The "splash" or "tag line" for Time Echo reads, "Out of the gray mist vague shapes were forming." Here's some gray mist for ya, I've devised my own category for these old paperbacks, which are not old enough to fit in the Pulp Fiction category, I call them Post-Pulp. The whole lot of them, the second generation Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, Fanthorpe, Carter, Stableford, they're all Post-Pulp.
Fanthorpe's the pulpiest of them all, his work borders on the
Action-Adventure genre which isn't, normally, on my reading list. Time Echo has
a simple enough plot; set in the year 2309, protagonist, Mike Grafton, flees
the forces of dictator Rajak the Magnificent and stumbles into a time-machine
during his escape. That stumble into the time machine is where Fanthorpe begins
to work his pulpy magic, or the art of the vague gray mist. Grafton goes back
in time to 1809 and Fanthorpe's backdrop is now, conveniently, the Napoleonic
campaign. Fanthorpe doesn't pass up the opportunity to give us a four page
biography of Napoleon's rise to military power.
This book is only 144 pages long and, by page 88, I could not see Fanthorpe
resolving his plot at the finish line. This tale reads like a writing
experiment in character development. Each character introduced to the story
gets many pages dedicated to their physical, psychological and emotional
investment in the plot. This technique doesn't progress, enrich or support the
plot line but, does add to Fanthorpe's word count and leaves the book wide open
for plot flaws.
The most outstanding flaw in Time Echo is this line, "This was more
that the art of any Houdini." Vague gray mist and all, this phrase is used
by an Englishman, a native to the 19th Century, seventy years before
Houdini was born.
Fanthorpe spends about twenty-five pages each introducing the four central
characters of the tale. Then, he ties up the plot with his trademark
psychedelic scene. In a chapter titled "Realm of Insanity" two of the
main characters enter a dimensional travel device, or vehicle, too, again,
escape the security forces of Rajak the Magnificent. The dimensional travel
device is, of course, untested but should take the passengers to an alternate
Earth. Instead, it takes them on a seemly unending ride in the Tardis where a
kaleidoscope of colors serves as a backdrop for multiple alien images and
scenery. Due to a short circuit, the passengers eventually return to
their own dimension and time, Earth, 2903.
There is a lovable quality to Fanthorpe's work, a child like simplicity in
the stories which don't require a basis in logic. Lists of random items seem to
compose his tales; time travel, the Napoleonic Era and George Orwell's Eurasia
all stew into a "time echo." The setting, 2309: Eurasia, could be the
far future of Orwell's 1984 which Fanthorpe pays homage to in the following
lines, "What, the cigarettes? ... These are only cheap ones; the good
ones, now, that's what I call a smoke, but you can't get them unless you’re a
member of the inner party."
Inner Party member or no, Fanthorpe's many books are fun, relaxing reads
emphasizing the occasional simple joy of a twisted, chaotic plot line.