All My Tomorrows

The Danger Quotient — Annabel Johnson & Edgar Johnson

anger-quotient

Annabel and Edgar Johnson’s 1984 The Danger Quotient is a standalone time travel novel.

130 years after World War III turned the surface of the Earth into a lifeless, UV-soaked hellscape, things are not going well for the descendants who took refuge in a vast network of tunnels under Colorado. For reasons unexplained, lifespans keep dropping.

K/C — 4(SCI) (or Casey, for short) is a gene-engineered genius, one whom his designers hope will be smart enough to solve the problem of the shrinking lifespans. Too bad that he probably won’t live long enough. He suffers from congenital defects that will kill him all too soon.

He has a cunning plan to put the little time remaining to him to good use. It’s a plan dependent on his homemade time-machine.



Although his creator Eddinger is reluctant to let Casey dabble in time travel, Eddinger has no choice. Casey has an archived news article that says he was (or will be) arrested near Denver, Colorado on June 20th, 1981. Despite the risks involved (which range from muggers to wild animals) Casey must be allowed to fulfill his destiny.

The time refractor only works on living tissue1. Casey is arrested because he shows up naked as a jaybird. Pleading amnesia, he is slung into the drunk tank, where he soon makes a crucial alliance with Max Hunter, whose chronic alcoholism in no way interferes with his mastery of many cunning ways to subvert the system. Soon Casey is sprung from jail and finds refuge with Max’s family.

Max and his household are dysfunctional but supportive. The time traveller from a dead Earth fits right in. He soon discovers why: his destiny has been intertwined with that of his hosts for decades of their timeline. Or they will have been, as soon as he returns to the 22nd century to play his part in the history to come.

But even Casey, with access to records of the future, cannot see what his true destiny will be.

 ~oOo~

There are a few obvious ways the 22nd century people could have used a time machine to stave off doom. It’s not clear to me why none of them are tried.

They could colonize the distant past (although I suppose since time travel cannot change history, they’d want to find out first if they were destined to become one of the ancestral groups to Native Americans or so thoroughly extinct there’s no trace of them in the archaeological record).

They could colonize the distant future, after the ozone layer reforms (and for all we know, they will do this).

Casey manages to find a third way to use the time machine, a way that I didn’t anticipate. That was fun. I like having expectations subverted.

I viewed with some alarm the development of a romantic entanglement between precocious eleven-year-old Gil (Max’s family) and eighteen-year-old Casey (guest in Max’s family). As it progressed, I decided that I wasn’t as squicked as I am by a similar development in Heinlein’s Door into Summer. Casey comes from a future culture in which lifespans have been truncated. He is not an authority figure to Gil. Moreover, her precocity is discouraged by household adults, much to her ongoing irritation. No way as creepy as middle-aged Dan hitting on a grade-schooler.

I discovered that Annabel Johnson rated an entry in the SF Encyclopedia, but she and her husband Edgar are unfamiliar to me. Well, life is full of learning experiences. I suspect if I’d encountered her as a kid, I’d have read all of her books. Despite the grand nature of the crisis driving Casey’s efforts — the fate of HUMANITY ITSELF! — the authors keep the focus on one poorly socialized teenager and the family who take him in. It happens to be a story that has historically significant consequences, but the result is still fairly intimate.

Used copies of The Danger Quotient are available here (Amazon) and at your favourite used bookstores.

Feel free to comment here.

Please send any corrections to jdnicoll at panix com.

1: Fans of the Terminator movie franchise, in which time travel also only works on living tissue, may be interested to know that The Danger Quotient was published three months before The Terminator hit theatres. It seems unlikely that the one influenced the other.


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