Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is Gregg Macklin's first published novel. I have read one other short story from him, and both exhibit some of the same strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are plotting and character development, the weaknesses derive mainly from inexperience. I have no doubt that with patience and hard work he can develop into a better writer. The last few years have seen many writers self-publishing due to the difficulty of breaking into established literary circles. Evan Currie has ten or more novels under his belt, all offered through Amazon's CreateSpace and 47North imprints, while Hugh Howey has even graduated to Simon & Schuster print editions. Both also suffered through some growing pains that Macklin is now experiencing, re-editing text that was submitted prior to professional proof-reading.
I do give him credit for tackling a difficult subject like time travel in his first book, but it might have been better if he had developed this story in a series of shorter works rather than novel length right off the bat. The opening chapters need more exposition and explanation. I've been reading SF for close to 50 years, and number a lot of time travel stories among my favorites. While it might be true that any time travel tale needs to be a bit confusing, I feel Macklin did not develop the ideas surrounding the origin and properties of the time travel device sufficiently in the opening chapters, and after 276 pages we still don't know the particulars of where or when it is from. There are also a few ideas that seem to be contradictory, such as the looping of timelines and the creation of multiple versions of those using the device. It is stated that only one time travel device could exist on any one timeline, and yet there is a scene with multiples of the protagonists, Caden and Nicole, that interact with each other. The explanation might be that since they are duplicates of each other, the device that each of them uses is actually the same one. Maybe I missed some part of that explanation, but I will be re-reading this when Gregg finishes his edits.
As well as being a time travel story, it also delves into alternate history a time or two. When they finally figure out how to stop the looping of time streams and the creation of multiple versions of themselves, Caden and Nicole embark on a series of experiments in changing historical events. Macklin uses some of the standards of historical alteration; Hitler/World War II, the JFK assassination, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as one Caden previously attempted on his own, the elimination of slavery in the Americas. While it didn't matter to the story's eventual conclusion, there were several things that didn't seem right to me, since any and every event in history changes everything that comes after. When they get to the point of trying to stop JFK's assassination, I was thinking: wait, you altered Hitler's rise to power and the events of WWII, wouldn't that have changed things so much that JFK might not have become president? It might have been Joe Kennedy's assassination you had to prevent, rather than his brother John's. This sequence also highlights a fault in Caden's rationale. Just because you have the power to change things doesn't mean you have the right. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
Those nitpicks aside, there are several well crafted sequences throughout the book. Caden and Nicole jump forward in time quite often to continue their studies in math, physics and history, and they also continually upgrade their computer systems to handle all the new information. They are able to parlay their knowledge into a sequence of investments that leads them to be in control of most, if not all, scientific experiments and inquiries throughout the galaxy. These studies and computer upgrades lead them to the discovery that the time travel device can be utilized by a space ship rather than just them as individuals. At the same time they try to understand the mechanics of time travel themselves, they also are on the lookout for any other experiments that might develop time travel for others. Those journeys lead them back to Earth just as it is destroyed. No, that's not really a spoiler, since I'm not telling you the how and the why of that event, but also because they are able to go back in time to prevent the destruction.
That is the best written sequence, full of tension as well as pathos, and if he could have done as well in all portions of the book I would be rating it much higher. For a first novel it succeeded in the way that matters most; it kept me reading to find out the eventual destiny of interesting characters. I wish Gregg luck in the future. He should take comfort in the fact that there are times when even award-winning authors don't produce the best of books. In spite of a few stumbles along the way (grammatical errors, sentence structure, syntax and spelling), Time's Crossroads is better than Redshirts, due to its superior characters and message. With more hard work and patience, continually writing and re-writing, and of course, with TIME, I feel the next book will be even better.
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