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Time Blender

Time BlenderTime Blender by Michael Dorn, Hilary Hemingway, and Jeffry P. Lindsay
HarperPrism, 1997
Price I paid: $2.95

A RIPPLE IN SPACE-TIME

Archeologist [sic] Tony Miller was a skeptic. He had heard the stories about the remote volcanic island where ships and planes disappeared. But as a scientist, Miller needed proof, not rumors.

So he flew over the island, and saw for himself the million-year horror that waited inside the crater.

Just before his seaplane’s engine stopped…

TIME BLENDER

Millions of fans know Michael Dorn as Star Trek’s unforgettable “Worf.” Now let Dorn take you on a journey of discovery in this gripping tale of an archeologist [sic] who uncovers the most awesome secret in the universe!

Hello, and welcome back to our semi-regular feature, “Books by people who were on Star Trek.

So a thing about this book is that I didn’t want it to be bad. I love Michael Dorn. Everything I’ve read about the man indicates that he is just plain awesome, above and beyond what you’d expect from someone who has had more appearances in the Star Trek franchise than anybody else and makes no secret that he absolutely loves being Worf. He’s an accomplished pilot. He’s a great voice actor. He’s an all-around cool guy.

But, as it turns out, he can’t write books. Sorry, Mr. Dorn. I still love you.

I’m not sure how much blame I can put on Dorn for this. After all, the book had two co-writers, even though neither side of the cover of this book says anything about that. You have to dig deep, just past the copyright page, to see that this book was co-written (which probably means entirely written) by a pair of pretty interesting people: Hilary Hemingway, who is Ernest Hemingway’s niece, and Jeffry P. Lindsay, the guy who wrote (Writes? Is that series over?) the Dexter books.

As much as I’d like to rave and rant in either direction, this book comes out squarely in the mediocre zone. It’s not a bad story. Our hero, Tony Miller, whose profession is misspelled twice on the back jacket, is an okay guy. Maybe a little too okay to be interesting, but he’s not a complete Mary Sue, so I’m willing to grant some points there. He’s also got some agency even in a plot that might warrant having a main character being bounced around contributing nothing, so that’s good too. I was plenty impressed.

Tony is a college professor, and we learn on page one that he is

Tall, hard-looking for an academic, black, and handsome…

He’s also keen on tai chi, and an accomplished pilot.

Can I get a show of hands here? Who thinks that this guy is basically just Michael Dorn, archaeologist? Everybody? Good.

Tony starts the story doing an archaeological dig on some random island in the Pacific. That’s mainly what he archaeologizes, although he’s smart enough on basically every culture that it helps him out throughout the book.

I said he wasn’t a Mary Sue, and I stand by that, but sometimes he comes a bit too close for comfort. He generally knows just enough about something to make sure that the plot keeps rolling along. When he meets some strange vaguely-Pacific-Islander people at one point, he’s able to figure out enough of their language to figure out what’s going on. The same thing happens when he meets a mysterious Celtic lady. One gets the feeling that the authors were thinking to themselves “We can’t make this guy know everything, but I think it’s acceptable for him to know just enough of everything to a) be impressive and b) not get his head bashed in and stop the book from finishing too early.”

Tony shares this dig with a colleague named Cook. At some point there’s a tsunami (which the book helpfully tells us is another name for a tidal wave) and the dig site is lost. Cook is injured and Tony tries to load him onto a plane to take him to the nearest island with a hospital on it. That’s when things start going waaaacky.

Cook wakes up and starts talking all funny, like a robot or something. Tony thinks he’s just suffered a head injury and that explains it, but here is where the groan-inducing part of this book starts.

This is a feature of bad writing that I’d never really thought about until recently, when it cropped up in a thread on the writers’ subreddit. Somebody, and I wish I could find that thread and give them proper credit, was talking about “cheap tricks” writers use for one reason or another. This one was brought up, and boy is this book just infected with it.

We need to establish that our hero is confused, right? Weird things are going on, and we can’t have him just accept them for what they are, because that might make him seem a little superhuman, right? It makes sense. So what do we do?

For some writers, the answer to that question is “Lots and lots of questions in internal monologue.” Let me make up an example using our friend Steve:

Suddenly, the W’uron vessel disappeared from the screen and was replaced by empty space.

What’s going on here? thought Steve. That ship was just there. Is it possible for ships like that to just disappear? What about the hyperspace field? That can’t just dissipate like that. What was it that Charlene said back on Ursa Prime? Could that cryptic comment she made be applicable here? Or was she just crazy? Isn’t this a little too similar to that episode of The Simpsons I watched last night? Could that have anything to do with it? Was that meant to be some kind of prophecy? Or am I just going crazy?

And on and on and on and on and so forth until the sun explodes.

I swear, just about every incident in this book is succeeded by at least two paragraphs of questions like that. This is a problem. For one, it becomes apparent that somebody, somewhere, might well be trying to take up some space around a barebones plot. Maybe they’re being paid by the word. And for two, it makes our hero seem really freaking dense a lot of the time.

Once I figured out that this was going on, I realized I could skip whole paragraphs with no problem. It sped things up in a book that was already speeding along pretty well, but this also goes to show how much this kind of thing will break up the pacing in your book. Just don’t do it, guys.

“Cook” starts some exposition, telling Miller that he’s from the future and there’s an artifact called “the Artifact” and it has some amazing properties and he’s from one of two future factions that are trying to get access to it. Its properties are, from what I understand, mainly in the form of keeping the physical laws of the universe working the way they should. Does this come up very often? Nope. By the time Miller gets anywhere near it, all it seems to do is make gravity stronger in a small area. At least at one point we get to see somebody get squished real good by their own weight, but that’s not much in comparison to making sure natural law is upheld.

I’m skipping ahead a bit. Cook leads Miller to a spaceship-looking thing on another island, but it turns out the Artifact isn’t there. Later they meet some people living on this island that are vaguely Polynesian. Turns out they worship the Artifact and it lives in a giant volcano. The area around the thing is littered with bones of people who once tried to get to the thing. Miller manages to get to it through sheer force of will, put its box back together, and prevent it from manipulating gravity anymore.

It does some other things while he’s getting close to it, and I want to quote page 96 because this is some good writing:

He leaned his head toward Cook. “What killed them?” he asked. He heard his voice slither down the scale to a crawl and then saw it change to particles. Cook was surrounded by millions of tiny globs of light, like small fluorescent BB’s. The globs coalesced into the taste of lemon pudding and dribbled into Cook’s ears. Cook turned to him with a movement that smelled of hot machine oil.

I don’t know if the breakdown of the laws of physics would lead to synesthesia, but let’s run with it. I like it.

Miller gets the Artifact and takes it back to the plane. Cook dies in the process, as does some kind of warrior guy. He’s the one that gets pulped by hypergravity.

Worth noting is that the front cover describes this book as “Samurai warriors battle Egyptian gods on the Island of No-Return!”

First off, who the hell puts a hyphen in that trite-ass phrase?

And second, none of that happens.

What does happen is that Miller leaves the island and all sorts of wacky stuff starts happening. He crashes the plane again. It turns out that whatever force is trying to stop him from keeping the artifact can conjure up thunderstorms. Since Miller’s chief skill is flying small aircraft, we can see how that might end up being a bit of a problem.

Incidentally, the factions vying for this artifact are the GECOs, whom “Cook” represents, and the Bodhis. We don’t learn what GECO means until nearly the end of the book, after we’ve learned that they’re the bad guys all along.

I mean, seriously, anybody with a micron of savvy is going to realize that “Bodhis” aren’t going to be the villains. Probably. I can think of narratives where that might work, but all of them are a lot more subtle than this book could ever be.

The mysterious and terrible thunderstorm causes the Artifact to fall out of the plane and get struck by lightning until it explodes.

Time gets all wonky. We finally meet the Samurai characters. They never interact with the Egyptian gods characters. Instead, the Samurai are fighting the Celts. Miller helps the Celts and gets taken in by them. Of course, he doesn’t know their language except for the two or three words that help him continue racing along the plot.

Later, the Celts turn out to also be fighting some futuristic Australians who, in turn, worship Osiris. Osiris turns out to not be an Egyptian god, Miller and his Celtic ladyfriend Mara steal a submarine that is also a hovercraft that can fly. Mara turns out not to be Celtic at all, but instead a Bodhi, who gives Miller the real exposition for a couple of pages. They go to Bodhi headquarters, everything is great and good, they give Miller his real mission, and the book ends with him walking through a time portal and the book says

Here ends Book One of TIME BLENDER

Fun fact, this book was book one of…one.

Apart from the writing, this book did have at least one fatal flaw of characterization. Once we meet the Bodhis and they reveal themselves to be future hippies, they are just too nice and perfect and wonderful to be believable. Seriously, they do technomagic because they “cooperate” with nature, as opposed to the GECOs (which stands for Genetically Engineered Computer Operator, ugh) who brutally try to shape nature to their own purposes. Even their methods of time travel (both factions are from about 4000 years in the future) tie into this. The Bodhis are just…nice…until they…time travel? Seriously? That’s it? The GECOs, on the other hand, employ a method that was a little too glibly compared to rape, and that’s where the book lost me forever. Book, you can go to hell.

I described one of the major writing flaws, but I left off the other one. This book wanted us to feel some narrative tension. A lot. And so it did that with one line paragraphs. A lot of them. Steve, take it away:

The peace talks were breaking down. Steve knew that if this didn’t work out, countless lives on countless worlds would be at stake.

Forever.

Unless he did something.

So he would.

And he did.

See, that’s the kind of thing that works pretty well in a book if it’s used sparingly. It’s not, unto itself, a bad device.

Until you use it.

Way too much.

And it loses all its meaning.

Don’t do that.

Again, I hate to say I hated this book, because it honestly had a few strong points beyond the fact that Michael Dorn’s name is on the front, but lordy did it just reek of nineties mediocrity.

This does give me an idea for a paper describing the qualities that make a work typically mediocre for its time period. I have a strong gut feeling that mediocre works from, say, the late sixties are very different in style and tone, not to mention datedness of plot and concerns, than, say, the mid-nineties. A lot of what made Time Blender mediocre in a 90s way—things like intense bloody action sequences, environmental themes, liberal use of the word fuck outside of a sexual context, and did I mention really overhanded environmental themes that didn’t ever tie into actual environmental science?—made this book an oddly comfortable read for me. This is the kind of thing I’d’ve read as a high schooler and, quite possibly, would really have liked at the time.

That’s scary.

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