Monday, February 9, 2015

The Second Time Travel Megapack, edited by John Gregory Betancourt

More temporal fun from the sci-fi pulps
As the title indicates, this 2014 collection of science fiction stories is a follow-up to the original Time Travel Megapack, both part of the vast Megapack series of inexpensive pulp fiction omnibuses published by Wildside Press. John Betancourt and his editorial gang at Wildside have once again cobbled together a diverse assortment of tales and novellas. Overall, I don’t think The Second Time Travel Megapack is as good as the first, but it does include some treasures that certainly deserve to be read.

It’s almost impossible to give a grab bag collection like this five stars. You’re bound to find something you like, but you’re also bound to find the opposite. The original publication dates of these stories run from 1936 to 2013, though most are from the 1940s and ‘50s. Although there’s 23 selections here, only 17 authors are represented, so some appear twice or thrice. I certainly didn’t mind this when I was reading two great stories by Mack Reynolds, but I could have done without the double dose of Arthur Leo Zagat and John York Cabot. Their entries from the Golden Age may have thrilled in their day, but today smell like something resurrected from a musty attic. One unfortunate trend in this collection is that the longer pieces tend to be the least entertaining. When one of Grendel Briarton’s “Ferdinand Feghoot” puns falls flat, it’s only two pages long, so no big loss. The longest novella in the book, however, Carlos McCune’s “Caverns of Time”—a juvenile imagining of what might happen if the Three Musketeers got their hands on motorcycles and machine guns—really does wear on the nerves.

Now for the bright side: there are some excellent stories here. Reynolds’s comic tale “The Business, As Usual” follows a hilarious fifteen minute conversation between a twentieth-century time traveler and a thirtieth-century local. “In the Cards,” by Alan Cogan, explores just what life would be like if people really could see the future. Someone invents a time projector allowing humanity to look two years forward into their lives, but the effect on society is far from positive. In Tim Sullivan’s “Inside Time,” a time traveler wakes up in a “time station” where he’s trapped with a beautiful woman. It’s a good suspenseful thriller, though the time science is almost tacked on as an afterthought. “Saving Jane Austen,” by Robert Reginald is a fun and quirky novella about a team of historians who travel back in time to study the famous authoress. In Robert J. Sawyer’s delightfully weird entry “Seems Like Old Times,” a serial killer’s consciousness is sent back into the body of a tyrannosaurus rex.

In between all these great selections there’s a fair amount of mediocre fluff, but all is forgiven when you get through the final story, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s 1991 novella “The Gallery of His Dreams.” This piece is so good it rises way above typical genre fiction and ascends to the heights of great literature. It is a moving fictional biography of Matthew Brady, the pioneering photographer famous for his shots of Civil War battlefields. Brady saw little appreciation and no financial success during his lifetime, and Rusch portrays him with touchingly tragic pathos. The way time travel enters into the narrative is best left unspoiled.

At a buck a piece, Wildside’s Megapacks are certainly never a waste of money, but are they a waste of time? Not in this case. There’s enough good stuff here to make it worth reading for would-be chronic argonauts, but don’t expect to be bowled over by every tale.

Stories in this collection
Seems Like Old Times by Robert J. Sawyer 
The Business, as Usual by Mack Reynolds 
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: 18 by Grendel Briarton
Time Well Spent by George Zebrowski 
The Day Time Stopped Moving by Bradner Buckner 
Saving Jane Austen by Robert Reginald 
In the Cards by Alan Cogan 
A Witch in Time by Janet Fox 
Yesterday’s Paper by Boyd Ellanby 
A Matter of Time by Robert Reginald 
The Man Who Saw Through Time by Leonard Raphael 
Caverns of Time by Carlos McCune 
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: 110 by Grendel Briarton 
Lost in Time by Arthur Leo Zagat 
The Land Where Time Stood Still by Arthur Leo Zagat 
Outside of Time by Carroll John Daly 

Bull Moose of Babylon by Don Wilcox 

Compounded Interest by Mack Reynolds 

The Man Who Changed History by John York Cabot 

Time on Your Hands by John York Cabot 

Inside Time by Tim Sullivan 

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: 116 by Grendel Briarton 

The Gallery of His Dreams by Kristine Kathryn Rusch 

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