Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tripping in Post-Jurassic Park

Review: Cretaceous Sea by Will Hubbell 

What would you do if you had access to a time-travel machine? H.G. Wells had his Time Machine traveler go far into the future, returning once to grab a few volumes from his library to help the growth of the society he found there. 

Leo Frankowski scattered generations of a world-wide time-police organization across 2000 years of history to make sure that one man, his Cross-Time Engineer, survived in medieval Poland. 

And L. Sprague de Camp assumed a historian traveling to Imperial Rome would want to prevent that empire's decline, Lest Darkness Fall.

But Peter Green and Ann Smyth, the lucky owners of the time-warp apparatus in Will Hubbell's novel, have a better idea. They'll sell—to multi-millionaires only—the chance to vacation in the "unspoiled, pristine wilderness" of the inland sea that existed in mid-America at the boundary of the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods.

The millionaire backer they've chosen first, Greighton, has good reason to desire an escape from the crowds. His new—young—fianceé has a disturbing propensity for attracting young men and spending his money, and he wants a chance to solidify his relationship with her away from such distractions.

Greighton insists on bringing his spoiled teenage daughter along as well, and Smyth promises him there will be a "staff naturalist" along to keep her out of Daddy's hair. To geologist and fossil collector Rick Clements, it sounds like the perfect graduate-school job. Even though he's not sure he believes the machine can really take them back, he's eager for a chance to collect living specimens of the animals he's only seen immured in rock until now. And Constance Greighton, the "child" he expects to babysit, will not prevent him from making the most of this opportunity.

Perhaps Green and Smyth's skewed view of what to do with such a windfall comes from the source. They are not inventors of this technology. They stole it from the original owner, who (Green surmises) came from a future time when time-travel technology is fairly commonplace. Or maybe it is a result of the disturbing fact that only one time—the Cretaceous (K-T) boundary—and only one place can be reached with their ill-gotten transport. Fortunately for Green and Smyth, they find ready-made living quarters at their proposed resort.

Unfortunately for all of the vacationers, there's more at the destination than a convenient group of summer cottages. It's the usual problem of stolen technology—there's no manual, and an undocumented feature will sometimes crash the system. In their case, the malfunction leaves them stranded on the edge of the Cretaceous Sea, where they will have an excellent view of the meteor that ended the Age of the Dinosaurs.

Hubbell has written a thriller in time-travel guise that mingles just a little geologic and dinosaur fact with lots of adventure. Don't expect it to stretch your brain—this story is time-travel light. It's strictly for fun, and at that, it succeeds very well.

Liner Notes:

  • The sequel to this Cretaceous Sea, Sea of Time, is a much meatier novel. I'm re-reading it now, and will review it when I've finished. 
  • Neither Hubbell novel is available for Kindle, nor is the initial Conrad Stargard story by Frankowski (although many of the later novels in the Cross-Time Engineer series are available in ebook format). Well's Time Machine is free for Kindle, and de Camp's time-travel story is anthologized for that format with several tales by other authors who were influenced by Lest Darkness Fall.