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An OK Page-Turner
on 16 May 2010
Imagine this: One day you're going about your normal life, when suddenly a mysterious stranger appears out of nowhere and gives you a Hobson's Choice: leave all you have ever known behind forever or be violently killed by an event the man says is just about to happen! Reluctantly following him out of the frying pan, you find yourself literally under a bridge with several other strangers -- teens like yourself, but from different times and places, with different ways of speaking, thinking and acting -- not to mention this cipher who SAYS he just saved you from a horrible death, but who STILL won't answer all your questions, but instead insists you forget entirely about your past life and concentrate on merging with your new comrades to become an elite team of time cops who will keep the very history of the world on track with little more than your own wits, a couple computers and a few other little things and pieces of training you're to start receiving immediately. Oh, and one last thing: Your new home is a 48-hour endless loop consisting of a particular Monday and Tuesday in New York -- September 10th and 11th, 2001!
Will you become a team? SHOULD you? How can you know you're defending the "right" timeline, and who IS this "Foster" character, anyway? If time travel is indeed a reality, does it even make sense to try to privilege one version of history over any others, or should you do the very thing you're tasked with preventing -- change history for the better, particularly the horrendously painful and pointless bit of history you are forced to live over and over again for the rest of your lives?
It's questions like these that we REALLY care about, but Alex Scarrow either doesn't think much of his "young adult" readers or is too focused on the "mindblowing series" he's planning to be willing to give us everything he's got right out of the gate -- a fatal mistake if ever there was one. Just as likely, he thinks the premise and unfolding plot alone will be enough to blow readers' minds, and has forgotten we want character development, too. Also, while it's clear he's done SOME of his homework by acquainting himself with a few other time travel stories (Soylent Green/I Am Legend for one, and quite possibly Michael Crighton's Timeline as well) he's not through yet: he hasn't read Poul Anderson's Time Patrol, nor has he taken away anything more from what he HAS read than the idea that historical paradoxes must be avoided at all costs. Also, just because it's "Young Adult" fiction, is that any reason we shouldn't like the two adults on the team (Foster and Bob) just as much as the others? Don't they both deserve fuller and more compassionate, less stock characterizations than they get here?
Most seriously, though, don't WE, the readers, deserve more than ONE history-saving outing to sink our teeth into? Given the set-up, Did Scarrow REALLY manage to miss the point that this is Sal, Liam and Maddy's story, NOT a feebly and partially developed "What if..." look at the consequences of the Nazis winning WWII? Or is he planning more only if we commit to buying the promised installments of the planned series one by one?
Well, Alex, I'll buy ONE more (at a deep discount here on Amazon, not full price at a bookstore), but you'll have to do better next time around, or you'll lose me. I suspect you'll lose other demanding ADULT readers, too -- and quite possibly even some of those you THINK are your main audience, because I have to tell you: these kids are WAY smarter than you seem to give them credit for. They're already reading adult science fiction, and either they want the facts to be spot on (the "hard" SF crowd) or they want REAL character development -- both, it at all possible. Don't patronize your readers, and don't hold back on us. Finally, don't consciously target a certain demographic; that's the (somewhat dubious) job of a marketing specialist at your publisher. Assume your work will be read by ALL ages, and make it offer as much to the 41-year-old like me as to the 14-year-old in whose nominal section of the store your work might end up, assuming it doesn't just end up on the SF-Fantasy shelves, which is where you want it anyway, don't you?
Three stars only, Alex. You've got potential here. Now, rewrite the history that should have been, and give us something way better second time around.