Lost Time by Susan Maupin Schmid

lost time

Violynne’s parents disappeared last year. Employed as archeologists, the two vanished while on the most important dig of their lives, the one that might finally have lead to understanding why planet Lindos’ Croon civilization collapsed so swiftly. Instead they went, as mysteriously as the Croon themselves. There’s something fishy about it though. For one, The Arbiter, Lindos’ absolute ruler has always seemed to have undue interest in Violynne’s family, even if he claims to have no idea what happened her father and mother. Her Aunt Madelyn’s underworld connections seem to have undue interest in Violynne herself. It’s obvious they’re all looking for something, something to do with the dig. When Violynne begins to have visions of the Croon, it becomes clear that what they’re looking for might decide the fate of all of Lindos. What in the world were her parents working on?

One some level, I sort of want to tear this one apart. There’s so much here that needs more development than it was given, and almost all of the main areas I look to when judging a novel feel like they’re missing huge chunks of logic. Instead of trying to fill those logic holes, the author rests on genre assumptions and inference in a way that doesn’t quite work.

The action gets going quickly, to the book’s credit, but beyond that the plotting sort of hangs together by a thread. Our main character shuffles back and forth across her planet, ostensibly to solve a mystery, but there’s not that much mystery to solve. And not that much solving being done, on Violynne’s part. Instead she just kind of falls into situations where information become apparent, with little active seeking or putting together thereof. The quick pacing even becomes a downfall, as instead of a slow build, it forces the author to gracelessly drop chunks of exposition into the action-less parts.

You’d think, at least, the parts where Violynne works as a spy against the totalitarian government of her planet would manage to be tense and exciting, but those still fall a little flat. This is partially because the characters themselves don’t fare any better, development-wise. Aunt Madelyn and Einhart are spy clichés who nonetheless do stupid things so the child protagonist has to stand on her own, Violynne’s parents are basically nonentities, and The Arbiter is a toothless caricature of totalitarianism.

The major alien characters, the Coil and the emissary from the Croon we see are a little more developed, but that’s mostly by virtue of their interactions with Violynne vacillating wildly from help to hindrance.

As for Violynne herself, Schmid obviously wants to write a strong, clever girl, and fails at it. Even the most basic intrigue flies over her head, and she spends a good part of the novel whining about the adults around her not following her orders. Where an actually clever character would have figured out a way to do what she needed to anyway, Violynne complains.

She is brave and willing to stand up to her enemies, and I will give her that. Even in that ability to take risks, though, she manages to do stupid things. At one point she actually hands the Arbiter incriminating evidence against herself, which somehow manages to make him back off. Plot armor, I guess?

The worldbuilding is a little better, at least on the parts that Schmid actually deigned to build. The variety of different species is very creative, and there are some parts of the novel that truly feel like they fell out of a different time and place. The initial sections with the Croon, specifically, have a nice alienness to them. Unfortunately this is at most a third of the book, with the rest substituting funny place names for any build and atmosphere.

All in all, there’s just too much context missing from everything. There’s obviously a history to this world and to the relationships between its different peoples, but we as readers only get the vaguest inklings of it. Each of these different alien groups has its own unique culture, but again, we’re never let in enough. The politics are apparently unimportant, though, because the novel just stops once Violynne finds her parents. Too much is left out everywhere, and it leaves the book feeling completely unresolved.

With the characters as undeveloped as they are there’s really no way to have a resolution, even. We have next to no idea who our two main villains are, or what motivations they’re acting under, aside from a completely bland “desire for power.” We don’t understand what Violynne’s fighting for, because we barely see her parents or her relationship with them. Even our spy characters’ necessarily interesting pasts are neglected in favor of Violynne complaining about being treated like the pre-teen she is. Which is the main problem with the novel: all of this feels like a child’s fantasy of fighting the grown-ups and winning.

That’s also the rub, though. There’s nothing to mark it on the cover or in the publisher’s pages, but something about this feels like a novel written for very young audiences. And that explains away a lot of my issues with it. Violynne’s constant whining about not being taken seriously. The intrigue that makes me feel like anyone with half a brain could get around it. The power fantasy aspect of her childish mind games. The ending, where finding our main character’s parents is apparently more important than freeing the world from a totalitarian government and the remaining power vacuum is barely given a second thought. Even the silly worldbuilding can be explained if the story is geared toward and audience that can’t have read much science fiction.

Which leaves me with a problem. On one hand, I very much didn’t enjoy this book. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have, even as I child; I always preferred things that didn’t seem like they were talking down to me. But, on the other hand, I can’t in good conscience knock a book for aiming at its target audience.

There are far better children’s books out there. There’s far better children’s sci-fi, for that matter. This if firmly middling either way, but it’s only really bad if you’re coming at it with eyes that know how political thrillers and science fiction are supposed to work. If you’re planning on handing this book out as an introduction to those genres, then I guess I can’t really recommend against it.

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