Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Crossroads of Time - Andre Norton

170 pages; 1956. Genre : Sci Fi (Young Adult). Overall Rating : A- to C+.

.   By having a premonition to help someone out, Blake Walker finds himself drawn into dimension-travel, and the tracking down of a rogue who's importing sophisticated weaponry into less-advanced dimensions for personal gain.

   .Andre Norton (1912-2005) was one of the top Sci-Fi authors in the 50's/60's. While she didn't introduce the concept of time- and space-travel, she popularized it by using it as a repeated theme in her books. TCoT is one of her earlier stories, which she then developed into a 4-5 book series.

What's To Like...
    This is a perfect story for a young teen boy. There's a fair amount of fighting and killing; and no yucky romance. Parents will appreciate that there's no sex or drugs. The bad guy is a UE (Ultimate Evil), but at least he's resourceful and cunning. And our hero doesn't start out as a perfect defender-of-all-that's-good. Indeed, he's as much of a liability as an asset in this present UE-hunt.
    I like Norton's treatment of our timeline. All too often, Alternate History authors portray our particular time/space continuum as being the most advanced there is. We boldly go where no one has gone before, benevolently enlightening the rest of the Cosmos.

   .No so here. Our dimension comes off as being quaintly naive, psionically primitive, and dangerously prone to violence. Just the sort of place a UE would want to take over. That's a refreshing viewpoint.

What's Not To Like...
    Not a lot. Norton doesn't spend a lot of time fleshing out most of the alternate worlds here, but I suppose that's to be expected in a 170-page book. And I swear, although every Norton book ever issued has at least two completely different bookcovers, none of them (including the one shown above) have anything to do with the story itself.
What If...
    Norton's general hypothesis here is that an alternate timeline spins off at every critical juncture in history. Thus you end up with thousands of parallel universes.

   .The one that Norton does take some time to explore here is a world where Hitler wins the Battle of Britain. The remnants of the British army and government flee to Canada, and the main phase of World War 2 consists of Germany and Japan besieging North America from both coasts. The effort eventually fails, but at the cost of tremendous destruction and anarchy in the United States. TCoT is set in the present (well, mid-1950's), and while Blake and his associates try to catch the UE, a few plucky, local New Yorkers are trying to re-establish civilization.
Overall Rating : Adults : C+; Young Adult : A-
    In the end, the plot is just a bit too straightforward to keep an adult reader's interest. And it has to be asked just how the universe decides what constitutes an critical juncture, worthy of an alternate world spin-off. But for a kid into science fiction, this should be a fun story. And it is cool to read someone who blazed the path for present-day Alt-History writers.

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