Despite the misleading title, this short science fiction novel isn’t about time travel, but about
traveling to parallel dimensions — other timelines. The plot involves a handful of
“Paratime Police” officers in a society that exploits the resources of various
“paratemporal” worlds. The officers stumble upon an illegal slave trade Organization
capturing people from one timeline and selling them on another.
Like other H. Beam Piper books, I did not realize until recently that this one is now in the
public domain and is therefore free to read online
What I Liked Least About It
The same criticisms are true of this book that stand for many Piper works: (1) lists many
characters without enough description to keep them separate in your head, (2) characters have
unusual and hard-to-remember names (Skordran Kirv and Ranthar Jard, just to name a couple),
(3) uses personal pronouns without connecting them clearly to previously mentioned names, and
(4) using “girl” instead of “woman” for adult human females, which
seems incredibly patronizing.
Additionally, I felt this book lacked necessary exposition. In normal fiction, exposition isn’t
always necessary because the reader knows the universe in which it takes place. In science fiction,
however, I feel you’re unnecessarily leaving the reader in confusion if you fail to explain
early the “rules” — what technology is available, how the government is set up,
how the paratemporal “conveyor” works, etc.
What I Liked Most About It
As usual, once you subtract the above complaints, Piper is easy to read. The paragraphs feel
comfortable, as if he’s verbally telling you a story. The plot of this one wasn’t
terribly complex, but felt real enough, given the world in which it took place.
One failing of mine is that I almost always enjoy science fiction, even if the writing is not
top-notch, as long as the ideas are well-thought out. I generally read this genre for those
ideas, for the excuse to think about the consequences of various technological or scientific
advances in a theoretical sense. It means I sometimes read imperfect books. Despite my love of
Piper’s stories, I have to place his stuff in that category.
While reading this one, though, I discovered that my tastes have finally begun to move on, to
require just a little more from my writers. I’m also increasingly seeing the value of
reading non-fiction, even if it doesn’t always flow so well.