Robert Adams’ Castaways in Time served a load bearing function in my youth. I must have been twelve or thirteen the first time I read it. Along with The Lord of the Rings, it was a book I went back to again and again. LOTR I continue to return to. Castaways, however, has remained untouched since the late eighties. I have been reluctant to revisit it, afraid it would not hold up to my memories. But now I find myself nabbing books almost at random from my shelf. Caution be damned.
So, did it hold up?
Let me defer that answer and provide some context. Castaways is a science fiction novel, in that the time travel occurs by sci-fi gobbledygook rather than magical folderol. In point of fact, the travel isn’t precisely back in time from our Earth, since the characters end up in a parallel world, in circa 1600. The protagonist, Bass Foster, along with his house and several uninvited guests find themselves in an England currently at war, being invaded by Crusaders. I won’t get into the politics behind it: Adams will. In exhausting detail. Bass and company become embroiled in the events and the narrative follows some of the occurrences over the next few years up until the point Bass’ house returns to our present (absent human presence due to a last minute escape.) The end.
So, did it hold up?
The thing you need to understand is that Castaways is not a novel in the conventional sense. Adams provides a setup and a framework upon which he could have hung a traditional narrative. But that isn’t what Adams is interested in doing, as you are probably aware if you’ve encountered his stuff before, e.g. The Horseclans novels. He is only mildly interested in characters, working mostly in broad caricature, jumping through the story episodically so that the characters lack any through-line of development. Heal turns come without much in the way of foreshadowing. He is interested in physical details, primarily concerning weapons, armor, tactics, period technology, attire, etc. He is interested in dialog as a platform to play with recreating dialect and accents in print. (He is not, however, interested in dialog to recreate the way people actually construct sentences and communicate. Quite often his characters communicate in the sort of speeches Herodotus put in the mouths of historical figures.) He is interested in the detailed historical backstory of his world, like the fifty-page timeline of a home-brew game world created by an obsessive-compulsive roleplaying game enthusiast. He is interested in battles, his strong suit. He carries the reader through, providing big picture details when necessary, plunging into the chaos endured by the protagonist at other times, and larding it all with the stink, blood, mud, fear, and exhaustion that sells the reality of it.
And there is the crux. Does it hold up? (Answer the damned question, Ken.) Yes, because it isn’t a novel. It is a sensory download, a grain within an oyster about which is spun a pearl of imagination. It had been decades since I’ve read this book, but it has provided decades of fodder for daydreams. What if my house ended up somewhere else? How well stocked am I? What would I carry with me to step outside and begin exploring? These are the sort of idle speculations that have recurred over the years because of this book.
Now, will I read the sequels, the other five books in the series? I don’t know. Probably not. I recall the second one being pretty good, but that the rest suffer from a bad case of diminishing returns. Also, to the best of my recollection, the series has no end. There is no wrap-up, denouement, or conclusion. Another Adams trait, it seems. But I don’t care: Despite my quibbles, I cannot deny that the essence of Castaways remains vibrant.
A bit of housekeeping: If you are on BookBub, please look me up and follow. MBW, also known as my marketing manager, would be pleased. And speaking of marketing, let me spin the wheel of promotion…Please pick up a copy of Reunion. I think those of you who enjoy a good action/adventure story will appreciate it.