Black in Time

September 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

blackBlack in Time by John Jakes

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OK, how can anyone know this book exists and not want to read it? We have John Jakes, famous historical novelist, who wrote a novel set in the 1970s about a black militant and a white supremacist chasing each other through history trying to keep the other from creating his own version of utopia. Isn’t this pretty much begging to be read?

I mean, let’s be honest: This is a terrible idea. It’s a decent enough premise, sure, but a white man writing what is, in effect, a blaxploitation novel is a terrible idea. The black characters like fried chicken, they jive talk, they know karate … as much as Jakes is trying to be progressive, he relies a whole lot of stereotypes when writing his black characters. In his foreword to the book (the edition I read was a reprint), Jakes notes that he’s proud of the book, but even that was written in 1980. I wonder what he thinks of the book now.

Beyond that, though, this isn’t even that great of a time travel novel. Jakes plays fast and loose with the whole changing-the-past-affects-the-future aspect of the story. By the end, he shows what a black utopia would look like (don’t forget those stereotypes), but other, minor things, like taking and using a handgun in the 6th century BC, or someone attempting to strangle Ben Franklin at a public appearance, don’t have an effect. I don’t imagine they would change the timline, but surely a history book or two would change based on this stuff, right?

Given that the book focuses on race relations, and has a main character who’s a white supremacist, one should expect some offensive language. Aside from the liberal use of the N-word, Jakes has the white supremacist (Billy Roy Whisk, which is an excellent name for such a character) talk about trying to kill “Martin Luther Coon” before he has a chance to start his movement. And to be fair, Jakes doesn’t come across as someone who endorses such language; he’s giving all that to the characters we’re supposed to despise. I’m just giving potential readers full warning.

Parts of it are a little hard to understand, since he’s using slang that was common in 1970, but the context makes it easy to understand what he’s saying. The only time I was unsure was when he used the word “scrogged” to describe how a character took out a guard. I wasn’t sure if that meant killed or just knocked unconscious, but within a page, it was made clear. Plus, I have a new word to add to my vocabulary!

Despite all that, the story is readable, and if you can stomach how cheesy and dated much of the book is, it’s pretty entertaining. Granted, much of my entertainment came from chuckling at how bad it was, but it was enough to keep me rating the book just one star. I would actually recommend it to people, but more as a curiosity than a book that will change someone’s life. It’s one of those “If you want to read this based on the title alone, you’re good” kinds of books.

Started: September 2, 2018
Finished: September 4, 2018

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