Andre Norton’s 1965 novel Quest Crosstime returns to Blake Walker, last seen being adopted by the people of Vroom, a timeline-spanning civilization. Although Vroom’s central timeline depends on contact and trade with alternate Earths, recently a faction calling itself the Limiters, led by demagogue To’Kekrops, have been calling for more stringent restrictions on cross-time travel. To’Kekrops and his followers may claim they are motivated by safety concerns … but of course the truth is darker than that.
What Walker doesn’t know is how far the Limiters will go to get their way.
Twin sisters Marva and Marfy chafe at Vroom’s restrictions on women, restrictions that are justified by the comparative rarity of women on Vroom. (The sex imbalance is a consequence of an ancient global nuclear war; the imbalance has been perpetuated into the current day by Vroom’s ban on female immigration.) The sisters have the right connections—their politically powerful father Rogan—to obtain a waiver of the restrictions. Unlike most Vroomian women, they are allowed to explore strange new timelines.
They also have the right connections—their politically powerful father Rogan—to have considerable hostage value for Rogan’s rivals, men like To’Kekrops. When Marva vanishes from an abiotic other Earth, it’s obvious that this is no accident. Nor is it likely to be Marva’s own idea.
The Vroomians consider Walker, their adopted Earthling, a kind of cripple, due to his limited psionic abilities. However, the two psychic abilities he does have, a reliable danger sense and a powerful mind shield, make him a very useful field agent. He is well defended against enemies who have powerful telepathy and a talent for subterfuge. He is sent out to find Marva.
Walker follows Marva’s trail to an alternate Earth in which Spain’s New World Empire failed before it could conquer Mexico, a world where the New British and the Mayan-dominated Empire  divide North America between them, a world teetering on the edge of war. A world where Walker’s enemies have already made preparations for a coup of monumental scale.
A minor digression: I am increasingly convinced that Piper and Norton read each other’s works and had a certain amount of fun putting their own spin on the other person’s ideas. (Well, fun until a particular pair of Piper and Norton books that I will get to in about two months.) Vroom is very much like Piper’s First Level in some ways, as filtered through Norton’s views and concerns. Both books feature worlds impoverished by decisions of the past. Both worlds are dependent on a secretive cross-time trade and both, of course, have their lawmen devoted to protecting their little empires.
(I don’t think Laumer was part of this mutual admiration club; his Imperium and Lafayette O’Leary books also feature paratime, but differ in many ways from the Piper or Norton series.)
Vroom would be well advised to change its unfortunate name. Its government could also do with more checks and balances. The Vroomians appear to take it for granted that public-spirited citizens will not game their system (which has some obvious loopholes). Unfortunately, all it takes for a system based on goodwill to fall apart is a determined campaign led by some wackjob who thinks he is the voice of god, plus a group of mad dog followers. The fact that projective mind control is possible makes the situation even more chaotic.
Marva and Marfy are interesting characters—their complaints about constricted feminine roles women can sound like authorial complaint channeled through her characters—but they are given limited roles in the book. Once Walker wanders on stage, he is the protagonist and the sisters are relegated to supporting characters. Vroom doesn’t let them do anything interesting; their author doesn’t even let them star in their own book. I wonder if Norton was trying to make a subtle point here or if she had fallen back into her long habit of focusing on male protagonists.
While the Aztecs, when they are mentioned, are nobody’s cuddlebunnies, Norton paints a fairly favourable view of the Mayan Empire. Its values are not ours and we would probably not want to live there (you definitely don’t want to fall afoul of their legal system, which places a higher value on swift than just), but the Mayans are for the most part decent people by their own lights. Not a terribly common detail in a book of this vintage .
The novel ends on a somewhat ambivalent note; it is not clear if the hero’s actions have saved the day or if the crisis precipitated by To’Kekrops’s vast ambitions has developed too far for one bold strike to resolve. As far as I can tell, the second Blake Walker novel was also the last. Readers will never know whether Walker saved the day or not.
Quest Crosstime has been reprinted in multiple editions over the years. Used bookstores, online and off, and public libraries are your friends in this matter.
1: Where is France, you may ask? No idea; I don’t think France is ever even mentioned. A charitable interpretation of what we are told is that France got too caught up in continental power struggles to care about the New World. Or perhaps they were focused on the wealth of Asia.
2: Speaking of vintage: this mass market paperback came with a free cigarette ad!
Those were hell on paperback spines, but they contributed to the publisher’s bottom line.
Although my mmpb sports a 1965 copyright date, details like the Victor Kalin cover art,
the 75 cent price, the cigarette ad, and the Perry Rhodan ad in the back prove that what I have in my hands is the 1972 printing.