No Time Like Tomorrow, by Ted White, for Timeslip Tuesday (an odd book from yesteryear)

There are reasons why some books become timeless science fiction classics, read by generations of kids, and others are not even checked out of the library in the years right after they are published, leaving me to be the one that has to make a book record for them on Goodreads.  Sadly, No Time Like Tomorrow, by Ted White (1969), is an example of the later type of book.

The title is fine; a good choice for a time travel book in which a 1960s teenager, Frank, is mistakenly transported 500 years into the future (the folks in the future were experimenting, obviously without success, with faster than light travel).  Frank is also a fine name for an Everyboy representing contemporary humanity.

The cover, however, is not fine.  I don't get any sense of "the future is exciting" from it.  Instead I get "those two people look really creepy."  And if you are putting a futuristic saucer-shaped hovercraft thing on the cover, you might as well go all out and make it look like a futuristic hovercraft thing instead of a lightly-sketched dome of randomness (in the middle of the cover, by the white streak that isn't part of the original--sorry about the streak)

So in any event, Frank gets sent to the future.   And wakes up in a strange (because it molds itself to him) bed, not knowing the language.  And an attractive girl, Dorian, comes in and starts feeding him with her fingers (as in, he has to suck the gloop off them) with odd undertones of titillation and this is just weird.  I cannot think of any books that have become sci fi classics for young readers that involve finger feeding of this sort.

We switch to Dorian's point of view, and via the first of many info dumps we learn who she is--heir to one of the mega powerful corporations that control everything.   We also learn that this is a sexist society; at most she will be a power behind the husband of her arranged marriage.  We think this future sucks, especially for the people at the bottom.

When Frank and Dorian are kidnapped, we get to go on a tour of the future earth and see how bad it is.   Here, however, the author becomes a bit confused.  While showing an awful, polluted, over-populated world with a terrible imbalance of power and lots of people in dire poverty having limbs hacked off by those in power etc. and their children taken as concubines to those in power etc., he also tries to defend capitalism with a message about how the middle class, if they just try, can have perfectly fine, successful lives--"There's still room for it.  This is a free capitalistic society, you know," says Archer, an older man who (for unclear reasons) is risking everything to help Frank and Dorian make it back to her family (page 96).    (Viz the unclear reasons--Archer's unborn son was genetically modified into a water-breathing mutant by one of the big corporations, and Archer kills his son to save him from a life of underwater slavery and things go badly for him and the rest of his family after that...I would have like a bit more exploration of how this led to him risking his relatively comfortable (though lonely) independence for two strange kids.)

In any event, the book ended up feeling didactic, but in a confusing way-- I felt that White was opposing the idea of a few big corporations controlling everything, including people's privacy, while trying to make Capitalism per se not the problem.   The book ends with Frank telling Dorian to try to use her influence (over her kids, because clearly that's the only sphere of power open to her) to make things better.   (If he was sending an anti-big-corporation/anti-uber rich few controlling everything message back then in the 1960s, clearly it did not fall on fertile ground....because here we are.  But like I said, I don't think the book was read much.) 

Back to the story.  We get more info dumps while the three of them travel.  This includes one about how televisions work, which is really not the point.   It is not really the book's fault, however, that the future technology seems rather meh-ish-- all the hover crafts and rockets  and instant global communication seem unremarkable from the 21st century point of view.

Frank and Dorian fall for each other.  This does not make either of them a more interesting, well-rounded character.   There is nothing that does.  It does not help that the author goes out of his way to tell us flat out at the beginning that Frank is not an interesting person (I like it when authors at least try to make their characters more than lumps).   The author also shows us clearly that Dorian is a spoiled and clueless person, dimwitted as a result of her sheltered upbringing and not likely to contribute anything useful to anything.

On the plus side, the plot made sense.... (except for the motivation of the helper character).  And on a sentence level, the writing was just fine.

Final thought--  as I said above, I do not think this book had a wide readership, one possible reader might have been Ronald Reagan, who famously said "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do."   Pine trees are one specifically referenced source of pollution in this future world.  (you can read more about why this is silly here).  But in White's world, people breathing in and out is a cause of pollution too, for what that's worth.

Ok--now I've just gone and read the Kirkus review, which is almost as odd as this book (and which seems to have gotten Dorian's name wrong).  Here is my favorite bit from the Kirkus review:  "Then Frank and Damian are kidnapped by a rival corporation in a plot that fails to kill them and they are forced to make their way through the burrows of the peasant establishment...."  but the last sentence is almost as good-- "No Time could be read in no time."

1 comment:

  1. That sounds very didactic. As you said, they can't all be classics.


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