Time travel is a tricky concept. Computer programmer Craig L. Barr tries to pin it down with the tools of his trade in this trip back to the 1960s and ahead to the 2050s.
Nearing retirement, brothers Carl and Roy Mosley are swept back into the dramas of their youth when Carl has a dream—or is it a visitation?—featuring John Ruler, time traveler. Ruler is desperate to locate a working IBM 286 computer containing the technology upon which time travel itself depends. And Carl has one.
Ruler repeatedly explains that ever since the 286 gave way to the 386, replacing a mathematically perfect decimal chip set with a floating decimal algorithm, traveling through time has been like driving with a faulty GPS: One never knows exactly where or when one will arrive. It’s a problem the captain of the Intrepid Knott needs to solve, and fast.
Ruler’s part in the story is clearly outlined, if not convincing—he never adequately explains why his future compatriots couldn’t make the machine they sought—but Carl and Roy’s roles are a puzzle for some time. When we finally learn that the men’s pasts have been disrupted by Ruler’s previous efforts, putting the very existence of their families at risk, their motivation becomes clearer.
Soon they enter bloody conflicts with the Russians and surreal but satisfying encounters with the Batoes (fantastic biological machines of the future) as the larger scope of Ruler’s mission emerges. When Barr stops worrying over the structural details, he pens entertaining scenes from Carl’s point of view that sweep us up into his incredible journey.
Enjoying Carl and Roy’s adventure requires that we not think too hard about the loose logic of time travel and simply enjoy imagining the “what ifs.” For readers willing to go along for this ride, The Old Timers offers an unlikely, but intermittently entertaining, reading journey.
Also available in hardcover.