Exclusive Interview: “Time Bomb” Author John Patrick


While a lot of people are concerned with global warming, and rightfully so, there’s only so much we can do as individuals. But don’t say that to Christian Sparrow, the time traveling (and, hopefully, history-altering) main character in John Patrick’s new novel Time Bomb (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Patrick discusses what inspired and influenced this romantically-tinged sci-fi slipstream thriller.

John Patrick Time Bomb

I find it best to start with a plot summary. So, what is Time Bomb about, and when and where does it take place?

It’s a bit of a tongue twister, but I describe Time Bomb as a Bhagavad Gita-inspired time travel save-the-world-from-global-warming novel with a queer romantic edge. It’s told from the point of view of Christian Sparrow, a time traveler from the year 2095 who goes back in time to 1943 in order to disrupt the Los Alamos atomic bomb project. He does this because the planet is suffocating from run-away global warming in 2095, and he wants to change the past (or the future, depending on where you’re standing) to push civilization off its self-destructive path.

But as the reader learns very early on, the past proves frustratingly difficult to change. No matter what the time travelers attempt, the future always “snaps back into place.” It’s one of the many mysteries at the heart of the novel. The world really is in terribly bad shape back in 2095. This mission could be their last chance to fix things. And Christian is a bit of a maverick. He knows time is running out (and like any good time traveler, he loves a good “time” joke) and he’s willing to break a few rules to get the job done.

Where did you get the idea for the plot of Time Bomb? What inspired it?

To be honest, I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to global warming. Will we be able to get our act together in time to prevent catastrophe? It doesn’t look that way to me. So, I wanted to write a story that doesn’t sugarcoat things, that traces the arc of the imminent demise of our ecosystem, but also has an optimistic, and at times even comical, tone. And really, who knows what the future holds? (Look at that — another time traveler joke — because, you know, the people from the future actually do know what the future holds).

Plus, I’ve always been fascinated by Eastern spiritual thought, and as I mentioned, the story is partly inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, and its notion that the universe is created and destroyed over and over again, and that time isn’t as linear as we think it is. Then, when I learned that Oppenheimer actually quotes from the Bhagavad Gita when he successfully tests the world’s first atomic bomb (“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”), I thought: ooooohhh, there is a really good time travel story here.

As you mentioned, Christian goes back in time to stop the Los Alamos atomic bomb project. Did you ever consider having him try to stop some other pivotal event related to global warming, like the invention of the combustible engine or the birth of the Koch brothers?

The birth of the Koch brothers! Oh my god, now I have to write a sequel.

But yes, in the story the reader will learn anecdotally of other attempts that were made to change the course of history and stop global warming, but as I’ve mentioned, they mysteriously don’t work, and the future always snaps back into the place. So, to use your example of the internal combustion engine, Christian could have gone back in time to Germany in the 1870s and disrupted that project (maybe he even did), but then someone in England or somewhere else would have ended up inventing the gasoline engine instead and at the nearly the exact same time.

I don’t think this is a big spoiler, but the reader learns that the atomic bomb project was chosen not because of any specific effects of the bomb, but because it’s a conceptual tipping point, when humans learned to think they can control the very building blocks of nature. It’s hubris, and it blinds them to the consequences of their actions.

Christian’s mission is to make things go spectacularly wrong at Los Alamos, to humble people and to scare them off the 20th century path of worshipping progress at all costs. Well, that’s his primary mission, anyway — and it’s a good idea, too. But he also has a secondary mission involving the young Wizkid scientist Archer Meyer, but I suspect you’re about to ask me about that.

Time Bomb is obviously a sci-fi story, but it sounds like it might be a bit romantic as well. Is it?

Yes. It does have a strong romantic theme woven through it. In 2095, the historical record shows the scientist Archer Meyer was seduced by a Russian spy at Los Alamos, and the secrets obtained by the spy accelerate Russia’s development of its own atomic bomb. Christian’s secondary mission is to seduce Archer himself, so he blocks the spy’s ability to do so. Of course, it doesn’t all work out that way, and the fake seduction turns into a real thing. So, yes, in that sense, Time Bomb could be viewed as a romantic novel.

But it’s also climate fiction — in that it deals with the horrible impacts of global warming. You could also call it an examination of human autonomy, through the spiritual lens of duty and responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions (which is where the Bhagavad Gita comes in). It’s also social commentary, as Christian and Archer confront just how different their worlds are. And it’s a mystery / thriller, with endless twists and turns along the way. And there are comedic elements throughout, such as when a time traveler in New York tries to use subway tokens a decade before they’re invented, or all the frustrations Christian experiences when his secret communication device (a harmonica) goes haywire.

So, genre-wise, I’m going with slipstream. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that: “The slipstream genre is a term denoting forms of speculative fiction that do not remain in conventional boundaries of genre and narrative, directly extending from the experimentation of the New Wave science fiction movement while also borrowing from fantasy, psychological fiction, philosophical fiction and other genres or styles of literature.”

So, how romantic does it get?

Hmm. Is “romantic” a code word for “sexually explicit” here? If so, I can assure your more sensitive readers that the hot man-on-man sex is all off-page. Well, except for maybe that first time in the jeep, and maybe later in the tent. But it’s all very tasteful, and is only there to forward the plot [winks] But seriously, this isn’t an erotica romance novel; there are no explicit sex scenes.

No, I meant, Is it mushy?

Then I’ll say yes. The relationship between the two men is central to the story. They learn from each other and grow as individuals. Eventually, each comes to risk everything for the other. And having the relationship develop between two men really helps to underscore how different 2095 is from 1943.

Time Bomb is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Time Bomb but not anything else you’ve written?

Absolutely. I didn’t even realize it at the time I was writing Time Bomb, but after I’d finished it, let it sit for a while, then began editing, it hit me. Snow Crash. I read it when Neal Stephenson first published it in 1992. I’d never read anything like it before — a complicated mishmash of technology, history, speculative fiction, religion — I loved it. I like to think Time Bomb contains many of those elements as well.

How about non-literary influences; do you think Time Bomb was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because it’s giving me some serious Quantum Leap vibes.

Well, Manhattan, of course, the television series from 2015 set in the same time and place as Time Bomb. And also, For All Mankind, because of its studious alternative history development. I’ll also include The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the quirky romcom About Time.

And what about your brave — or maybe that should be “over confident” — terriers, Tucker and Hudson? How, if at all, did they influence Time Bomb?

I have the best Writing Support Team a fellow could ask for. Such good dogs. And yes, when we’re out on walks and they leap blindly over a fallen log, having no idea what’s on the other side, or they see a Rottweiler and think, “I could take that on,” they absolutely remind me of Christian: plucky, self-assured, blind to all the risks. But hey, what could possibly go wrong.

Tucker, Hudson


Now, sci-fi novels like Time Bomb are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Time Bomb?

It’s designed as a stand-alone, but I’ve played with the idea of potential spinoffs. And now that you’ve put the bug in my ear about the birth of the Koch brothers…

But seriously, if any of your readers have ideas along those lines about what they’d like to see next, by all means, send me an email. I love to hear from people who’ve read my work.

Earlier I asked if Time Bomb had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Time Bomb would work as a movie, show, or game?

[Rubs hands together maniacally] Well, now that you mention it, Yes. Hello, Netflix? Have I got a series for you! Time Bomb really lends itself to serialization. Each chapter ends with either a surprising revelation or a cliffhanger. I would definitely binge-watch it over the course of a weekend.

And if Netflix calls you back, who would you want them to cast as Christian, Archer, and the other main characters?

Well, Noah Centineo absolutely must play Archer. He could even stay in character from his role in The Recruit. He should just clear his calendar now to get ready. And Ansel Elgort would make a spectacular Christian — I’m thinking about how he played Jake in Tokyo Vice, so earnest and eager, yet plagued by wrong decisions and bad luck at every turn.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Time Bomb?

No! Just enjoy it. It’s a fun, fast read. But if you can resist the urge for instant gratification, please consider ordering the book from your local indie bookstore. They’re the lifeblood of a community and a critical source for alternative literature for young people everywhere.

John Patrick Time Bomb

Finally, if someone enjoys Time Bomb, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?

Why am I suddenly thinking of Sophie’s Choice? Okay, but seriously, the answer depends on why a reader liked Time Bomb. As I mentioned, it’s quite a multifaceted book. If they enjoyed the relationship aspect of two men from widely different social worlds, then they should read the Lambda Literary Award-nominated Dublin Bay. It tells the story of a young, impoverished Irish lad and the privileged son of a German diplomat in Dublin during World War Two. If they liked the sci-fi / speculative fiction aspects of Time Bomb, then they should read Franklin In Paradise, a coming-of-age post-apocalyptic tale. Both of those books have sequels, by the way, that are also out now.



One reply on “Exclusive Interview: “Time Bomb” Author John Patrick”

If you’re into espionage try an unusually thrilling autobiography entitled Beyond Enkription (misspelt on purpose) by Bill Fairclough (ex MI6 agent codename JJ). He was one of Colonel Alan Pemberton’s People in MI6. It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti. The fact based narrative is set in 1974 about a British accountant working in London, Nassau and Port au Prince who unwittingly works for MI6 and later is hired by the CIA.

It’s a compelling read but whatever you do, don’t just surf through the prologue as I did. Also, if like me you could only just stomach the film Jaws don’t be put off by the passing savagery of the first chapter. I finished this huge book in two sittings and a week or so later read it again.

To get the most out of it try researching the real events behind it on the web and in particular look at the brief News Article dated 31 October 2022 about Pemberton’s People in TheBurlingtonFiles website. There is a lot out there once you start digging but as a minimum include a half hour read of one of the author’s bios which don’t include spoilers. You’ll soon feel like you know his family. After my first reading I did even more research and kept on unravelling increasingly enthralling material that drove me to reread the book. My second reading was richly rewarded and just as captivating as my first.

If you like raw or noir espionage thrillers, you’ll love it. Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote it. Atmospherically it’s reminiscent of Ted Lewis’ Get Carter of Michael Caine fame. If anyone ever makes a film based on Beyond Enkription they’ll only have themselves to blame if it doesn’t go down in history as a classic espionage thriller.

Whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder, odds on once you are immersed in it you’ll read this titanic production twice. Before reading Beyond Enkription, do read about Pemberton’s People in an article dated 31 October 2022 on The Burlington Files website. For more detailed reviews visit the Reviews page on TheBurlingtonFiles website or see other independent reviews on your local Amazon website and check out Bill Fairclough’s background on the web.

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