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Into the Calm and the Quiet

Time Piper  (Tom Humboldt’s Time Machine, volume 1)

By Delia Huddy 

20 Oct, 2020

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Delia Huddy’s 1979 Time Piper is the first volume in a duology (Tom Humboldt’s Time Machine). 

Eighteen-year-old Luke Crantock first encounters Hare Bingley as she flees a group of local bullies. This fails to serve as a meet-cute for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because Luke discovers that he is too cowardly to intervene; she has to escape on her own. Secondly, because Hare, on her part, isn’t at all interested in forming personal connections. 

Nevertheless, Luke cannot stop thinking about the beautiful young woman.

The Bingleys made a terrible miscalculation when they moved to the West Country. Villages are too small for urban anonymity; they value conformity, and are large enough to form spontaneous mobs. The aloof, taciturn Hare is unusual and therefore universally hated. Neither her father nor step-mother have any idea why Hare is as she is or how to protect their daughter. 

Life goes on. On his father’s advice, Luke applies for a position in Tom Humboldt’s London research facility, where the young scientist is investigating tachyons. Luke has no qualifications but he does manage to impress Humboldt; he’s hired. The job requires a move to London, so Tom leaves his small town and Hare behind. 

Or so he expects. 

Hare vanishes from her home. She turns up in London, having apparently followed Luke. She even finds a squat near Luke’s boarding house. Yet she still shows no interest in Luke, only a wary tolerance when he seeks her out. 

Luke is mildly jealous when he discovers that Hare’s distaste for companionship has an exception: a young man whose demeanor is much like Hare’s. In fact, a community has been forming in London, a community of silent, odd people like Hare. Investigation reveals that these folks share some common elements: a connection to the same village in Germany, a lack of affect, and a compulsion to lurk near Humboldt’s laboratory, where even now the good scientist is on the verge of doing extraordinary things with time. But what possible connection could there between time windows, eerie children, and a town named Hamelin? 


This book alerted me to a series I managed to completely overlook at the time: Terri Windling’s MagicQuest Books, produced for Tempo Books/Ace/Berkeley. There were at least sixteen books in the series, which was published between 1984 and 1985

  1. The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip 
  2. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope 
  3. The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray
  4. The Ash Staff by Paul R. Fisher 
  5. Tulku by Peter Dickinson 
  6. The Dragon Hoard by Tanith Lee
  7. The Hawks of Fellheath by Paul R. Fisher 
  8. The Magic Three of Solatia by Jane Yolen
  9. Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones
  10. The Princess and the Thorn by Paul R. Fisher 
  11. Time Piper by Delia Huddy 
  12. The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones 
  13. Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  14. Mont Cant Gold by Paul R. Fisher 
  15. East of Midnight Tanith Lee Tempo Books 
  16. The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I read whatever Windling published; I bought Ace and Berkley books when I could; I followed a number of the authors on the list above … and yet this novel was my introduction to the MagicQuest series. 

This book is a mixed bag. 

Caveats. This being a product of the early 1980s, it’s comprehensively ableist. Hare and her ilk aren’t just different, they’re defective. The whole setting is something of a downer. The parents of children with behavioral issues are essentially useless, villages are prone to pitchfork-waving mobs, cities are rundown warrens into which lost children can vanish with ease, and scientists can pursue their dangerous researches with no oversight at all. 

Luke attempts to protect Hare. She followed him to London didn’t she? She should be interested in him. With no reason to expect reciprocity, he expects some reciprocity and is frustrated that he gets nothing, nada, zip. This is absurd … and yet such delusions are common in real life. This worked for me. Watching Luke obsess over someone as unlikely to return his interest as a smooth, rounded rock kept my attention. 

Kept my attention until I reached the ending, which disappointed me. There the author explains what’s been going on. I won’t spoil the book except to say it introduces woo into a book that had been reasonably realistic. Up to that point I’d been a happy reader. Ah, well. 

I understand that there’s a sequel to this book. This seems unlikely, given what happens in this book. How mysterious! I will have to keep my eye out for a copy….

As far as I can tell, Time Piper is out of print.