This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Last but not least in our first-round reads for Team Space Leftovers in the SPSFC2, I give you Magic Carpet Ride, by Rich Simmons. This doesn’t seem to currently be available for purchase, and is marketed as a young adult and a children’s time travel story, so let’s see how it all pans out, shall we? Anyway, this is it for round one! Next up, watch this space for our semifinalists, and the other teams’ semifinalists, and the end of Year 2!
So, where were we?
Magic Carpet Ride charmed me from the moment I saw its cover. A harried-looking dude runs through a possible-primeval forest, fuzzy Russian hat on head and boombox in hand. It is a freezeframe-and-record-scratch “yup that’s me” in book cover form, and it did its job amazingly.
We’re introduced to our heroes Logan (our first-person main protagonist), Preston (initially kind of a douche, but also a friend), Emma (girl), and Michael (a shambolic and free-spirited type who I initially assumed was an inventor and may or may not have created the boombox time machine – this was not the case but he was definitely introduced as a character who would end up with a boombox time machine). This, I suppose, sets this story up as a Young Adult adventure but I don’t know, there’s a whole lot of grey area in these genres. Michael is humorously late for class, repeatedly, until one day he doesn’t turn up to school at all and it’s suddenly not so funny.
Then he shows up with a boombox time machine that plays Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf before it takes off.
From here, it is a time travel comedy / adventure in the vein of Bill & Ted and Back to the Future, and these are both appropriately lampshaded. For that matter, as much as I love those movies, this book (or a movie adaptation thereof) would fit in quite nicely on my DVD shelf alongside them.
We have the obligatory stopover in the 1950s, we have Ancient Egypt and Julius Caesar’s Rome, we have Woodstock and – basically everything a teenager would think of to do with a time machine. It has a great mechanic, a fun way to avoid (or perhaps “make amusingly overcomplicated” is a better term) paradoxes, and it generally plays fast and loose with the time travel concept. It’s not hard time travel sci fi, but then again hard time travel sci fi is kind of stupid because the concept is so utterly fantastical that any attempt to take it seriously is essentially predestined to fall on its backside while Mister Sandman tinkles in the background.
Anyway, I really enjoyed it. There were some genuinely chilling moments (like Old Preston, and some of the later conflict scenes), either intentional or otherwise, and although of course time travel stories are going to reach that event horizon where you just keep reading or watching even though you have no idea what’s really going on but are just following the zany action, and this one is no exception, Magic Carpet Ride held onto its shit pretty well.
There was a persistent bug in the text that had me zooming in and out all the way through the book so I wasn’t reading teeny tiny words or great big old folks’ home words, but I assume this was something to do with the ebook I received and may be why it is not currently available on Amazon. Also, thank you for explaining how Centuries actually work, for the dummies not paying attention. Man, this takes me back to 1999 and how hard it was for people to figure out that 2000 was still the last year of the 20th Century.
The question of time travellers going back home or not is an interesting one, and covered in Doctor Who a lot. The fact that time travellers would age faster than one-day-at-a-timers is also addressed, although it’s not a critical part of the narrative. It occurred to me as I was reading, of course, that without the “sheep” doing “society” that Michael was so scornful of, there wouldn’t be anything much worth time travelling around to check out. But that’s probably something a sheep would bleat.
I was about halfway through the book when I realised the three main protagonists were surnamed Bradbury, Lloyd and Wells. Sheesh, okay, well played. Let’s move on to the meters.
Michael and Lea have an awkward thing, and Logan and Emma have an equally awkward basically-nothing. Girls, as previously footnoted, are played as a bit of a trophy-afterthought in this book and don’t really have characters of their own, but that’s really my only complaint. Lea is the closest we get and she’s … there, at best, honestly. There’s no sex, just horny teen boy protagonists being mild-manneredly horny. The married with grandkids plotline was a bit cringey (implied sex though, so that warrants a doink on the meter), but the date setup was cute. All in all Magic Carpet Ride gets a … huh. A doink. Out of a possible whole lot of doinks, and actually also sex I guess.
There was a surprising amount! Roman gladiators and historically questionable animal fights, and a very respectable possibly-paradox-corrected body-count by the time we get to the end. I’ll give it two-and-a-half quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
Oh, there was plenty of WTF here. I mean, everything going on in the future was weird. We don’t find out where, when or who the Marker is, as it is left as a reveal for a later time although it is impressively teased. And no, we never find out why a time machine was made to resemble a 1980s boombox. The book gets a police telephone box out of a possible phone booth on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
This book was great fun, and if you can find it somewhere, I heartily recommend you read it. Four stars!
 Female characters were kind of under-written here … we’ll get to that. Unless you’re reading the footnotes last, in which case I’ve gotta say you’ve kind of fucked up footnotes.
 Unless you’re reading the footnotes last, in which case I’ve gotta say you’ve kind of fucked up footnotes. And if it just read like I was repeating myself, I’ve got bad news for you.