cover image Terraplane


Jack Womack. Grove/Atlantic, $16.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-1-55584-165-2

A droll and disturbing novel about time-travel, Womack's second work (after Ambient ) presents a vision of the pastNew York circa 1939every bit as frightening as its vision of the future. The narrator-protagonist, Luther, is a spy for an American corporation doing business in 21st century Russia, a society that is a nightmare parody of a capitalist society in its final, self-destructing stagescorrupt, consumer-mad and violent. Luther and his pal, Jake, meet with two Russians who are also involved in industrial espionage, and who reveal a secret Soviet invention, a time machine that is the product of a clandestine ESP lab. Escaping from Moscow with their catch, Luther and Jake activate the time-travel device when cornered by the Soviets, and are hurled backward in time to Depression-era America. They land in New York City at the time of the great World's Fair of 1939, but it is a funhouse-mirror vision, with everything slightly askew. Events have deviated somewhat in this parallel world. Cuba is now a state of the Union, slavery wasn't abolished until the turn of the century; and FDR was assassinated before taking office, thus aborting the New Deal and throwing the country into an even more severe depression. The book follows these disoriented refugees in this slightly mad world, as they seek to recover the time machine so that they can return to the future. Womack ingeniously plays with history and science to create a cats-cradle of a narrative. The futurespeak language he has invented for his characters makes the beginnings of the book a little rough going, but once the characters land in the past, it quickly takes off into imaginative hyperspace. (Oct.)