Up the Line
By Robert Silverberg
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Paul Boehmer
Time travel is such a common theme in science fiction that is can be difficult to come up with a truly original treatment of it, and I wonder if my own “Down Time, Ltd.” Series, in which my main characters work for a company who takes tourists back in time, was in some small way influenced by this book. I certainly did not have it in mind when I came up with Down Time, but subconsciously? Maybe, but I am satisfied that if I borrowed that notion, that was all that I did borrow.
There are two organizations who travel through time in Up the Line; the Time Couriers and the Time Patrol. They get along like water and metallic sodium. if you never had a high school chemistry who demonstrated what happens when you combine the two, check out this video It is probably what my teacher was trying to show us in a lab one morning. For him it didn’t work at first and he kept plunking in larger and larger chunks of pure sodium until he got a mild pop – judging from this video he probably should have blown up the lab, kinda like this. Okay enough fun with chemistry…
Judson Daniel Elliott III is a fairly straight-laced young man who after getting unlaced a bit in Under New Orleans, decides to become a Time Courier for reasons that, when you boil them down, sound like he was double-dog dared to. He decides he likes the work though and for a while plays it all by the book, but then he learns that the rules only apply when you get caught and he starts to take chances. Honestly the kid’s name ought to be Murphy, because everything goes wrong for him and in a moment of panic and utter lack of thought he makes what really is the mistake of his life when one of the tourists he is guiding rigs the time-travel device he is using and flashes out to cause historical mayhem. Now at best he might have gotten a reprimand for allowing it to happen, but because he was sneaking off to get laid when he should have been with his charges it might mean losing his job. His solution, however, because the Couriers don’t cooperate with the Patrol and because he doesn’t want to lose the job, gets him into far worse trouble. (…and hilarity ensues?)
I first read this one back in high school and enjoyed it then. Coming back to it now, my appreciation for the story is somewhat lessened. Robert Silverberg wrote a lot of sex-scenes in his books in that period of his life and that is probably why I enjoyed his stories so much as a high school student. Hey, I was like 15 or 16 at the time, what do you expect? Now, however, I kept thinking, “Will you stop screwing around (literally) and get down to telling the story?” There really is far more sex going on than any normal person should be capable of… well, it’s the future, maybe they have special drugs and sex-toys in the future that can extend your desire for days at a time? And when you combine that with one character’s endorsement that the best sex is with your own ancestors (Eew!) it gets pretty raunchy at times.
Fortunately Silverberg is also a master storyteller and one can ignore all the sex or even just remember that it was the sex that gets Elliott in trouble in the first place. It’s still a reasonably good story and I tend to blame the publishers for the abundance of sex scenes – at least I’ve heard a number of authors complaining about how their perfectly good stories had to be spiced up at the editor’s command – but it really is distracting. My real complaint is that Elliott makes all the wrong choices (obvious to the reader) compounding rather than alleviating his troubles, but then, maybe if he could have kept his zipper shut, he would have done better.
Paul Boehmer’s reading makes Judson Daniel Elliott III sound like a wide-eyed, ignorant and gullible kid and that might be just about right. However, he uses the “funny voices” technique and gives a thick accent to nearly everyone in the book so that the listener is caught up in a whirlwind of accents and vocal mannerisms that is probably meant to give us a sense of the international character of the people involved but, for me, distracted from the story nearly as much as the underlying message that deep down all anyone really wants is to get laid.
So, here’s the summary; this could have been a very good book, but the forced insertion of sex makes it mediocre on so many counts and it is only the fact that Silverberg can, in deed craft a good plotline in spite of the content that makes it worth reading at all. That is unless you’re a high school kid in which case this is a heck of a lot more subtle than carrying around an issue of “Playboy.” Mister Boehmer’s reading is acceptable although had he toned down the strong accents, it might have made the book more enjoyable to listen to. If you’re a Silverberg fan, this is probably worth a listen, but if not, he has written far better novels.