by Jean Rabe & Martin H. Greenberg



306pp/$7.99/January 2007

Time Twisters

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Chris Pierson begins "Pruning the Tree" with a very familiar scenario that quickly changes to be a timeline very different from our own. Pierson provides a neat look at convergent history, since although his story is set fifty years after the branch point, there is still a similarity of events, although to Pierson's credit, they involve different people and specifics rather than just finding some way for our world to reassert its primacy, as seems to happen too often.

Harry Turtledove's "Occupation Duty" initially looks like a story in which he has simply replaced Israelis with Philistinians and Palestinians with Moabites, but the story is more than that.  Set in the modern day of a world that diverged from our own when the Philistines under Goliath defeated the Jews led by David, Turtledove portrays a society which is torn about, not by our own politics, but by the long-standing ethnic and religious strife which underlie those politics.  His point is that given the ethnic mixture of the region, the strife that exists in the area may be unavoidable.

While Pierson eschewed letting our own world come to the forefront, Kevin J. Anderson revels in the idea of establishing our own world (as the best of all possible worlds?) in "Mundane Lane." In a world in which science fiction failed following the destruction of Sputnik, Anderson uses an alien invasion to re-envision the past in an attempt to set right things that we would see as having gone wrong.  His Jimmy Andrews, a governmental Sam Beckett, is sent to three significant points in the evolution of science fiction fandom to make sure they happen correctly.  Anderson's interesting take on the matter is that all of the events he selects, no matter how far fetched, actually occurred.

Nicola Tesla is living the life of a day laborer in Robert E. Vardeman's "The Power and the Glory." Tesla's experiments with electricity and radio waves have been sidelined by the sudden death of his patron, George Westinghouse, and Tesla sees himself as a victim of the successful Thomas Edison.  When powers representing Tesla's native Austro-Hungarian Empire approach him with the funding which has been denied him by Edison's mechanizations, Tesla turns an apparent blind eye towards the potential military use of his experiments, all the while stating that he doesn't want to create weapons of war.  Vardeman does a good job examining the scientist/inventor's culpability into the use of their inventions.

Jackie Cassada provides the first straight-forward time travel story with "Voices." In this tale, Joan of Arc finds herself in the afterlife, of a sort, and is confronted by the voices of Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret.  Cassada's story transplants Joan to a different era to allow the saints, who are actually scientists from a future world, to use Joan's charisma to change policies.  Joan takes a little too readily to their truth and the world of the future, and the scientists' (and Joan's) striving to bring about a utopian world seems a little too simple and contrived.

While Cassada brought Joan of Arc forward in time several centuries, James M. Ward sends the Gambino crime family backwards in time several centuries in "Downtown Knight." Told in two time frames, first in 2010 when the FBI is preparing a raid on the Gambino household, and then in 1405 when the time-shifted mafioso are preparing to enter the lists in an English tournament, Ward's gangsters seem akin in many ways to the citizens of a Damon Runyon story. However, aside from getting away from the FBI, Ward doesn't really examine the Gambino's motivations or plans in going back to the fifteenth century, leaving the story with an unfinished feel.

Jon L. Breen presents a reflexive science fiction story in "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Time." In this case, Breen looks at a writing group debate over whether or not using the word "shrink" for a psychiatrist is anachronistic for a story set in World War II.  Breen's story demonstrates one of the problems with an anthology of this nature.  Knowing the anthology's theme means the reader can easily see where the story is going in a way which might not be as obvious if the story were published in a general anthology or magazine.

On the other hand, Linda P. Baker's contribution, "A Better Place," does not appear to fit any of the declared themes of the anthology.  Apart from a single, non-essential line referring to a volcanic eruption in 2005, the story is a straight post-apocalyptic tale.  Rosemary is an outsider living among a tribe in a feral war, accepted as the woman of one of the tribe's strong men, Gnash.  Partly in response to her own memories and partly due to the ramblings of Old Jerry, another outsider, Rosemary is convinced that there is a better place, although she has neither the ambition nor the means to ferret out where it might be.

Stephen Leigh's story "Chaos Theory" is a discussion of historical forces and inevitability.  Mostly done through two talking heads, a Professor and one of his students, the piece examines the issues concerning not only time travel, but also predeterminism.  Leigh's denouement works because even without any action, he manages to build sympathetic characters with a hope for the future.

One problem which is often seen in alternate history is an author completely ignoring an individual's beliefs and deeds in order to tell a story, using only a person's name to engender a sense of familiarity and, perhaps, irony. In "The Man in Cell 91," Gene DeWeese paints an existential story which clearly could have gone in this direction, and almost does.  However, in the end, he has provided a reason for his character's alteration, even if the character doesn't show quite the anguish over the change as his faith in challenged by apparent fact, as might be desired.

Joe Masdon recreates the Salem Witch Trials in "Oyer and Terminer." Just as Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" was more about the contemporary period than the seventeenth century, so, too is Masdon's tale.  In "Oyer and Terminer," his narrators, who spend most of the story commenting on the trials without getting involved until the Witch Trials come to them.  While the story is an alternate history, its main focus is on the way in which people, in this case Cotton Mather, William Stoughton, and Sheriff Walcott, allow the sincerity of their religious beliefs to undermine the jobs they are intended to do.

One of the recurring themes in time travel is the paramilitary organization the ensures the time streams remain as they are.  While this is generally seen as a good thing, Donald J. Bingle looks at the negative side of it in "Standing Still." Edwin is a member of just such an organization, and in addition to saving lives and ensuring history occurs as it was meant to, he also has to make sure the proper people die.  After helping to sink the Titanic, Edwin has cracked and finds himself facing Morris Lefkowitz, a non-time traveling psychiatrist.  Bingle has an interesting premise and handles it well, although it does raise the question of why the organization to which Edwin belongs doesn't have its own methods for dealing with this type of situation.

Skip & Penny Williams also have a Timecorps in their "One Rainy Day in Paris," in which Kevin Bower accidentally travels to 1906. His activities, minor as they seem, result in the dispatch of the Timecorps to make things right.  However, the Williamses point out that when dealing with time travel, there are multiple possible times and ways to correct chronic errors, and their Timecorps appreciates that fact and uses it to the utmost, finding the proper times to intercede when various things go wrong for a variety of reasons.

When time travelers are given their orders to go into the past to change things, the names and people they will effect have been dust for years.  Pierce Askegren points out that that dustiness vanishes the moment they actually go back in time in "Try and Try Again." In this story of two men who are essentially the same, although from different time streams, one is an old pro and the other gung-ho for his first assignment to better his own time-line. Askegren examines the differences in their time-lines, neither of which appear to be our own, but only gets to his point late in the story, unfortunately, down-playing its importance.

Nancy Virginia Varian extends Jesus' life by three decades in "Yeshua's Choice," allowing him to be present at the time of the siege of Masada.  Told from Jesus' point of view as a carpenter who was once a Rabbi and the Son of God, the story includes many anachronisms, introducing Christian ideas about Jesus to a period before they would have been formulated.  The most interesting question Varian raises, about one man's sacrifice when it is only one of many, unfortunately, goes unexamined.

Wes Nicholson looks at a very different World War II in "Three Power Play," but his manner of dipping in and out of that worlds history, and the almost complete lack of characters, gives the work a distancing feel, although not quite like a textbook.  "Three Power Play" is less a story than it is a listing of ideas with little to hold them together and only authorial fiat to force the reader to accept the changes Nicholson proposes.

John Helfers addresses the issue of being able to repeatedly influence the same event in a very different manner than Skip and Penny Williams in "One Time Around?" Jack Hollister is part of a scientific military project to perfect time travel and abuses his position to travel back to warn his mother of mistakes she would make in her life.  Once he has altered his own personal history, and the history of the world as a whole, the forces of the universe conspire to ensure that he can't change that juncture any more.  While Helfers doesn't introduce any new ideas in his story, he applies tried and true ideas in a new, and interesting manner.

Chris Pierson Pruning the Tree
Harry Turtledove Occupation Duty
Kevin J. Anderson Mundane Lane
Robert E. Vardeman The Power and the Glory
Jackie Cassada Voices
James M. Ward Downtown Knight
Jon L. Breen Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Time
Linda P. Baker A Better Place
Stephen Leigh Chaos Theory
Gene DeWeese The Man in Cell 91
Joe Masdon Oyer and Terminer
Donald J. Bingle Standing Still
Skip & Penny Williams One Rainy Day in Paris
Pierce Askegren Try and Try Again
Nancy Virginia Varian Yeshua's Choice
Wes Nicholson Three Power Play
John Helfers One Time Around?

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