Thursday, November 4, 2010

Black In Time By John Jakes

Cover of the year?
“Right On!

Into the time machine plunges Jomo, the black militant leader of BURN. "Revolution then" is his motto; he's going to rearrange history so the blacks get a fair shake- or, preferably, world dominance. 

But in another area of time, rabble-rousing white supremacist Billy Roy Whisk is also at work—fixing history so the slaves are never freed. 

Worlds spin in and out of existence, and through the paradoxes of time, one black man is pursuing Jomo and Whisk, trying to stop them before their experiments wipe out the world—forever”
-The Back Cover

'A black militant, a white supremacist, and a time travel device tangle in a fight to rewrite history and eternity!' -The Front Cover

1970 printing by Paperback Library. 60c cover price. 171 pages. 

It's fair to assume that Black in Time is a Blaxploitation novel, even though its 1970 printing predates that cinema craze, but this assumption does it a (slight) injustice. John Jakes' book, set in the (at the time) near future of 1977, focuses more on how historical events culminated in the racial tension of 1960's America's than the time paradoxes and constant action alluded to by the back cover.

Well, there are a few small paradoxes to be unraveled in the story, but they take backseat to a string of frenetic vignettes set in the distant past, plus loads and loads of dialogue. The characters in Black in Time love to prattle on about how justified their cause is in extremely ignorant but nonetheless entertaining and colorful rhetoric. At one point, Whisk declares he is going back in time to assassinate 'Martin Luther Coon' (Page 150), to give you an example of how outrageous the conversation can be. 

Black in Time, being a temporal yarn, is oftentimes not sequential, so a synopsis could be a spoiler-heavy mess. Nonetheless, here goes:

Harold is a young assistant professor who has been hand-picked by the Freylinghausen Foundation to utilize their vague time nexus in order to study, but never manipulate, certain eras of time. Doctor Freylinghausen had labored his whole life, keeping the knowledge of time travel to himself, until he could independently fund his foundation to keep it out of the hands of any government that would inevitably abuse it. Harold finds himself caught up in the racial struggle between Jomo, self appointed leader of BURN (Brothers United for Revolution Now), and Reverend Billy Roy Whisk of the All-American Apostolic Fellowship of the USA. These two groups have obvious real world counterparts, but in this story, both are more militant and set for immediate, all out war. Whisk and Jomo alike are looking to make their respective races completely dominant by using Harold and  the Freylinghausen Nexus. Oh yeah, and they each have very busty girlfriends who follow them around and back up their ideologies when needed, making it even more obvious that Jomo and Whisk are racial parallels.  

The story isn't all moral outrage and bluster, though, as it does attempt to tackle the often raised questions regarding race and time travel. Harold spends the first half of the book being blackmailed to help either one of these maniacs, and the second half using his knowledge of time travel and history to stop them from killing Ben Franklin, Mohammed, and baby Richard Pryor. (OK, I made that last one up.)

Unfortunately almost all of the plans devised by the two opposing racialists involve assassination, so this novel gets repetitive pretty quickly in its second half, the only exceptions being a few obscure historical references. Jakes' obviously did his research when looking for times and locales into which he could weave his story, foreshadowing his eventual jump into historical fiction in his subsequent work.

In the end, Black in Time is just trashy enough to kill mainstream appeal but not trashy enough to garner a weirdo cult following, leaving it in pulp novel limbo. 

Oh yeah, don’t read Black in Time if you cringe after reading a few N-bombs. Its usage is abundant, to say the least.

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