Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Review: The Shield of Time

Poul Anderson's books are always a treat for me, and The Shield of Time was no exception. A novel-length set of three related stories about Anderson's Time Patrol, Shield covers the further adventures of Manse Everard, a "time cop" responsible for maintaining Earth's history in such a way that it is kept intact for the Danellians, super-beings from Earth's distant future. 

The Time Patrol stories are a thinking person's action stories, combining occasional hand-to-hand combat scenes with time travel puzzles. The stories are puzzles because often what happens is that the Patrol learns of some sort of anomaly in the timeline--say, one of their team members discovers a group of people in a place and time they aren't "supposed" to be according to the Danellians' prescribed history. The way Everard and his fellow agents solve their problems is by learning and applying lessons in cultural history and mores.

In the case of The Shield of Time, the Patrol encounters a series of anomalies that cause everything "uptime" of the 12th century to disappear. Agents who arrive in the altered future find a world vastly changed from their own--changed buildings, languages and dialects altered, politics and societies shifted, and so forth. Everard, an American Midwesterner recruited by the Patrol in 1954, is an "Unattached" Agent, allowed to work in multiple historical places and times. He and an American woman recruited out of 1987 Southern California lead the effort to restore the normal flow of time. This requires some detective work to understand how history went "wrong," as well as several back-and-forth missions and a bit of derring-do, which move along briskly.

The appeals of Anderson's writing are his ways with describing working technology, his lively portrayals of lifeways in various places and times, and his attitudes of people living a life of free thought and adventurous action. I myself would not qualify for Anderson's "patrol," lacking military experience or a love for the outdoors. Of course the Patrol has technologies that allow its agents to survive some of the dangers of ancient times, including food-borne illnesses and sexual-transmitted diseases, as well as memory-imprinting of languages and maps of ancient cities. In such ways, people from the future can move through history with some reasonable authority or realism.

The Shield of Time's three novellas are not the best of the Time Patrol stories--I highly recommend the set of stories collected as The Time Patrol--but both books are entertaining.

And since I'm here, if you're interested in buying any of the books I've reviewed (do a search for "book review"), please click on one of the boxes and purchase them from Amazon. Theoretically, I'd get a piece of the action. Just an ask, not a demand. Trust me, I don't depend on these reviews to pay my grocery bills...but the purchases are appreciated.

No comments: