John Smith, by E. Patrick Dorris
“Waking from a traumatic brain injury in a field hospital during World War I, amnesiac “John Smith” quickly realizes he is not like other men. John can alter the way time flows around him and can even travel to parallel worlds, through portals seemingly activated by the power of his own mind.
Hurtled by accident through the first of these portals, John discovers an alternate Earth still trapped in an ice age and populated by mammoths and other strange creatures. Stranger still are the human cultures John finds, some primitive but some advanced in ways not seen in the 20th century Earth he left.
As John tries to come to grips with his abilities and situation, he is catapulted through a series of cliffhangers and pulp-like adventures. Complete with airships, plenty of peril, and a princess to rescue, Portal to Adventure is a fun romp of a tale that could have been written at the turn of the century.”
From the outset this was an interesting and intriguing novel, and this is how when I began reading it I thought I’d end up finally describing it. However, as the tale wore on, for me at least this held true and it did start to wear.
The style is very reminiscent of late 19th / early 20th century writing with a gentlemanly narrative throughout, punctuated occasionally with dialogue contemporaneous to whatever was going on at the time in the scene. This was no issue for me as I liked the tone it struck and I’m a big fan of narrative. Where I started to become weary though was the sheer scale of the detail and convolution in some of the inner dialogue and analysis of scenes. In addition, the almost constant asides made by the narrator too often jerked me out of the flow of the story. Too many times he alluded to some future happening, as he described something happening in the here and now, which unless further books deal with simply will never have happened and therefore don’t fit the narrative. I also was slightly disconcerted by the lack of any real direction and purpose in the narrator’s actions. Yes the narrator himself gave himself purpose apparently based on some deep set moral code, and perhaps knowledge not yet accessible because of his apparent amnesia, but on the surface at least there was no apparent design or structure. At least Sam Beckett had something specific to achieve each time before he leapt. Here John Smith simply decides he needs to go all out to save someone who decided to help him out, with no knowledge or understanding of the why’s and wherefores, with various different races of people running around who are subject to an unknown society structure ruled by an unknown race for an unknown purpose and ends. Some may of course say that this is the whole point, as John’s appearance in strange lands without any knowledge is how it would happen. Whilst I wouldn’t disagree with such logic, I think the execution was what spoilt it a little for me.
One other quibble I have is that I found the abilities John manifests a little too convenient. Clearly the author recognised this issue as in fairness he tries to expressly deal with it in the narrative, but to my mind this apparent self awareness by the character just flags the issue ever more clearly.
However, all of that being said rest assured that I took a lot of enjoyment from the concept of the book, and I was able to finish it without too much teeth gnashing towards the end. Although it is clearly meant to be part of a longer series, and ended on a cliff hanger of sorts, I’m not sure I’ll be so compelled to pick up volume 2 – which is a shame as I thought the concept had a lot of promise. A key difficulty I think for me is that even the Sliders had a point of reference in their own worlds to try and understand the new ones they journeyed to. In this book it is not clear if the worlds are parallel in time or not, and how or if they indeed are comparable to our own. It is also not clear what the apparent recurrence of one particular character is all about. Clearly these questions are meant to be the hooks to stay tuned but I’m not sure they’re enough given the disjointed feel I was left with at the end.
In summary then an interesting read, and certainly worth a try, but I’m not sure if I’ll be heading through the next portal with Mr Smith in a hurry.
I’d give this two and a half stars.
Get it on Amazon and Smashwords now.