Saturday, February 9, 2013

Andre Norton's THE CROSSROADS OF TIME #OneBookAtATime

My first ever Andre Norton -- I know, I know, but it won't be my last -- The Crossroads of Time is an interesting time/dimensional travel romp with some psychic power tropes thrown in. And a bit of a manhunt storyline.

Blake Walker, student, has always known he was a little bit different from other people, in that his little premonitions of danger are always correct. What he doesn't know is that he's a latent psychic, and that in the universe next door his ability would make him as common as he is unusual here. Hell, he doesn't know there are universe's next door, until his unique ability lands him in a heap of trouble with some agents from that universe, who tell him not only that time travel is possible, but that it is also possible, within a time or "level", to visit all the alternate versions of that time. One where, say, Napoleon won at Waterloo, or one where the petroleum economy got started a few hundred years earlier, or where Abed was the one who had to go downstairs to pay the pizza man -- basically, the many worlds theory with which any science fiction or comic book reader is pretty familiar.

The agents, several men about Blake's own age, are in pursuit of the worst kind of time traveler, one whose psychic abilities are developed to the highest possible degree, but who seems to be a stone cold psychotic megalomaniac, who is shopping for just the right world in which he can exploit his powers, knowledge and lack of scruples to become World Dictator. Hey! This could explain how Arslan got to be Arslan, am I right?

So this is all very well and good but since it's played straight (i.e. no Epicene/Mary Margaret Wildeblood types here) it would all be a bit ho-hum for the modern reader, except for two things: the chase and escape plot, and the protagonist. O, Blake, you orphan with latent powers, you should be dull as ditchwater, but you're just the right combination of intrepid and resourceful without being a complete over-the-top can-do Boy Scout, and I've grown fond of you in that kid brother kind of way.

The chase/escape plot is nicely taut while still giving us a chance to explore some of the radically different worlds (two words: robot dragons) in just enough detail. Norton really let herself go nuts there, with enjoyable results.

Ultimately, though, there isn't quite enough book here. The novel dates from a period when a lot of science fiction/fantasy authors, Norton included, were churning out stories at a fantastic rate. The deadline pressure and the need to keep it short and sweet are both palpable throughout this quick little read. With the luxury of conducting my reading life decades later than this period, I can't help but wonder what might have been if this had been the universe in which Norton got to take her time and spin this out into the epic it clearly wanted to be. And I wonder if that universe might not also have been the one in which Jorge Luis Borges spun out whole novels instead of just his weird little gemlike short stories. But I'll never know, at least until someone invents or discovers the Carrier and lets me visit and see for myself, right?

Until then, I must content myself with its sole sequel, Quest Crosstime, soon. Fortunately, this was an omnibus edition of the pair of them. Thank you, Baen Books!


  1. The Crosstime books definitely could have stood to be longer, but a lot of books in that era, Kate, could be. Norton is just one example of that phenomenon.

  2. You're welcome! (Speaking on behalf as a Baen Books enabler...)

  3. I read my first Norton novel when I was in the 7th grade - shudder! - about 55 years ago. I believe it may have been a juvie titled Star Guard. I've picked her up off and on over the years, both the old stuff and the new, and while I'm not always blown away, I always expect and get a good solid read. Rarely has she disappointed, an accolade I apply to few writers including the Bard.


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