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David Brin's Out of Time: Yanked!
Nancy Kress
Avon EOS Books, 256 pages

David Brin's Out of Time: Yanked!
Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1948. She went to college at State University of New York at Plattsburgh, receiving a degree in Elementary Education, and spent four years teaching the fourth grade. Her first sale was a story, "The Earth Dwellers," to Galaxy in 1976. Her first novel, The Prince of Morning Bells, appeared in 1981. Nancy Kress moved on to write copy for an advertising agency, wrote fiction part-time, raised her children, taught at SUNY Brockport, and earned an M.S. in Education and an M.A. in English. In 1990 she became a full-time writer. In January, 1998, she was married for the third time, to SF writer Charles Sheffield. They live in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Nancy Kress Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Stinger
SF Site Review: Maximum Light
SF Site Review: Beaker's Dozen

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Avon is initiating a new series of Young Adult books, called David Brin's Out of Time. The central conceit is that sometime in the 24th century, the people of Earth have solved their basic problems. To quote: "Violence. Desperation. Disease. Poverty. Hunger." Now they face both a gift and a threat: aliens have gifted humans with some advanced technology, which allows for faster-than-light space travel, and also limited time-travel. But other aliens, not necessarily so nice, have received the same gift, and they regard humans as rivals in following the Gift Givers' "Nine Steps" to further advancement.

The 24th century humans (here it comes) don't have the "grit" anymore to deal with hostile aliens. So they use the time travel feature to grab humans from the violent preceding centuries to supply the requisite "grit." The final rather silly gimmick is that only humans younger than about 17 can travel in either time or space. Voila! Teen heroes. Just what a YA series needs!

I'm all for YA SF books. I certainly read my share when I was young, and I still read them now. That last clause reveals a secret: the good YA books are YA only in that Young Adults are featured as heroes. But the books themselves should be fun for adults to read as well. The setup for this series seems laboured and silly to me, with both the tired cliché of the people of the violent past (that is to say, now) having more "grit" than the pacifist folks of the future; and with a very strained gimmick to restrict the action to teen heroes. This isn't a good sign, but on the other hand, the series' creator has a promising name: David Brin; and the author of the first book is a very fine writer: Nancy Kress. So let's give it a try.

Yanked! features two main characters from the present day. Jason Ramsay is a talented basketball player from New York City. Jason is intelligent and a natural leader, but he seems to be risking his future by his undisciplined approach both to basketball and school. Sharon Myers is a shy, intelligent girl in a small town. Her future is threatened by her drunken single mother, and her need to care for her shiftless sister's child. The future folks yank Sharon and Jason, along with Robbie, a thief from Regency England, and Jofrid, a spirited 14-year-old from 10th-century Iceland, in order to form a team which will go to a planet where a group of future children has been marooned, and where the hostile Panurish, three-eyed aliens, are threatening the marooned children in order to try to find a message from the Gift Givers. By mistake, Sharon's niece Tara is yanked to the future along with Sharon.

The main action is set on the new planet, Jump. The children struggle to form a team, overcoming individual dislikes and cultural problems. Of course, each of them has critical contributions to make: Jason's leadership and imagination, Jofrid's knowledge of surviving in a non-technological society, Sharon's cleverness and her love of her niece, Robbie's thieving skills.

The mystery of how to deal with the Panurish is solved in a somewhat clichéd fashion, though the mystery of the hidden message is solved in a fairly satisfactory way. But while there are occasional amusing passages, including Jason's idea for distracting the Panurish, and his various attempts to organize the kids from different eras into athletic teams, most of the story unfolds in a predictable way, with predictable lessons. The Panurish aren't very interesting or convincing aliens, and the planet Jump isn't very interesting either. The brief glimpses of the utopian future Earth society are slightly more interesting.

The key to almost any involving story is living characters, and Yanked! doesn't really deliver on this level either. I was thrown by details in Jason's case: for instance, he is shown dreaming of making a spectacular dunk, just like "Kareem or Larry." Unfortunately, Larry Bird never dunked, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar was hardly known for spectacular dunks. Sharon is presented with earnestness but nothing much else. Jofrid is predictably too 20th-century in her attitudes, though she's engaging enough. Robbie is perhaps presented best, but I couldn't get inside him. Maybe the most interesting character of all was the future robot, unconvincingly named Da Vinci.

Another key for SF is what might be called living ideas, and Nancy Kress has always been good at presenting and following up on neat ideas. But this story completely lacks any really compelling Science Fictional ideas, and Kress' effort seems perfunctory.

I'll keep hoping for good new YA SF, but this book isn't it, and I can't be very optimistic about this series, either. All in all, a disappointing attempt from two very fine Science Fiction talents.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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