Time Scout
By Robert Asprin and Linda Evans
Baen books, 1995

Time Scout is a science fiction novel based around time travel. It does not even attempt to be hard science fiction, but does put a lot of effort into being good historical fiction -- or, at least, being historically accurate.

Some time in the not-too-distant future, an gigantic orbital explosion destroys much the the Earth's coastal cities and rips a number of holes in the space/time continuum. These time portals are immediately brought under the control of commercial enterprises, which appear to make most of their money by setting up tours for the wealthy to travel back to some of the more interesting times.

Time scouts are those adventurous souls who make a living entering new or unexplored time portals. This is a very dangerous job, both because you might find anything on the other side of a gate, but also because if you appear in the same time twice you just disappear. The best, biggest, most famous time scout is the now retired Kit Carson, who currently runs an expensive hotel at one of the major time-portal nexuses (in the early 1900s Tibet, although the 'station' is fully enclosed).

Time scout want-to-be Margo Smith shows up and attempts to bully Kit Carson into training her to be a scout. He refuses, insisting that it is too dangerous. Eventually it is revealed that SPOILER in hyperlink, and he agrees to train her. The rest of the book is essentially Margo getting into trouble again, and again, and again.

Time Scout is not particularly well-written, being somewhat clumsy in its wording, too long-winded in its description, and spending too much time 'building' stock characters to be extra-stereotypical. It doesn't help that Margo's stereotypes include 'obnoxious git' and 'dumb teenager'. Moreover, frequent references to odd historical sexual practices, middle-aged men ogling Margo (who is half their age or less), and a couple of rape scenes push the book into dirty-old-man territory.

On the plus side, the historical descriptions are well-researched and detailed, much more so than one would generally expect from this sort of novel. The adventures in the past are not always very adventuresome, but they are interesting, and while the science fiction is not particularly well done, the historical bits are. This is insufficient to save the book, and I would not particularly recommend this book to anyone, including fans of Robert Asprin or Linda Evans. It's just not worth reading. However, it does appear that a number of people disagree with me, so if the story idea sounds interesting you may want to do further research.

If you do read Time Scout and would like to read some more, there are currently three more books in the series: next comes Wagers of Sin, the third book is Ripping Time, and the fourth is The House That Jack Built. I am rather surprised that an entire series was built on this foundation, but perhaps they improve.

ISBN-10: 0671876988
ISBN-13: 978-0671876982

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