Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the street, lounging on the beach, and coding in the basement. (Or meeting other people who write stuff online, which is how I spent last weekend). It’s also the traditional time for lighter reading, and fans of SF might want to delve into the genre’s past, into the world of swashbuckling pulp adventure fueled by mind-bending concepts.
Jack Williamson ranked among the best of the Ray Gun school, and he continued to develop as a writer; he continues to this day. He has written and co-written more than fifty novels and, along the way, he coined the terms “genetic engineering” (Dragon’s Island), “terraforming” (Seetee Ship) and, in this novel, Jonbar Point.
Title: The Legion of Time
Original Publication Date: 1938
Women from two different, disparate futures contact Denny Lanning, because his actions will determine which of their societies will ultimately come to pass. In particular, his actions will affect the life of one John Barr. In one possible future, Barr will become an influential scientist whose discovery will change world history; in another, he dies, penniless, and a variation of his discovery is made nine years later by less ethical individuals. The utopian society of Jonbar dominates the world of one possible future. In another, the dystopic Gyronchi scars our world, and eventually destroys humanity.
In order to ensure that the best future occurs, Lanning must join the Legion of Time, and to join the Legion, he first must die.
The concept of the Jonbar Point, illustrated with the far-fetched, but fascinating example of young John Barr, bending down one day to pick an object from the ground.
Ach! The male characters are, at best, two-dimensional beings. The females barely achieve one. Our protagonist, Lanning, has wandered out of a bad college novel where, we can presume, he would have proved himself both on the field and in the class and won the virtuous and beautiful debutante’s hand away from the rich but unworthy suitor. For the rest of the Legion, the young Williamson substitutes bad accents for characterization.
Originality: 4/6. This seems less original than it is, obviously, because so much has happened since 1938.
Story: 4/6 The plot exists to move us from one exciting incident to the next. This isn’t great writing—I’m not even certain it makes sense—but, gee whiz, gang, it’s a fun ride.
Characterization: 2/6. “Gott in Himmel!” rumbled Emil Schorn at his side. “Der thing we must recover is in that castle, nein? It looks a verdammt stubborn nut to crack!”
Bonus idiocy: the men have trouble harming the Evil Ruler of Gyronchi because she’s hot.
Emotional Response: 3/6.
Editing: 3/6. Williamson became a better writer over time.
Overall Score: 4/6. The fact that Williamson was thinking about alternate histories and the long-term effects of seemingly trivial moments, and the fact that in 1938 he wrote about an international group of heroes that includes a character who fought to save Paris in the 1940s, impresses me.
In total, The Legion of Time receives 24/42
Look: if you want to experience SF’s pulp origins, you can’t do better than The Legion of Time.