Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson

1939 Retro Hugo Best Novel nominee, The Legion of Time, by Jack Williamson (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1938).

Another pulp. I enjoyed this one a lot more. Spoilery details behind the link.

A young man, Denny Lanning, learns he is destined to play the key role in deciding whether mankind's future follows an evil dead-end path or a wonderous and good path. He is visited by beautiful women representing each future path. Many years later, he embarks on a time-travel adventure with a team of soldiers from many different countries and cultures. Their goal is to assure that an amazing new technology is discovered by a good man who will set humanity on a path towards evolution into a higher being, rather than by an evil man who will set humanity on a path towards slavery and eventual extinction.

This is the only Best Novel nominee that really has, to me, the intense feel of pre-World War II anxieties. I can feel the stress of increasing tensions and impending war, and anxiety over new technologies which have the possibility of being used for both amazing good and unspeakable evil. This story read to me much like a fairy tale, finding a way through the fears of the day to a better world. Even small actions by ordinary people can make all the difference.

I enjoyed the way this story played with time, and the technobabble was just glorious. The characters are very shallow (understatement), but you know I always love a team of very different people from all kinds of different cultures coming together to champion the common Good.

There were only two women in the story - the Evil Sorceress and the Pure Princess. The ending was not what I expected, given how formulaic the tale was with the Two Diametrically Opposed Women - All Good and All Evil. I was quite pleasantly surprised at the end. The two worlds, the two timelines, the two women, are one.

Watching the way this fairy tale worked through the anxieties of upcoming war and the amazing technological advances occurring in the real world made it possible for me to mostly ignore and skim through the parts of the book that were gross and fighty.

Overall, The Legion of Time left me with a feeling of "There's some scary shit coming - but even just one person doing the Right Thing can have long-lasting repercussions for the entire future of humanity, especially if we all put our differences aside and work together for the common good."

Up or down ballot (note for myself): Upper middle. It's not a great work of art, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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