Bewildering Stories

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Harry Turtledove's Gunpowder Empire

Gunpowder Empire (Crosstime Traffic - Book 1)
Author: Harry Turtledove
Tor Books
288 pages
ISBN: 076530693X
Price: $24.95

I was prepared to love this book. Harry dedicated it to Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and H. Beam Piper, who was one of my favorite authors, and Gunpowder God, serialized in Analog is still one of my favorite "Cross-Time" stories. Harry Turtledove, writing as "Eric Iverson" also wrote one of my favorite short stories: "The Road Not Taken". So why does this book fall flat?

The concept of an exhausted 21st century Earth trading across the timelines for needed food and materials was well defined by Piper, and from one standpoint, this book is an hommage to Piper and Norton for their crosstime books, and to Heinlein as the essential writer of riveting juveniles. And although it seems that teenaged Jeremy and Amanda Solter have adventure enough being stranded in a Roman Empire that never fell, with their city under attack by Lietuvans (Lithuanians) and their parents back on the home timeline cut off by a failed Transposition Machine... The story never goes anywhere. Neither Jeremy or Amanda change or grow much, nor are either of them faced with a challenge they can do anything about. The two kids keep their heads down, deal with nasty mores like slavery and wearing of furs, fob off the overweening bureaucracy that is Rome, and wait for the gateway to be re-established.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop (to coin a phrase) only it never did. The gateway comes back, Jeremy's mom recovers from her acute appendicitis, and when Summer Vacation is over, the kids go back to school on the main timeline. I hope that Harry's next book of "Cross-time Traffic" actually gives us a good rousing adventure.

By the way, most other reviewers talk of this book in glowing terms, but... Sorry. No can do.

Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Wright