Review: Saves Nine and In One Basket by Les Lynam
This review is for …Saves Nine and …In One Basket by Les Lynam, Books 2 and 3 respectively in the Time Will Tell series for young adults.
The first book, “…Before You Leap” introduces us to Sean Kelly and his five times great grandson, Alex. These latter additions to the series are effectively a single story in 2 novel-length parts.
I should mention that I read these latter books back-to-back, though after a four book break from the first.
What strikes me with these latter novels is that although they are separate from Book 1, they are integrated well. Additional books in a series often start with a clear link to later sections of earlier books to remind readers that they’re reading something in a series. …Saves Nine refers to events in …Before You Leap which happen well within the novel. It gives me the impression that Les has things mapped out over the series from the outset rather than trying to cash in or extend on a successful first novel.
(I’m assuming it’s successful – it should be!)
Storm in a Teacup
Plots or novels are often referred to as taking a reader on a roller coaster. I’d describe my journey with …Saves Nine and …In One Basket as more of an eccentric spin in the tea cups; stationary for one instant, and then flung in high velocity in the next, to come screeching back to a halt again a split second later.
In short – the pacing is all over the place, made worse with long chapters with divisions and breaks in strange places. Sometimes it’s a feature of the writing style – time outs with diary entries, conversations with Steffi etc., and other times it’s more integral to the plot.
To be fair, many of the slow parts are necessary. For example, a long dragged out conversation over breakfast lasts for several pages, but it is during this conversation that we learn about the trust that one character has with another. Other events bring realism into the novel or show us more of the time and culture.
But other parts I’m not sure. Sean buys some soap in a local shop. Yes, soap is necessary, but I don’t think the pages of details were. In this way I was reminded of some Stephen King novels (I know I’m going to get slated here…) which are cumbersome and slow because they’re written for the screen; these things last only a moment on set, but cost several minutes to read through.
So that’s the slow parts. Now the other bits are really exciting! And of course I’m talking about time travel – though take note: The Time Will Tell series isn’t just about time travel; the time travel element is one of the many science fiction ideas which comes with Alex from the future and which is exposed through Sean’s curiosity.
As you’d expect, these follow on novels bring in new and additional ideas – refilling water canisters, or new features of the “STE” such as the preservation of internal inertia (cf one of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey sequels) for example. I can’t remember what “STE” stands for, proving Sean’s point made in …Before You Leap that it should be given a more catchy name (“Steffi”) to make it more memorable. In fact this latter point is important – …Saves Nine and …In One Basket maintain consistency throughout.
I particularly like how Steffi undergoes a change, showing that things change for Alex as well as those in the past who he’s visited. There’s an interesting ‘relationship’ between Alex and Steffi where at times it seems that the role of (wo)man and machine have reversed!
Time travel component
Naturally I’d like to focus in a bit more on the time travel component, especially as this is a key area of strength within the novels.
“Steffi” is the time machine – actually, much more than that. Time travel is just one of its features (and I use the term “it” with caution 😉 ). The mechanics were essentially given in Book 1 and aren’t revisited here, but we do see much more application of time travel. Drying shoes by leaving them out in the sun for 2 days but picking them up moments later, or returning after a long stint on a time travel journey to moments afterwards in a conversation, etc. It reminded me of Ben in The Chronothon (Nathan Van Coops) and how he was able to have a flexible approach when it came to time travel.
I’d suggest that dexterity is a prerequisite for time travel – not just knowing how to do it, or even being able to do it, but being able to ‘play’ with it!
The idiom that a tool is only as good as its user carries on when we see how Sean and Alex not only react differently when time travelling, but how they experience time within Steffi. The result is a strange cross between horrific and amazing – another stark caution when we play around with nature’s laws of time!
(You might be interested in this post: Watch the time machine which discusses what may go on inside a time machine! 😉 )
Things really step up a notch in the second half of …Saves Nine when some of the deeper realms of time travel paradoxes are explored. The explanation of a change in time being like a stone getting chucked into the River of Time and causing ripples into the future comes back here, this time commenting that the ripples, whilst having having insignificant effect on most people, have a huge significance for Sean.
The predicament that he finds himself in is somewhat predictable, but he gets to observe some brilliant family dynamics. Alex has a good solution to find a method in finding out what happened (again, obvious) and the plot takes off!
Sean, as in …Before You Leap continues to be incredibly annoying, but he does pose a few thoughts regarding the nature of time, time travel and multiple versions of self; if a character dies but is brought back to life during a revisit to the past, did that character really die, or is there a new time line?
It’s fascinating stuff, and I really have the feeling that …Saves Nine and …In One Basket address the issues associated with time travel in a much more mature manner than in the first book.
I was expecting more from …Saves Nine when it came to Sean and his younger version of Dad meeting and interacting. After all, it was the purpose of the visit. How did Sean feel about it? Did he see himself in his father? In hindsight, my expectations were probably more from Sean than from the novel, and maybe it was my own adult view to find this aspect interesting (how would my daughters react to seeing me in my youth?). Of course Sean disappoints, and Alex notes the same; Sean is more interested in chasing girls than finding out more about his dad.
Despite my own desires regarding content not matching the target audience’s, I do feel that I ‘won’ in other areas. I really liked it how some plots of some movies are referred to, but without spelling out which movie. This credits the reader with some intelligence (this is where I feel a little smug!) – and lets the ignorant off the hook. To be honest, the chances are that I’ve missed other references but I don’t realise it!
Talking of education…with parts of the novel being rooted in the past there’s some educational merit; Alex’s explanations to an ignorant Sean provide a nice way for 1969 to be put into historical perspective. The section which stood out most to me was Alex’s description of why people stood against the hippy movement (and why it existed) pointing out that people now (so 1995) were more tolerant of differing views than back in 1969. He also pointed out the cyclical nature of fashion. I couldn’t help but bring my mind back to thecurrent stupidity in the UK in the racist aftermath of Brexit.
To be fair to Sean – he gets his chance to educate Alex too, for example, on the idioms on the English language, or on living life with feelings and less logic. In my review of …Before You Leap I commented on Alex’s similarity with The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon. In these later books, especially recalling the Alex-Steffi paradigm, I’m reminded this time of the ‘good terminator’ when the kid in Terminator 2 is teaching him how to say “Hasta la vista, Baby” etc..
Rating * * * *
Ultimately, these second and third novels in the Time Will Tell series are a pretty decent novel version of the situation played out in the Back to the Future movie where a teenager battles for his own existence.
However, giving this a star rating is inaccurate because …Saves Nine and …In One Basket highlight particularly well how insane it is to sum up a whole novel with a rating system which uses only a single value; it’s the same principle when you stick your feet in the freezer and your head in the oven and on average your body is at a comfortable temperature: the 4 stars is a cross between a mediocre 3* and a sizzling 5*
Don’t throw out the wheat with the chaff!
It’s the slow sections which for me bring the novels into the mediocre realm in places – ploughing through the word count until the scene setting, character building, historical background or whatever has been laid out. But then comes the juicy stuff, and it mustn’t be missed! Glowing and sparkling with a host of time travel (and other scifi) ideas, all served up as a riveting 5 star gourmet menu for our reading pleasure! 🙂
I’ll shortly be interviewing Les and quizzing him about some aspects of his Time Will Tell series – stand by!
Update: As promised, here’s the link! 🙂
Disclaimer: Les kindly sent me a free copy of “…Before you Leap” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!
| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |