For the month of April, BlackSci-Fi.com will celebrate Kids, by featuring creators and works who/which are contributing to providing quality, fun, and educational works of art for children and teens. Our goal is to highlight the continued and past works of these talented individuals as they add to the ever growing intersection of kids/ teens and sci-fi, fantasy, and real world sciences.
The Chronocar by Steve Bellinger has something for just about everyone as it takes you for a ride through time. When Illinois Tech student, Tony Carpenter, finds an old publication by Dr. Simmie Johnson on time travel, he is able to create the machine Simmie dreamed of but did not have the technology to make. Tony’s first stop is to visit the man who made the machine possible, so he, and you the reader, head back to Chicago of 1919.
After meeting his idol, and his daughter Ollie, Tony gets to experience history first hand as tensions build that would lead to a race riot for the history books. Though disturbed by direct racism he’d never witnessed personally, Tony remains cocky enough to think he has this time travel thing under control. He doesn’t think a black guy wearing a Spiderman T-shirt in 1919 could make any significant change. He then finds out how little he really knows.
Bellinger takes on time travel in such a way that would-be time travelers will probably change their minds about travelling through time, learning to live with the here and now. As Dr. Simmie Johnson’s paper “The Theoretical Possibility of Time Travel” published in the Negro Journal of Science puts it, you can’t travel to the future because it hasn’t been created yet. You can only travel to the past. It’s what wasn’t published about what happens once you travel to the past that the time traveling Tony probably wishes he would have known before ever checking out of 2015.
Of course, there’s the bright side. The sweet, budding romance factor of the book gives the reader tender moments of Tony and Ollie getting to know each other, as Tony shares stories from his world and Ollie gives him a tour of hers. The details of Chicago in July of 1919 are very descriptive and educational as Tony gets Ollie to take him to familiar places and he remarks on the differences from then and now.
White shop owners and soda jerks flirt with Ollie, giving depth and information to historical tellings of the racial relations in Chicago at the time that could tip so quickly into violence.
What might be a minus for the sci-fi lover is that the book is more historical fiction than it is science fiction. Yes, there’s time travel and there are a few fantastic action scenes towards the end that will satisfy some sci-fi needs. However, I’d say a good two-thirds of the book’s focus is on the history of Chicago just before the race riots. For example, a chapter is dedicated to ta boy who drowned after a white man threw rocks at him and his friend while they were swimming at a segregated beach and the violence that erupted because of it. And Tony gets called the n-word more than his own name as he tries to enjoy Ollie’s world.
There are also a few loose ends that don’t get tied-up if you’re the type that remembers characters from early on in the book and expect there to be some type of closure with them at the end. Otherwise, why even give them names and so much word count? The surprise ending, though a nice twist, definitely makes you think, “Hey, now! Why wouldn’t he have hinted at that before?” It isn’t like a disappointing deus ex machina because the ending actually makes perfect sense. These negatives aren’t enough to cause much disappointment with the book as a whole.
All in all, I’d recommend this book for historical fiction lovers aged 14 and up. The stories of racism are eye-opening for the younger generation that wasn’t “forced” to watch Roots every February like some of the older crowd. Plus we need more stories of black intellectuals. The sci-fi factor is present via the time machine and some of its interesting entrances and exits. There’s a sweet romance and a surprise ending that rounds out this tale so that just about everyone will find something of interest in the pages of the book. It’s a quick read that’s worth the time.
Tuere T. S. Ganges, a South Jersey native, writes in Baltimore, Maryland. She was a June 2009 recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her fiction has won prizes at the Philadelphia Writers Conference; and has appeared in the Shine Journal, Flask and Pen, Milspeak Memo, Mythium Literary Magazine, Wigleaf, Fiction Circus, and a Pushcart Nominated piece in Referential Magazine. Wilted and Other Stories, her collection of short fiction is available as an ebook on Amazon.com. When she isn’t trying to keep up with her teenaged children, she’s trying to keep up with her teenaged students. And when she’s had enough of that she entertains herself with countless games of Word Hero and livetweeting. Follow her on Twitter @tuereganges.