The Tourist is a fascinating book. Difficult at times as the reader, like the main protagonist, Sven, struggles from his small person’s perspective to understand the influence of competitive groups from the future and among the natives as he searches for a missing client, Adorna Mond.
Sven is a time travel rep, with a strong sense of honour and duty, working for one of the cheaper companies that takes clients, in this case to London in the 21st century. Sven and his clients are from period three hundred years after the NEE which had had drastic effects on the human population and the planet. The primary interest of the time-travellers Sven conducts through the malls of London is in the acquisition of material goods from the century of excess but in most other respects they and Sven are repulsed by their ancestors.
The differences between the people from the future and the people of the 21st century, referred to ask natives, leak out gradually. The people of the number cities are taller and stronger; they use augs to enhance function; they live rigid and monitored lives they have castes including Happiness, Awareness, Safety and Millies; they dislike the native’s food and blame them for the NEE. What is also gradually revealed is there is manipulation of the governance of the 21st century against the protocol Sven observes. The 21st century is being invaded by the future and, via this conceit, Dickenson makes some pertinent comments about colonization. The interference is is not only exploitative but hostile; and there is evidence that the future governments are not unified but have conflicting ideas about the interactions between the future and its past; reference the Anarchonists. But time travel is confusing; identifying, stopping and punishing is a slippery business.
Sven looks for his missing client, who may also be Karia Stadt enemy of the numbered cities, and so does Riemann Aldis, agent of the numbered cities. Through the eyes of these characters Dickinson makes some pithy comment about the priorities of the 21st century. Sven is a purist who has had, through time travellers’ collections, access to the original productions of classical music and is contemptuous of the natives’ practice of interpretation. When he has served for long enough he can set his own agenda and he plans to time travel so he too can listen to the first concerts.
The Tourist is a novel to read again and again as it does not give up its plot secrets and its character insights readily. One certainty in this novel is that violence is still the crude weapon used to try to defeat practitioners of alternative ways of living. But Robert Dickenson’s allusion to a city destroyed as a response to one enemy agent or the quick glances at the dreadful conditions in the tunnels or the insect farms of the future creates a much more powerful impression than the excessive, gratuitous, voyeuristic descriptions of violence that blights so much of modern sci-fi writing. Another certainty in the novel is the power and the beauty of an individual life.