Come on! Why not? Let’s read a book with the best, bad covers found in the used fantasy/sci-fi section. Because bad, can also be good in its own way. Who doesn’t love a little Space 1999 or its literary like?
A thought occurred to me last time I was at my favorite used book store here in Birmingham (The chain known as
“2nd and Charles“, which for the life of me I thought was a clothing store for the longest time and did not go inside.) I started a game with myself in which I have 1 minute to find a new book that cost no more than $5 (bonus for $1), and I choose only on the basis of how bad its cover is. Bad as in cheesy.
There’s always a host of good choices to be had, monster stories, space operas, dragon and heroin tales, but a time limit forces me to move fast, not to mention, a toddler running crazy adds to the excitement—as well as madness.
My first choice was a good one, and boy did I feel like I was reading the novelization of oh so many 40’s sci-fi reruns I’d seen as a kid. “The Guardians of Time” is a collection of short stories by Poul Anderson, based around a man, named Manse Everard, who has fallen on hard times and thus takes a questionable job for a questionable organization. After finishing his interview and subsequent psychiatric evaluation, he is offered a job—as part of the Time Patrol. Patrol… Patrol… Patrol… *echoes* That’s right, people in our future have invented time travel and are constantly trying to muck things up for their own benefit. Why not? Things never go wrong with time travel. Right? Not like killing some generals in the Roman army is going to bring about a Celtic world takeover.
The book is written in the typical perspective of the era. I wouldn’t call it third person limited entirely, but that’s basically what it is. There’s hardly any internal dialog, or focus on what the character is feeling. It’s almost entirely plot driven (lending more to the era), and does little as to getting me emotionally invested in the characters themselves. If any of them had died, I don’t think it would have bothered me. That said, I did fine some bits of it interesting.
Time traveling hover bike? That’s pretty cool. A gun that shoots lightening which can be used to convince Middle Ages folk that I’m a wizard? Hell yeah. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I went back 500 years with a working iPhone or battery powered microwave oven. Magic is, after all, just science we don’t understand.
After a winding trail of unclear time logic, the super powers from beyond decide how things are going to go, despite Everard and his companions attempts to rewrite history and save his companions wife, and so Everard is made a solo agent (“Unattached”) being that he’s already painfully alone in life.
2: “Brave to be a King”
God bless Manse, he smokes a pipe. Even though tobacco is one of the leading causes of cancer in the US and the world, I can’t help but always feel that smoking will be cool. And smoking a pipe? Double plus cool. I know e-cigs and vaps are all the rage, and likely healthier, but nothing is as bad ass a dapper fellow sucking on a pipe while milling something over. That’s basically how this story starts. Bravo.
The pace of the second story comes through much better than the first, cause let’s admit it, on some level, all stories are sort of strange at the start. It had some interesting lines like this:
“I was known as the dilaiopod, a curious monster with two left feet, both in its mouth.”
I love weird lines. I know this has to be some deeply clever word usage, but I get the meaning more from the context than the word. We’ve all been there.
Then comes talking in circles, arguing, and generally the story grinds to a halt, another common thing from the era. Go read “Foundation”. I love that book, but its all talk. Literally.
Near the resolution of this story comes a spot on realistic foot pursuit and subsequent action sequence with swordplay. It was exactly what the story needed. In the end I felt I needed to have brushed up on history to get all the references. I had the deep impression Anderson was making some clever moves in speculating history, but they rolled right on by me and into the basin of my ignorance. Maybe not the best metaphor.
3: “Gibraltar Falls”
The shortest of the 5 takes place not from Everard’s express perspective, but another. Man has impulsive girlfriend, chases her on his time/space bike to where she’s recording the birth of our world’s early days, and ends up getting herself killed. That happened to me at least three or four times when I was in my 20s.
But lo! No worries! Despite being totally against the rules, this dude is gonna go back, creating overlaps in time where hundreds of himself exist (and possibly destroy reality) to rescue her. In the end, Everard, the senior agent who had warned him against this, declares they will be killed by the Patrol for breaking the rules. To save the two of them, Everard suggests them changing their names and appearing as agents in another “milieu” (their sort of time periods), and so they do, hiding in history.
In its own way the plot wasn’t terrible, but I just could find myself getting emotionally connected with this couple, which is kind of important when telling a story based on a burgeoning relationship. They felt a bit wooden and stiff. I don’t think I would have gone back for her through space and time risking paradox like I did with my third girlfriend. Don’t tell my wife.
4: “The Only Game in Town”
I will forgo much details in this story, but escape by getting your captor drunk on whiskey, when in his era drinks that strong don’t exist and he is a bullish mongol, was fun.
You know. There sure is a lot of capture in these stories…
5: “Delenda Est”
Out of the lot this one was the best by far. Where the others got caught, in my opinion, in logical loops which after a couple of pages just made my head hurt, this one moved with a brisk pace, sprinkling in nice measures of action alongside suspense. And, for the first time, I actually felt a sense of attachment to the main character, along with his supporting Venusian sidekick. My only caveat, is that it started kind of strangely.
Two Time Patrol agents that haven’t wed (or can’t) are on vacation in the distant pass. Both would like to get some quality “*****” but are tired of getting it from those liberal, progressive Time Patrol women who’d rather sleep with Eskimo hunters anyways. Floozies. So let’s hope on our time bike, jump to the future, and hit up some old friends Everard knows in the 1960s.
Caught in the future by Celts who’s empire in decline (and not supposed to exist at all), Everard and the Venusian are forced to show them how their future, wizard weapons are made. They don’t agree but play along until they can escape, go back, and find who royally screwed up history, creating this Celtic future. It was fun.
The low down:
All said I enjoyed the collection. It had its weaknesses, as all stories do, and most of them fell in with its esoteric logic. Perhaps I’m not as up on the finer bits of ancient history as I had been while in college. I found myself wanting to see him shoot back to say: Napoleon’s war on Russia, where someone from the future had aided them in their campaign and made it a success, impressing new ideas on the whole of Europe. Or changed the political situation in American history, cutting off French aid in the Revolutionary War.
Or perhaps, those are stories I could tell. *rubs chin*
When it’s all said and done, whatever changed history, that these agents are meant to patrol, has already happened and cannot be change. Unless it can. Because, well, time travel. Dr. Who does it best, “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.” And when it comes down to it, time travel makes everyone’s head hurt, and their heart, leap for joy.
Rating: 3/5 Beer Caps