Annabeland Edgar Johnson’s 1984 TheDanger Quotient isa standalone time travel novel.
130years after World War III turned the surface of the Earth into alifeless, UV-soaked hellscape, things are not going well for thedescendants who took refuge in a vast network of tunnels underColorado. For reasons unexplained, lifespans keep dropping.
K/C — 4(SCI)(or Casey, for short) is a gene-engineered genius, one whom hisdesigners hope will be smart enough to solve the problem of theshrinking lifespans. Too bad that he probably won’t live longenough. He suffers from congenital defects that will kill him all toosoon.
Hehas a cunning plan to put the little time remaining to him to gooduse. It’s a plan dependent on his homemade time-machine.
Althoughhis creator Eddinger is reluctant to let Casey dabble in time travel,Eddinger has no choice. Casey has an archived news article that sayshe was (or will be) arrested near Denver, Colorado on June 20th,1981. Despite the risks involved (which range from muggers to wildanimals) Casey must be allowed to fulfill his destiny.
Thetime refractor only works on living tissue1.Casey is arrested because he shows up naked as a jaybird. Pleadingamnesia, he is slung into the drunk tank, where he soon makes acrucial alliance with Max Hunter, whose chronic alcoholism in no wayinterferes with his mastery of many cunning ways to subvert thesystem. Soon Casey is sprung from jail and finds refuge with Max’sfamily.
Maxand his household are dysfunctional but supportive. The timetraveller from a dead Earth fits right in. He soon discovers why: hisdestiny has been intertwined with that of his hosts for decades oftheir timeline. Or they will have been, as soon as he returns to the22ndcentury to play his part in the history to come.
Buteven Casey, with access to records of the future, cannot see what histrue destiny will be.
Thereare a few obvious ways the 22ndcentury people could have used a time machine to stave off doom. It’snot clear to me why none of them are tried.
Theycould colonize the distant past (although I suppose since time travelcannot change history, they’d want to find out first if they weredestined to become one of the ancestral groups to Native Americans orso thoroughly extinct there’s no trace of them in thearchaeological record).
Theycould colonize the distant future, after the ozone layer reforms (andfor all we know, they will do this).
Caseymanages to find a third way to use the time machine, a way that Ididn’t anticipate. That was fun. I like having expectationssubverted.
Iviewed with some alarm the development of a romantic entanglementbetween precocious eleven-year-old Gil (Max’s family) andeighteen-year-old Casey (guest in Max’s family). As it progressed,I decided that I wasn’t as squicked as I am by a similardevelopment in Heinlein’s Doorinto Summer .Casey comes from a future culture in which lifespans have beentruncated. He is not an authority figure to Gil. Moreover, herprecocity is discouraged by household adults, much to her ongoingirritation. No way as creepy as middle-aged Dan hitting on agrade-schooler.
Idiscovered that Annabel Johnson rated anentry in the SF Encyclopedia,but she and her husband Edgar are unfamiliar to me. Well, life isfull of learning experiences. I suspect if I’d encountered her as akid, I’d have read all of her books. Despite the grand nature ofthe crisis driving Casey’s efforts — the fate of HUMANITYITSELF! — the authors keep the focus on one poorly socializedteenager and the family who take him in. It happens to be a storythat has historically significant consequences, but the result isstill fairly intimate.
Usedcopies ofThe Danger Quotient areavailable here(Amazon) and at your favourite used bookstores.
Pleasesend any corrections to jdnicoll at panix com.
1:Fans of the Terminator moviefranchise, in which time travel also only works on living tissue, maybe interested to know that TheDanger Quotient waspublished three months before TheTerminator hittheatres. It seems unlikely that the one influenced the other.