Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Book review: THE LEGION OF TIME by Jack Williamson

THE LEGION OF TIME (1938 magazine serial; first book publication in 1952) by Jack Williamson.

This is the kind of pulp-magazine sci-fi that inspired today's blockbuster movies: Fast-paced adventure with nonstop action, flat characters, a dash of romance, imaginative settings, plus one "Big Idea" as the motor of the plot.

The plot could be summarized as "The Magnificent Seven in a time machine." The idea of a legion fighting across time has cropped up in pop culture now and then, but THE LEGION OF TIME is the granddaddy of them all - it originally appeared as a 1930s magazine serial in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION.

Author Jack Williamson used the (then) fresh and unexplored theme of quantum mechanics, and came up with a truly original plot: There are two competing alternate futures, fighting each other by trying to alter the past. This being pulp fiction, one future is Good and the other one Evil.

The "good" future gathers a crack team of scientists and soldiers from the past,
with the American protagonist as its leader - the "legion" of the title - to help find the "hinge point" in history that determines which future will come true...

It's a fantastic idea, but it's squeezed into a pulp serial that was obviously written very quickly. The book contains far too much fighting at the expense of plot, character development and depth.

Though Williamson had talent, this short novel will seem overly simplistic to modern readers - like a very violent YA book, with outdated gender roles and crude ethnic stereotyping.

I recommend THE LEGION OF TIME for three reasons. One: It's got a great idea that could have been used better. Two: aspiring writers should study it to learn what works and what doesn't work today.

And the third reason: THE LEGION OF TIME is an escapist adventure and it does "carry the reader away" by its sheer momentum... and "Sense of Wonder."

I think there ought to be more escapist adventure fiction for present-day readers, and perhaps this book could teach young writers how to create such stories.

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