David Brin's Out of Time Series
Number 1
By Nancy Kress
Review by James Walton

I think it took Ms Kress about a week to write this one. That includes the hour she spent listening in on teenagers' conversations to pick up a phrase or two of youthful slang.

Yes, I know the Out of Time Series is Brin's attempt at luring young readers to Science Fiction (an extremely laudable cause) but I suspect this effort by Kress will lose as many youngsters as it gains.

I will try to not overuse the word 'dull.'

The premise of the Out of Time series is fairly standard. In Earth's future, humanity has succeeded in colonizing the Solar System without destroying Earth in the process. This deed has earned humanity the notice (and possible respect) of an ancient alien race called The Gift Givers. Earth learns there are hundreds of other alien races out there, all pretty much competing for the Gift Givers' favors.

One of the gifts Earth received was the ability to use special teleportation devices located around the galaxy. These devices, 'sally ports,' transport people and material instantly through great distances. Of course there is a catch: any person (human anyway) over the age of sixteen who uses a sally port dies in pain and madness. So when problems arise on distant planets, only teenagers can be sent to handle them. (This is a handy device to get the kids out of direct adult supervision.)

So why are teenagers from Earth's past yanked into the far future? It seems that the people in 2336 are a bunch of wimps. All the aggressiveness and 'grit' has been bred out of them. The thought of violence and direct confrontation makes them ill.

For special missions the Earth of 2336 kidnaps (oops!) yanks teenagers with grit to the future. Each particular youngster is chosen because he or she had demonstrated courage, grit, and intelligence. Each on has 'made a difference' in their own time period.

In this particular book the teenagers are:

These 5 teens, along with a robot babysitter (Danger! Danger!) are sent on a quest to a far off planet to rescue a group of spacewrecked children and to recover an artifact vital to humanity's standing in the galactic community. A complication is the existence of another search and recovery mission, this one sent by a competing alien race. These competitors are roughly at the same level technologically and socially as Earth so they too are vying for the Gift Givers' attention.

Although it is never explicitly stated, I suspect these teens were all 'conditioned' to get along and accept each other. I can't imagine a street thief from 1810 willingly taking orders from a Black person, nor can I imagine a Viking girl from 987 being nonplussed by the sight of a Black person.

This same conditioning probably accounts for the ease in which the teenagers accept their unusual circumstances and dive into their mission.

The interactions between the teens is so uneventful and wooden that it is something of a relief when the alien party finally appears. The only friction is caused by the thief who shows something resembling a healthy paranoia in strange surroundings.

I suspect the dullness of this book is not Ms Kress' fault. She is 'playing in someone else's universe' and is probably following a strict set of rules.

The success of the Harry Potter books is proof that books for Young Adults need not be deathly dull for older readers. Of course, the Potter books don't pretend to be anything more than entertainment. The Out of Time books have a Message.

There are two more volumes in the Out of Time series as I write this. Presumably they all use the same basic plot, that of pulling teenagers out of their own time periods to be used for nefarious purposes. I just hope these later books will be a bit more entertaining.

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