from the portal’s seductions.