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Magestic by Geoff Wolak


Magestic is the story of a time traveller, sent back from the future to 1985 to try and fix the world. A calamity awaits in 2025, the world needing to take a different course. Wars need to be avoided, certain politicians disgraced before taking office. But the traveller spends most of his time and energy building up a medical rescue charity.

Note: Magestic contains some graphic violence and harsh language.

A complete novel

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Listed: Jun 26, 2010


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Grandiose but not great

By G.S. Williams, author of No Man An Island

Jan 13, 2011: Magestic is a sprawling sci-fi story covering the decades between the 1980s and 2025 or so. The idea is ambitious, to show how one time traveller affected the history of the world, and the text is certainly in-depth. The story is in 18 parts and the first two are over 200 pages each, so we’re talking thousands of pages here.

Now here’s the funny thing about a lifetime of reading—you start analyzing the depth of a text within a few pages, maybe faster. Sentence structure, grammar, turns of phrase, symbols, dialogue, description, they all reveal clues to cognitive processes. Language largely determines thought processes, in people who think in words. (Visual thinkers are a whole different kettle of fish) Linguistic researchers tend to profess that cultures have patterns in their languages that reveal behaviour traits, and that new words are invented for new concepts.

For example, the Inuit have dozens of words for snow, because there are so many different kinds and their lives depend on knowing the difference.

So what am I trying to say? The more you read, the more you think, the more you become aware of how much is going on in the mind of a writer. And eventually you can guess at how much is going to happen in a story, even after reading just a little bit.

I didn’t need to read several thousand pages to figure out that "Magestic" is ambitious but falls short of it’s goals. The first section about the British intelligent agent Jack told me that—I read on until the mysterious Jim (the time traveller, naturally) dispatches six men by himself in a fight. That’s about page eleven. If I’m bored on page eleven, there’s no way I’m going to make it to page 2000.

Now, for the record, to be fair I decided to skim from random parts, and read a fair chunk of the ending in part 18. Sometimes, especially in serials, authors and characters develop. Writing so much, you’d think it would almost be an evolutionary process—over time you’d get better by sheer volume. If there were major signs of improvement, it would maybe entice me to go back to the beginning and read the whole series.

Well, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It solidified my initial impression. This story is long and planned out—but unfortunately that doesn’t make it good. Here’s why:

Stories are best when details are SHOWN not TOLD. It’s been said a million times, it will no doubt be mentioned a million more. Also, you can’t just casually mention defeating six guys in a fight in one paragraph where the only details are that one bounced off a car and then the guy who won tidied his hair. Fights are action and action is dynamic and entertaining—people don’t go to a boxing match to see one punch.

You also can’t spend five pages discussing dialogue about football matches (instead of describing the action of the match) and dropping exposition about the rail system and stock market jobs (instead of showing scenes) and expect people to be interested.

Here’s an example paragraph;

"Jimmy had joined McKinleys Stock Brokers almost a month ago now and had noticed my advert for a lodger. Rents were high in London, especially in posh Richmond, and I had taken the lease on a whole damn house just to be near my parents. Four streets distant, it was far enough away to be independent. Just. I was twenty-two and the hormones were raging. All I needed was some money, and not to be so damn tired on the weekends that I just slept. Somewhere out there was the big wide world and the bright lights, yet to be discovered."

Now, to show the same detail would take longer – there should have been a scene of Jimmy coming to see the rooms, speaking with the landlord, displaying actions and character and interaction. But Jimmy and the landlord would seem like people, instead of words in a paragraph. Readers might experience interest, connection, emotion—instead of reading bare facts.

Now, imagine writing bare facts without showing people in action with emotions or compelling details for thousands of pages. That’s just part of what’s wrong with Magestic. The other part is that the story itself is kind of ADHD—switching time and place and focus between years and decades and characters. It all becomes a blur, making it harder to connect to the text.

Being told all the pertinent details takes away the joy of discovery—instead of the narrator Paul seeing odd behaviour from Jim and investigating (thereby creating suspense for the reader) you are told right away that Jimmy is a time traveller (on page six!), and THEN you get Paul telling you the clues that he noticed—even saying "the first clue was" then "the second clue" as if listing clues makes a mystery—when the mystery was already given away. What’s exciting about that?

I kind of admire that the author wrote as many pages as he did, and thought out a whole history for his characters. If it was written as a chronological history text it would make more sense and be more interesting. If he spent time writing an actual novel about the actions and emotions of his characters, in an organic joy of discovery showing way, that would have been better too. Unfortunately we get a mix of the above in a random format that takes away any sense of mystery, excitement or connection.

So three stars for sheer perseverance and commitment to the work—but no more than that because it’s simply not entertaining writing.

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