Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream -G.C. Edmondson [1965]

The Alice was an odd ship in the modern navy: wood hulled, sail powered, and sporting a veritable Christmas tree of metal sensors to detect submarines hanging from her mast. But a freak accident involving an illicit vacuum-still hurtles the vessel back in time, making it...The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream!

In a sense, this book itself is something of a time machine, encapsulating the period it was written in and bringing a taste of the early 1960s to readers in the present day. Between the somewhat dated sensibilities regarding minorities and women, the many and repeated references to the now defunct Bureau of Ships (disbanded in 1966, one year after the book was written and four years before the setting of the book), and a couple of historical inaccuracies that have since become relatively common knowledge, this is a book that has not sailed the time stream very well itself. However, this is not to say that it is a terrible book. Once you become acclimated to the odd quirks and plot holes (just why does that vacuum still actually do anything? I dunno, magic) the time travel plot is actually fairly entertaining. The times and locales visited are fleshed out to a pretty good degree, and it's not often that the Islamic Golden Age or prehistoric Mesopotamia are featured in these sorts of stories. There's not a ton of character development, but by the time the Alice's journey comes to a climax, you're at least familiar enough with the crew to become reasonably involved with their plight as a whole, if not the crew members individually.

As a whole, The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream is entertaining, if not a classic for the ages. A decent time travel story, it addresses some large concerns with time travel that many other similar stories gloss over: food and water are suspect, the language barrier is all but inpenetrable (except for the nearly Daniel Jackson-like linguistic abilities of the historian-turned-naval-ensign main character), and the relative movement of the Earth during time jumps is at least mentioned, if not fully expanded on.

One somewhat unusual recommendation is Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander, which features a similarly hodge podge time travel plot, although aimed at a much younger audience. Additionally, G.C. Edmondson wrote a sequel in To Sail the Century Sea, though I have not yet had a chance to read it.

In Short
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream is an entertaining romp through the ages, even if it doesn't quite survive its own trip through time without noticeable aging.


Yup, output has definitely fallen after classes started. Oh well, at least I'm still ahead 3-0. I guess I'll take this time to catch up on my Alastair Reynolds while awaiting other reviews... :P

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