CHILDREN OF THE RAINBOW
Terence M. Green
McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 266 pages, $Cdn16.99, trade paperback
(ISBN 0 7710 5550 0)
Since we live at a time when many of yesterday’s science fiction speculations have either been realized or shown to be ridiculous, it is interesting to take note of the classics, the lasting sci-fi stories, and recognize their common element. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Wells’s The Time Machine all concentrate less on the technological nuts and bolts of futurity than on the relative sameness of the human condition as humanity advances through time. Of course, these books are also blessed with very fine writing, that most essential characteristic for any lasting work of fiction.
One author who seems to have taken note of this pattern is Terence M. Green. Green’s latest work, Children of the Rainbow, resists narrow classification. As the plot involves a time traveler from the 21st century, the book is most definitely a work of speculative fiction, but Children of the Rainbow is less a look ahead than it is a retrospective. Gracefully and authoritatively written, the story involves several seemingly unrelated points in world history that, when the fabric of time is disturbed, combine to profoundly illustrate how all of our moments are somehow connected.
Utilizing a relatively new and untested method of time travel, Fletcher Christian IV attempts to jump back a century from 2072 and visit his ancestors on Pitcairn Island in 1972. Unfortunately for him, he has targeted a time in history when humanity’s political will, scientific brilliance, and moral weakness have combined to tear a hole in time itself. Instead of landing on late 20th century Pitcairn, Christian is marooned on a British penal island at the time of the early 19th century, where he takes the place of one of the prisoners, Bran Michael Dalton, who in turn is transported to Christian’s intended destination.
Dalton’s confusion about his sudden change of fortunes, not to mention the strange world into which he has been dropped, make for entertaining reading in the vein of Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels; but the book touches brilliance with its descriptions of Christian in prison. The passages in which Christian attempts to convince the prison warden that he is not the man they call Dalton, but in fact a traveler from the future, are artfully constructed. These discussions between 19th-and 21st-century representatives of the same historical continuum add a welcome psychological element to the overly familiar time-travel allegory. Green creates a unique forum for an investigation into the nature of human character and then, with wit and intellect, takes full advantage of his creation. Children of the Rainbow is a questioning novel, a book that wonders as much about the lessons of the past as about our possible future.