Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara Hambly, Magic Time (EOS, 2001)

Magic Time is a disaster novel. It's also a disaster as a novel. OK, that was just too easy -- but it had to be said. This is a novel adapted from a pilot written by Marc Scott Zicree, who, according to his Web site, has written for Star Trek: Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Sliders (a brilliant series), and Babylon 5, among others. The evidence is in, and this is a guy who can write television like nobody's business. I'll bet he could turn a good book into great television. But even with the help of the fantastic fantasy novelist Barbara Hambly, he couldn't turn television into a good book.

Magic Time takes place in the near future: a group of scientists have tapped into/developed an enormous power and unleashed it upon an unsuspecting world. At the moment of cataclysm, electricity and technology stop working. Planes fall from the sky, cars stall, life support systems fail -- and even more sinister changes begin to take place, as selected humans begin to transform into creatures out of fairy tales and nightmares. Average folks become gargoyles, dragons, trolls, and elves, or manifest unusual powers such as the ability to cast fireballs, cast fear, coax plants to grow, or home in on lost objects and people. A group of characters embark on a mission to locate the Source of the apocalyptic changes and destroy it, hoping to reverse the effects.

The premise is exciting and this could have been an incredibly good story. Unfortunately, it's a television show. The first hundred or so pages of the book are devoted to background scenes, introducing the characters, with very little interesting action other than the foreboding beginnings of change as the Cataclysm coalesces. The characters, sadly, are made-for-television stereotypes: the Conflicted Hero Called Upon To Show His True Character; the Tough Chick With a Heart of Gold; the Innocent Child With the Power to Battle Evil; the Heroic Military Man (though here he's a Secret Service agent, which is mildly refreshing, he's also the Token Minority); the Selfish Uncaring Scientist With No Regard For the Consequences of His Actions; the Coldhearted Greedy Monster of a Lawyer. They have very little personality outside of the necessary quirks and emotional issues assigned them based on their role, and it's extremely difficult to care for them as they win through each difficult situation and battle nearly unscathed. Peripheral characters are doomed, of course -- red shirts abound! Even in television, though, characters need to be deeper, and far more well-rounded than these, to hold my interest and attention. The characters in Magic Time ring annoyingly hollow.

The action in the story is purely made to be filmed. There is no subtlety in the writing whatsoever, which makes it easy to visualize the story as it unfolds but again makes it clear that this is intended for television. Many exciting situations develop, but as the novel marches on the outcome of each dramatic sequence is excruciatingly predictable.

The book jumps the shark when the character of the -- yes, I'm serious here -- elderly blind black blues saxophone player is introduced. I had to read that passage twice to convince myself that the authors were actually using this eye-rollingly bad device. Sure enough, there he is, a character named Papa Sky. Great googly-moogly.

Magic Time has the potential to be really great, and I'd love to see it brought to the screen. I'll begrudgingly admit that I found the book slightly entertaining, but it's brain candy at the very best; a comic book with no pictures. The book wraps up nothing at the end, and there's even an excerpt from the sequel included in the paperback, so this will obviously be a series. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're absolutely out of good reading material, but if you're in the mood for an easy and mildly fun read, you might pick up a copy.

[Maria Nutick]