Sunday, December 23, 2012

Curious Notions by Harry Turtledove

This novel is the second book in the six-volume Crosstime Traffic science-fiction series for young adults. The premise of the series is quite interesting: Set in the 2090s, a company called Crosstime Traffic has discovered technology that allows company employees to travel to other earth-like worlds that have alternate histories.  Each book tells the story of a different set of characters, so the only overlapping element among each of the books is the common premise.

Earlier this month, I read The Gladiator, which is the fifth volume in the series. While that book was not spectacular, I enjoyed it enough to pick up another book in the collection. Unfortunately, Curious Notions is a pretty weaker novel. Set in San Francisco in a world in which Germany wins the First World War and then conquers the United States after bombing it with nuclear weapons, the story revolves around Paul and Lawrence Gomes, a father-and-son duo who run a store called Curious Notions. As employees of Crosstime Traffic, they sell gadgets from the "real" earth in order to buy produce from local farmers in order to meet agricultural shortages in the home timeline.

When the German authorities start to wonder where these strange gadgets come from, they shut down the store and arrest Paul's father. While trying to rescue his dad, Paul teams up with Lucy Woo, a teenage girl who works in a shoe factory. As the novel progresses, the mysterious Chinese Triads who operate in San Francisco's Chinatown put pressure on Lucy to find out who Paul is and where he really comes from.

In most contexts, this plot would produce a very good novel. In what is a big disappointment, however, this interesting storyline is converted into Disney-like mush. In order to make the tone appropriate for "young" adults  a big emphasis on the word young  the dialogue, content and plot twists are reduced into pretty bland stuff. It is one thing to write a book for teenagers, it's quite another to treat them like children. In too many parts of the book the narrative flow sounds like a children's film from Disney, rather than an interesting science fiction story for teens.

Now that I have read two books in the series I will like finish all six volumes. My hope, however, is that the other books are more like The Gladiator and less like Curious Notions.

2 out of 5 stars