Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bobby Socks and Hotrods: Bernal C. Payne Jr, Trapped in Time (Archway Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster: New York, 1986)

[a reprint of It's About Time, 1984]

A back to the future book in which two very unconvincing teens wish themselves back to 1955 to see their "perfectly matched parents" meet and fall in love, only to discover their parents hated each other, and in addition to interfere in their parent's first meeting.

The book is sickly and sentimental and mostly doesn't work. And it doesn't work because Payne never really thinks about what it would be like to be a kid thrown back into the past. Although lots of differences are noticed, many that ought to be slide by, and there is no actual thought involved, so that the protagonists note how "cheap" clothes and food are, but although in their teens never consider that wages would be much lower.

The scene that is most revealing of the absence of sf-nal sensibility is when the Priest is testing the children. He asks them a very long sequence of prepared questions about the future and they rattle off the answers.

There are two problems:
1. They have told him far too much if they don't want to change the world in anyway. The man could lay bets on every Presidential election and feed every poor person in the parish on the results.
2. They tell him about "men walking on the moon, satellites circling the earth, nuclear powered ships, heart and kidney transplants, computers the size of radios,and calculators the size of a watch." What puzzled me about this list was what the Priest could have asked--he doesn't (as far as I can tell) allow the kids to free associate. The question that occurs is "what new inventions are there" but if he asked that, are these the things a 15 yr old would come up with? Back to the Future did this much better.

Which is another point. Back to the Future was released in 1985, this book in 1984. Does anyone know if there is a connection? They are awfully similar.

In the end the book just never really gets into the head of a time traveller. For all the description of difference and the kids' fear that they will disappear, there is no real sense of disorientation. I think this is partially because the story is told in the first person retrospective, so that the entire works as a travelogue through the past. It becomes a picture show rather than an awfully scary adventure.


Blogger Farah said...

But so would the book.

I wondered vaguely if the author might have worked on the script at some point: they really are spookily alike.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Payne was my fifth grade teacher and was 100 percent sure that Spielberg had ripped him off. He was extremely bitter. At the time, he was looking into a lawsuit - I'm guessing it never went anywhere. It was a lot to be telling his fifth grade class - not the most appropriate thing.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool blog you have going here, I will check in often! I have a similar site about reference book. It pretty much covers reference book related stuff.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B.C. Payne, jr. is my biological father who left me at the age of 3. My mom finally found him in 1982. That's when I went to visit him. I found that he really didn't know how to relate to me (I was 15, going on 16 at the time). I really don't think he remembered what it was like to be my age. I suppose that is reflected in his book.

I haven't seen him in 25 years. Very interesting to read this blog about him.

9:00 PM  

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