Quest Crosstime (1965) is Andre Norton’s second and final story about Blake Walker, a man who has the precognitive ability to sense when he’s in danger. Quest Crosstime is combined with The Crossroads of Time (1956), the first novel about Blake Walker, in the Crosstime omnibus which was published by Baen books in 2008 and has recently been released in an audiobook edition by Tantor Media. Graham Rowat gives a nice retro-sounding performance in Tantor’s audiobook edition which is 12 hours long (for both books).
At the beginning of Quest Crosstime we meet Marfy, a young woman who has just landed on a desolate world where life never got started. She’s the daughter of the man who is overseeing the mission to seed it with life, and she’s been allowed to accompany the team. But when she loses telepathic touch with her twin sister Marva, Marfy suspects they’ve been sabotaged by the Limiters, a group of people who want to put crosstime traffic under strict control.
Our old friend Blake Walker gets assigned to take some equipment to the desolate world and to check up on the twins. When it becomes clear that Marva is no longer on the planet, Blake and Marfy set out to find her. The ensuing adventure is fraught with the type of hazards we’ve come to expect from Andre Norton — crash landings, scary monsters, evil villains, strange cultures, and mind control. This novel features a timeline where the Wars of the Roses ended differently in England and, on the American continents, the Aztec Empire remained prominent.
The plotting of Quest Crosstime is a little sloppy with a few big info dumps, uneven pacing, wordy dialogue, some scenes that feel unnecessary, and the casual sexism common in 1960s science fiction (even from this female writer). I think there’s also a problem with the internal logic of the Crosstime duology. In the first book, Blake is flabbergasted to learn about parallel earths and the ability to travel between them — it’s a big secret. But in this book, in which Blake is clearly still a new recruit, we are told that world-hopping has been going on for 500 years, is a common pastime for humans, and that the Limiters, who are being introduced for the first time, are trying to stop it. Quest Crosstime was published nine years after its predecessor. Did Norton forget that crosstiming is a secret, or did I miss something? (Me missing something is definitely a possibility since I had a hard time maintaining my concentration on Quest Crosstime.)
The most interesting part of Quest Crosstime happens when Andre Norton warns us about the development of tyrannical dictatorships. She says there will always be fanatics but usually they’re harmless because other people aren’t typically interested in their weird ideas. But when citizens become idle, they listen to entertaining gossip and start to believe conspiracy theories. Bad news and slander travels more quickly, and is believed more readily, than good reports. That, combined with a disorganized and ineffective government, can destroy a carefully built political system. I thought these statements were prescient. Too bad they were related as an infodump at the end of the book and we didn’t get to watch it happening.