Phil Clement reviews Time Adjusters on Open Pen

Having not spent any time at all in the 1980s, it’s hard for me to entirely appreciate the sentiment in these opening lines from Bill Ectric’s Time Adjusters. That being said, even I can tell that Ectric’s novella captures the zeitgeist of the time, incorporating themes of social and economic change alongside a wider sci-fi narrative that imagines the lengths taken by large-scale corporations to stay ahead of the game. Unusually for long-form prose, Time Adjusters achieves this by inserting elements of the cut-up technique inspired by Tristran Tsara and the Dadaists.

It’s highly likely that more people have discussed or read about the cut-up technique than have attempted to read (let alone write) a full-length cut-up novel. Generally speaking, because of the mechanical nature of its creation, long-form literature created in this way suffers from a staccato structure that badly affects readability. William S. Burroughs (who popularised the technique) recognised, in 1968, that cut-ups were best used exclusively to highlight inconsistencies in an otherwise linear narrative, writing that he would henceforth employ them “as an integral part of narrative in delirium and flashback scenes”.

It is in this vein that Ectric’s cut-up novella, Time Adjusters, adopts the technique immortalised by the likes of the Dadaists, Burroughs and Gysin. Brief interstitials composed of randomised text break up the narrator’s, otherwise linear, stream-of consciousness to create an approximation the fragmentation of time and space in a world torn ragged by fly-by-night insurance corporations. The story imagines a world in which these priests of litigation have stumbled across a new laser technology that uses orbiting satellites to intercept light waves that bounced off the Earth’s surface, bend these waves forward through a series of prism & mirror relays, and back to Earth, thereby capturing reflections of the Earth’s future topography, to analyse potential sites of floods, earthquakes, and other disasters.

“Nobody who needs insurance ever has it. ‘Epidemic of bad timing’ is what they call it in the news. They think their home is covered, but as soon as they have a damage claim, and the claims adjuster goes out to examine the damage, it turns out the policy has lapsed. We suspect the adjusters are pirating Time-Light technology and triggering retro-non-renewals when they detect a future loss.”

There’s no doubt that, owing to the hodge-podge nature of Ectric’s cut-up interruptions, Time Adjusters is a little structurally haphazard, but on the whole I enjoyed it. This pleasant and adventurous novella offers a welcome departure from some of the more mainstream offerings that you’ll find on the shelves. Expect to be confounded and entertained.

A quote from Time Adjusters:

When my eyes adjusted to the bar’s dark interior, I saw two bikers playing pool under one of those Budweiser carousels in which a team of Clydesdale horses pulled a beer wagon around in circles through the snow. There must have been an electrical problem with the carousel because the light sometimes flickered inside it and the horses lurched forward, but when the light went dim, those horses stopped in their tracks. That’s just like me, I thought. I can sit here and go nowhere, or I can walk and walk, or drive for miles, but some kind of loop keeps bringing me back to nowhere.

Phil Clement worked as a marketing intern at Gladstone Library (a national memorial to W.E. Gladstone and Britain’s only residential library) and before this was an intern with theNew Welsh Review (Wales’ leading literary magazine). He studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, where he attained an M.A. and B.A. Currently, Phil works as a freelance writer, and reviewer (he has written for the New Welsh Review, Neon Magazine, Stride Magazine, and Open Pen.