Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Time Travel Adventures of the 1800 Club: Book 1 by Robert P. McAuley

Guest post by Henry Martin.
In book one of The Time Travel Adventures of the 1800 Club (currently free on Amazon) McAuley introduces a team of time travelers from the twenty-first century that finds and fixes the time line that exists in 2066.  In a ironic play on the "butterfly effect," robotic butterflies are sent back in time to find alternate realities that conflict with the history books.   Using a supercomputer, the "History Tracking Center" in 2066 predicts what the divergences might cause.  When the book begins, the first president of the "1800 Club" is nearing the end of a career that had begun in the 1980s.  The portal to the past is found at a doorway in an antebellum townhouse in New York City that houses the 1800 Club where travelers are recruited.  Prescott Stevens, originally living in New York in 1863, had been tapped as the original time traveler and worked out of the twentieth century in order to recruit others to help him.  The protagonist of this series, Bill Scott, becomes the second president of the club.

McAuley concentrates on sensory imagery, especially the sense of smell, in describing the differences between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.  The premise of the story holds that the time travellers from 2066 are not able to safely go into a world with polluted air, nor drink water from the still polluted water tables of those eras.  This is a convenient, if not plausible, way to require recruiting travelers from the past.

There are three time travel destinations in the first book -- 1863, 1875 and 1899 -- focusing on inadequate responses by two presidents deemed catastrophic to the time line.  As with most time travel stories, though, the alternate histories that are "fixed" so that events in the "prime" time line will not follow suit.  The fact that the history from which the time travelers move has not followed the feared path is not considered.  Logically, there are only two ways that things could go if time travel were used -- first, any travelers become part of one existing time line and a 'secret history' takes place; second, time travelers create new time lines that will follow paths closer to the "prime" time line.

In this book, the first mission reveals a secret history that is fixed apparently in the prime time line as to not follow an alternate path.  The second mission, though, begins with a visit to an alternate history first, and then a trip to that history at an earlier date to solve the problem to produce what would become the prime timeline.

In the second mission, a time paradox is introduced that becomes part of the prime time line.  McAuley changes history, though; having failed to check facts, he missed a date of an event by over a decade.  Since there is an interaction between these time lines in "real time," the only conclusion we can come to in this case is that our time line's history books are "wrong."

Another problem is introduced in this mission: an emergency mission!  This is time travel in which any time can be entered into the time travel control device.  Bill Scott had demonstrated this by changing an hour in the past into ten minutes by dialing up that time upon his return to the present.  With this ability there would be no emergencies.

The bottom line for this review is to "grade" it against a hypothetical "perfect" story.  As a story, the book is written well, drawing the reader to experience the sights, sounds and smells in a real way.  It comes out as an above average tale, earning a B+.  However, given the implausibilities and paradoxes, one's suspension of disbelief is stretched quite far.  This earns an average grade of C.  Together, then, the book gets a B-.  On a five-star scale, this would be four out of five stars (80%).

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Henry is a writer living in the south, going by the screen name "SouthWriter" on the althistory.wiki.com website.  A member of a writing group in Greenville, SC, he has seen some of his short stories and poems in print.  More recently, he has edited two books - the first by his oldest son and the second by his mother.  He joined althistory.wiki.com in 2009 and is now an administrator for that wiki.

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