Black In Time
Paperback Library, New York, 1970
For Luther and Jenny Erickson
dedication: For Luther and Jenny Erickson
The blurb on the back:
Written in 1970, the quite appallingly titled Black In Time is set in the near-future Washington of 1977 where racial tensions are about to explode into out-and-out civil war. Key to the escalating hostilities is the Right Reverend Billy Roy Whisk, head of the All-American Apostolic Fellowship of the USA, who sees Jesus as 'the patriot supreme... the greatest white who ever lived'. The only thing he can see wrong with this all-American interpretation of Our Lord is that 'He was a kike.'
While Whisk is busy organizing his followers into a more militant version of the KKK, black radicals are also mobilizing. The Nation of Islam has faded and been replaced by BURN, the Brothers United for Revolution Now. Convinced that they have been cast as the Jews of modern America, BURN activists are preparing to fight back.
Sandwiched somehwere in the middle is Professor Harold Quigley, a black academic whose specialist field is the Greek influence on Roman comedies. In pursuit of this interest he's been granted access to a time machine to explore classical times. He'd like to be apolitical, but in a polarised society both whites and blacks demand that he fulfil the role his colour has assigned to him...
It's a pretty good set-up, with plenty of possibilities, and the novel starts promisingly enough in ancient Rome, where Prof Quigley is visiting, courtesy of the time machine, to confirm his thesis that the playwright Terence was black. On his return to Washington, however, Quigley finds his brother-in-law has shot Rev Whisk's lieutenant, and he is obliged to hide the killer in the past. The story then degenerates into a chase through time involving Rev Whisk and the leaders of BURN - each intent on changing history in their favour - whilst Quigley chases after them trying to prevent time-travel paradoxes.
There are some nice little bits of black history going on here, and Black In Time is never quite as trashy as it might be, but it's a bit on the one-trick side and never quite gells into a proper novel. By the time we get appearances by Aesop, Benjamin Franklin and Harriet Beecher Stowe, it's starting to feel a bit like Adolf and Malcolm's Excellent Adventure.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 5/5
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