Across Time – David Grinnell (1957)

Across TimeAs an avid Planet of the Apes fan I usually hear about other science fiction novels that feature sentient apes or as in this case, ape-like creatures. Some apes fans long ago pointed me to David Grinnell’s Across Time as such a novel, so this was on my ‘to read’ pile for quite some time. As has happened before, the assertion that the novel featured an advanced ape culture turned out to be somewhat misleading, but that was not really the problem I had with this novel.

Zack, a young air force test pilot is re-assigned to be a liaison for a science project when he has a troubled flight with an alleged UFO encounter. But the real problem he has with the assignment is the fact that he will have to work with his older brother, Carl, in whose shadow he has had to live in his entire life. Worse, his brother has since married Sylvia, the woman he loved, when Zack went missing during the war for a spell and was presumed dead.

As his brother Carl’s science experiment is put into operation in a remote desert, aliens in globular bodies of light interfere, and as a result of Zack’s inaction his brother and Sylvia are whisked off to god knows where. Now feeling guilty, Zack recreates the conditions of the experiment so that he too could be whisked away in the hopes that he can save his brother and Sylvia. It turns out that there are more than one set of aliens, and that they are all far future Earth life forms that have evolved from humans. But these aliens that all have their roots on the Earth are all now in distant galaxies and have undergone thousands of years of wars. While Zack was taken by what he believes are benevolent beings, Carl and Sylvia were taken from an offshoot of an evolutionary line that were not as successful and now want to change history with the help of Carl.

After the well crafted, if somewhat staid opening sequence, the novel bounces all over the place (literally and figuratively) starting off with Zack being co-opted by the Seroomi, and more specifically, a young female Seroomi and her politician father. This weird interlude includes a brief interracial love triangle the spittles off to nowhere which is almost as awkward as it reads in the story. The entire Seroomi sequence in the novel turns out to be as inconsequential as the blip on the radar Zack saw that during his initial UFO encounter. It was only once I finished the novel that I even realized that the Seroomi where the closest aliens in the novel that could be remotely called ape-like, but that was only because they had longer then usual arms. So much for this being a sentient apes story. (Sigh)

Like many novels of the time, this one comes up a bit short on the character development side, a victim of the then normal short length coming in at a mere 150 pages. The relationship between the brothers is expressed more as stated facts than fleshed out personal reflections. Even less consideration is given to the supposed relationship between Zack and Sylvia. You just have to believe him when he says he loves her and gives absolutely no history to reinforce that notion.

But the novel is not a complete failure either. Those who enjoy pure, fast paced (but not well thought out) adventure will enjoy a few thrills. The author also provides a unique take on sentient spaceships that I’m surprised has not been adopted by more movies and TV shows. I suspect it’s been used since, although I can’t think of a specific instance. You’ll have to read the latter half of the book to see what I mean.

I was kind of surprised to learn that David Grinnell was a pseudonym for reputed writer, editor and publisher Donald Wollheim who went on to create the publishing imprint DAW.

If nothing else, the novel does sport a nice cover by Jeff Jones.

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