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Steve Bellinger’s DIY time machine, the Chronocar, is on the clock again. The machine is the brainchild of Dr. Simmie Johnson, the genius son of a slave, who published a blueprint of it in the obscure Negro Journal of Science. In The Chronocar, a young black student named Tony Carpenter stumbled upon those plans and realized that by using a computer as the “electronic brain” of the contraption, he could actually build one. The problem is, whenever you ride a Chronocar back in time, everything after that point vanishes, and lots of “temporal energy” is unleashed, making the universe more chaotic and brutal. And in The Chronocar’s sequel, Time Waits For No One, we find that it’s not only Tony who has discovered Dr. Johnson’s article. It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet these days…
A slim volume, Time Waits For No One flits about hummingbird-like from age to age and character to character, including a memorable time travel tourism sequence that visits some of humankind’s greatest catastrophes. The plot finally settles on Tony Carpenter—a more down-at-heel 2012 version of Tony who is haunted by gang violence and versed in martial arts. While installing cable he meets Miss Martha, Dr. Johnson’s granddaughter, who recognizes him from a photo left on a cell phone that had traveled back to 1919:
“You are Tony Carpenter, right?” she asked quietly.
“Who told you my name?” he said as he worked.
“You attended IIT?”
Tony stopped and turned. “No, but I plan to. How do you know about that?”
“And you built a Chronocar?”
“So, you’ve never been to the year 1919?”
“Ma’am, I’ll be done here in one minute, okay?” Tony kneeled to pick up a dropped screw.
“Of course. You couldn’t have come back,” she said to herself. “You never left 1919. You … must have been born again.”
Recruited by Miss Martha to find and destroy all remaining editions of The Negro Journal of Science, Tony once more gets pulled into the outré world of time travel, including another visit to Dr. Johnson and his daughter Ollie in 1919. Bellinger lets science derive the plot points in this fast-paced adventure novel, though he briefly pauses to observe both the romance and racial inequalities of the past. At one point he has Tony Carpenter, having recently escaped a white lynch mob, sit at the controls of the Chronocar, wondering where to take it:
He had hoped that the simpler life of 1958 would work, but he had forgotten about how tough it was for black people then. Should he go back to the ‘40s? The ‘30s? It would only be worse then. Any time before that would be completely intolerable. Go back far enough and he’d have to deal with slavery. Maybe go way back, back when his ancestors lived in great tribal civilizations. But he was not prepared to go that primitive. Even going forward in time, if it were possible, wouldn’t hold much promise.
It seemed as if there was no point in time when it was good to be a black man.
Bellinger offers no hope for improving prospects, either for blacks or the destructive forces unleashed by the Chronocar. But his ultimate vision of a universe constantly destroying and recreating itself does hold a dark fascination. The title Time Waits for No One is a translation of one of Dr. Johnson’s favorite phrases, Tempus neminem manet. I hope time does wait long enough for Steve Bellinger to finish his “Chronocar Chronicles” and take his invention out for another spin or two. Describing himself as “one of the original Trekkies,” the author also plans to renew wedding vows with his wife Donna in a Star Trek-themed ceremony.
- Joel Van Valin