Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review: 'The Year of the Quiet Sun' by Wilson Tucker

3/5 Stars

This edition of ‘The Year of the Quiet Sun’ (1970) is an Ace paperback (252 pp.); the cover artist is uncredited.

It’s 1978, and the US is still at war in Southeast Asia, having in fact traded local nukes with the Red Chinese. Women wear bathing suits with transparent tops, the Arabs and Israelis have fought yet another war, and archeologist Brian Chaney has released a controversial best-seller that argues that the Book of Revelation was a work of fiction.

When an attractive young woman named Kathryn van Hise accosts him on a Florida beach, Chaney is uncooperative, thinking her to be yet another reporter. However, van Hise is a federal employee and she offers him an unusual assignment: join the Bureau of Standards and travel forward in time.

Chaney finds himself stationed at a secret government installation outside Chicago, where a major project is underway to construct a time travel vehicle called the TDV. Chaney is one of three men who will be sent forward to the year 2000, to reconnoiter and determine if the US will be a better place after the social tumult of the 60s subsides…or not,as the case may be.

Much of the first 110 pages of the book are plodding, and mainly consist of conversations wherein author Tucker demonstrates his ability to have his male and female characters engage in flirty repartee. However, after this protracted meandering our main characters actually do travel forward in time, the plot picks up momentum, and the final sections of the book are an engaging read.

The time travel portions of the novel are convincing because Tucker takes a conservative approach, and avoids introducing paradoxes or other baroque consequences of violating the laws of causality. The mechanics of arriving in a period twenty years from the present, recording information, and then returning to the past are well-conceived, and help keep the narrative grounded in a plausible ‘what if’ scenario based on the social conditions existing in the late 60’s.

I won’t spoil things by revealing the novel’s major plot hinge, save to say that while it may seem dated to contemporary readers, it does succeed in imparting a thoughtful note to the story’s closing pages.

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