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Beyonds The Words, Past
A Science Fiction / Fantasy Column
By Lane Cohen

A Word to SF Author Charles Dickinson  

To: Mr. Charles Dickinson
c/o Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Forge Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Re: A Shortcut in Time

Dear Mr. Dickinson:

A Shortcut in Time
By Charles Dickinson
Hardcover, Jan. 2003
288 pages
ISBN: 0-765-30579-8
Buy a Copy

    I am reviewing your 2003 science fiction novel, “A Shortcut in Time” for, and have unsuccessfully tried to reach you for an interview. For some reason, your publisher has been vague about your whereabouts, and/or how to contact you. They seemed a bit frazzled when I approached them and mentioned your name, but nevertheless, I decided to review the novel without any input from you.

     I must say at the outset that your command of language is simple and yet compelling: (page 13…He had a smile that he used with kids, a smile with a little of the devil in it, a smile that he kept separate from the smile he used strictly with adults.) Or (page 15…He was folded into a fetal position. His eyes were half-open. I was pretty sure he was dead. A million times over the years that followed, I wished that he had been.) Your dialogue, as well, is colored with Robert B. Parker simplicity:

The cop held up the pen he was using to take notes. “Like this?”
“It was blue.”
“You’re sure?”
“Where is it then?”
“I had it and dropped it. Did you check the bottom of the pool?”
“We followed the drain all the way out to the street.”
“It had gold writing on it.”
“What did the writing say?”
“I don’t know.”

     Nothing fancy, but you have a talent for expressing a sense of immediate time/place and emotion with just a few lines of ordinary words.

    And you captured my attention from the very beginning of the prologue, a back-story set in 1964, that introduces the major characters as they were kids, just forming their relationships that really don’t change, even into adulthood. Your tragic hero, Josh Winkler, is bullied by an older boy who will remain a thorn in his side for the rest of his life. And Josh manages to save the life of his brother Kurt, pulling him lifeless from the bottom of a neighborhood pool, pushing the water from his lungs, only to discover later that most of his brother’s mind has been irrevocably washed away.

   As I read the prologue, I was struck by an odd sense of disquiet, an uneasiness that stays with the story throughout the first few chapters. Are some of the events real, or just perceived to be real by some of the characters? And, of course, there’s your strange introduction of paths of time travel that haunt the perpendicular walkways (perps) that form shortcuts throughout the town of Euclid Heights, Illinois.

    You send Josh back fifteen minutes into the past as he runs through a storm on one of the neighborhood perps, and he later becomes both shaken and fascinated by the experience. Then Josh meets Constance, a fifteen-year-old who appears barefoot and crying, and who insists that she is from 1908. This instigates Josh’s near obsession with discovering the true nature of the perps and their connection with time travel.

    This, Mr. Dickinson, is where I have a slight problem with the story. Suddenly, and with no apparent explanation, characters travel to the past, the future, some return and some don’t, and there is no coherent thread that informs the reader of just exactly what or how it is happening. You also allow characters to alter the past, which, if I may say so, is logically impossible since the past has already occurred. In any event, I wish that you had been available so that we could explore this part of the story, but, as I said above, your publisher seemed confused about your current location. Perhaps, you meant the mystery of Constance, and the haphazard trips through time by numerous characters to bolster the sense of non-reality that you infused in the prologue.

    Finally, despite some gaps in logic, you have drawn your characters so well, that I read the book from beginning to end with curious anticipation of what exactly was to follow. I look forward to reading you next work.


Lane Cohen

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